Becoming a plumber

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Kevinjm4

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I’m in the middle of switching into the plumbing industry. I am a welder with 10+ years experience and want to become a plumber to better support my family. I was wondering if anyone who knows about this can give me some advice and/or help me figure something out…

When you join the union near me, as a residential apprentice in year 2 for example the pay is roughly $30/hr while residential journeyman makes $39. Commercial apprentice year 2 is at $36 and journeyman $65. Those figures are not the total package with benefits and all, it’s just the hourly wage. My question is, parousing indeed job postings, the pay is substantially higher there usually. One place near me is hiring pl1 or pl2 127k-278k. Another place 150k-250k. While apprentice jobs on there are paying roughly equivalent to what the union pays. On the flipside the city of Seattle is hiring journeyman plumbers at $46/hr. Who would leave the union for a $20 pay cut?

Why do the journeyman plumbing positions pay double or triple what the union pays? Does it have to do with “commissions” (which I don’t understand how a plumber earns commission). Who would ever stay in the union after getting your license with those salaries available?

I’m currently deciding between residential and commercial. I enjoy residential plumbing diy stuff and don’t know anything about commercial. Road to residential journeyman about half as much time as commercial takes. But commercial seems like the obvious choice for someone like me looking to support a family, but again back to job postings, pl2 residential jobs paying $100k plus…

Also, anywhere in the country where cost of living isn’t so high, and getting into the union doesn’t take 1 or 2 years, as is the case in Seattle?. I’m open to moving my family if the cost of living is less than here and the plumbing demand is still strong.

Any advice greatly appreciated! Thank you.
 
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Breplum

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The real high pay listings is (me guessing) likely the commission style service/repair, special flat rate price book, wherein in addition to selling a repair job out of the book (which has two columns, one for retail, one for plan members), you are also selling an annual membership in the Service Plan.
In major metro areas there is always going to be higher pay but the higher COL sort of makes it a wash.
I'd also recommend Fire dept as a reasonable career with (less crawling).
Plumbing can be quite hard on the body over the decades, with knees being a high frequency problem.
Commercial plumbing is a bigger deal and I've enjoyed our commercial business immensely.
I've been independent from day 1 in 1975. I can charge $250/hr for service and repair in our affluent areas but that is never 40 hrs.. and frankly $250/hr when broken down to cover expenses and billable hours barely covers break-even.
 

John Gayewski

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I would be surprised if those indeed jobs actually paid what they are claiming. There is also the pension. Pensions are guaranteed income after you retire. Any indeed jobs offering that? The union provides a guarantee that you will make whatever money that has been negotiated for the area your working in. Non union jobs can usually come pretty close but when you add everything up you generally lose out in the long run. I would be surprised if any non union plumbing shop actually offers all of their workers anything that can add up to what the union shops add up to. Usually the non union shops have a couple of good guys that get paid more and the rest need babysat.

Generally what happens if an employer is looking for a plumber is they will offer a certain amount, and then when you get there for the interview they will tell you why they aren't going to pay you that amount, but promise you that you'll have the chance to work yourself up to that amount sometime in the future when they determine the you deserve that amount, which is probably never.

I make an OK living as a plumber. I generally keep employed and employers like me. I feed my family and house them and keep myself happy. A person who wants to go out on their own usually makes more money, but doesn't get the help they need and can't do larger jobs as they don't have access to the skilled labor they need.
 

Jeff H Young

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46 an hour for a city plumbing job is cheap but steady and great benefits . my union in so ca pays rededential the same as commercial therefore we have no new construction house plumbers we dont compete . we do get like low income housing projects , college dormatories , stuff like that and sometimes the union makes a deal to pay less wages on certain projects.
To Each thier own But If I was a welder Id want to break into Piping trades Id concider pipefitter, welding and fitting , I love plumbing but pipefitting can be a great career to and if you can weld pipe and if you can tig you can make a grip of cash working chip plants like Intell but this can be a rocky road there is a lot of work in PNW Pipe welders and fitters travel a lot it can suck too depending on your likes. You pretty much gotta be solid on whether you want plumbing or fitting/ welding its hard to jump trades.
For us we are at 60 an hour plus retirement and complete medical for spouse and children with out paying a dime . I never seen that non union but contrary to other opinions I found non union cared more about keeping thier hands working steady. I got no complaints worked both sides
 

Fitter30

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As a retired member of the United Association apprentice pay will vary a little by the local union. Also my local union also has some start out as pre apprentice.
Training from the union nite school went for 39 years 1-2 nites a week during the winter on my time. Needed so many credits to satisfy my license in two major cities and med gas, backflow and stick welding 6".
My local has a hiring hall they send you to out to work for a particular job when the job is done it depends on how much work there is if that contractor has another job for you or send you back to the hiring hall. Health insurance, vacation and pension/ 401k vary by local union. Thank my local everyday for my pension and health insurance for last 12 years.
1st 6 months : 35% Journeyman Rate
2nd 6 months : 40% Journeyman Rate
2nd Year : 50% Journeyman Rate
3rd Year : 60% Journeyman Rate
4th Year : 70% Journeyman Rate
5th Year : 80% Journeyman Rate
Could make $140k 2000 hours pay and benefits @$70 hour
 
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Sylvan

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I never understood why a "plumber" would limit their talents to either commercial or residential?

