If you have mechanical aptitude and can analyze data and information, you might find a career as a steamfitter a match. These workers provide crucial services in the operation of hospitals, college campuses, commercial buildings and large residential structures.
A steamfitter is a type of pipefitter, according to the United Association Local 740 Plumbers and Pipefitters. Pipefitters are responsible for installing and maintaining systems of pipes that carry water, steam, oil and gas products, chemicals and slurry materials. Steamfitters work on systems that move steam under pressure.
This is the only career that specializes in planning, designing and installing low- and high-pressure steam systems and steam installation methods. As a steamfitter, you could work on cooking systems for a manufacturing plant, piping