When I was an apprentice
I used to quit the company I was working for and went to another company and did that every year for the 5 years I was still considered an apprentice although I was being paid Class A journeymen's salary.

I wanted a well-rounded education commercial, industrial, residential and industrial. New construction, alterations and even did hospital work with chemical and acid waste systems.

I liked the idea of working in a 47-story high rise new work and then replacing a boiler in an apartment house 250 family.

Sewer and drain cleaning are a great money maker as no materials are required and it was easy to make over $5,000 a day when I added water Jetting in the 1980s.

Now that I am 76 I still do my water Jetting and drain cleaning and gas fitting, but I also added expert witness to my resume as I knew when I was too old to pull on wrenches or weld etc. I could set up my semi-retirement with a decent income.

Never limit yourself to only one aspect of plumbing.

Service calls pay the most and give positive cash flow. New construction is ok but the jobs usually go to the lowest bidder.
 

joelcox

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I never understood why a "plumber" would limit their talents to either commercial or residential?

When I was an apprentice
I used to quit the company I was working for and went to another company and did that every year for the 5 years I was still considered an apprentice although I was being paid Class A journeymen's salary.

I wanted a well-rounded education commercial, industrial, residential and industrial. New construction, alterations and even did hospital work with chemical and acid waste systems.

I liked the idea of working in a 47-story high rise new work and then replacing a boiler in an apartment house 250 family.

Sewer and drain cleaning are a great money maker as no materials are required and it was easy to make over $5,000 a day when I added water Jetting in the 1980s.

Now that I am 76 I still do my water Jetting and drain cleaning and gas fitting, but I also added expert witness to my resume as I knew when I was too old to pull on wrenches or weld etc. I could set up my semi-retirement with a decent income.
Your education cannot just stop if you want to be successful in your profession. But at the same time, you can always find some help, use the Internet or simply pay someone to do my assignment. My grandson told me about https://edubirdie.com/do-my-assignment which helps him cope with particularly difficult tasks. An interesting and unexpected option to lighten your study load by freeing up time.
Never limit yourself to only one aspect of plumbing.

Service calls pay the most and give positive cash flow. New construction is ok but the jobs usually go to the lowest bidder.

This is interesting how you've been extensively involved in plumbing. At 76, and you're still on the forefront with water, my respect. A friend of mine worked with an industrial boiler in manufacturing after college, and they had an accident – the boiler exploded. So, industry can be dangerous, in my opinion. Although, of course, I don't know the details; maybe someone violated safety procedures.
 
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Jeff H Young

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The world is full of danger, A desk job in a cubicle might have something bad in the construction like lead or some cancer causing crap or a car accident going to work. Come to think of it a hard working single Mom I worked with and a lot of respect for (A journeyman Pipefitter) was killed by a wrong way driver at 5 am on the freeway going to work. hazards of living life
 

Sylvan

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The real high pay listings is (me guessing) likely the commission style service/repair, special flat rate price book, wherein in addition to selling a repair job out of the book (which has two columns, one for retail, one for plan members), you are also selling an annual membership in the Service Plan.
In major metro areas there is always going to be higher pay but the higher COL sort of makes it a wash.
I'd also recommend Fire dept as a reasonable career with (less crawling).
Plumbing can be quite hard on the body over the decades, with knees being a high frequency problem.
Commercial plumbing is a bigger deal and I've enjoyed our commercial business immensely.
I've been independent from day 1 in 1975. I can charge $250/hr for service and repair in our affluent areas but that is never 40 hrs.. and frankly $250/hr when broken down to cover expenses and billable hours barely covers break-even.
In 1982 I tried paying commission a total disaster .

The idiots tried upselling circulators that we had installed less than a year before, they said there was a "possible gas leak" and wanted to repipe the entire building.

I use both T@M and flat rate depending on the job and circumstances.

A Civil service job you know you have a decent pension; you're never going to break your butt and if you're lucky and make connections you can move up the ladder.

The VA has police and plumbers etc and the pay is decent.
 

Fitter30

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His cart is before the horse. My adventure two years of full time trade school ( school year) is just the beginning when did you really know you had a idea how this trade works? 5 years 10 years everyday is a learning experience. This trade like any other is a daily learning experience. From tools, equipment and how many teachers have you had. Who have you picked something up from? Engineer? General foreman? apprentice? Can't think of a trade that changes as much as piping. Joining pipes, measuring pipes and all the different types of piping. Trades they all look easy but after when you look at someone that's been in a trade for 10+ years it constant learning if you really want to be top of the game.
 

Sylvan

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This is interesting how you've been extensively involved in plumbing. At 76, and you're still on the forefront with water, my respect. A friend of mine worked with an industrial boiler in manufacturing after college, and they had an accident – the boiler exploded. So, industry can be dangerous, in my opinion. Although, of course, I don't know the details; maybe someone violated safety procedures.
Boilers do explode so do water tanks. I was on an ammo ship as a teenager as a boiler tender and there was a fire on ship.

At that point I realized when your number is up even if you're sitting watching TV game over.
 
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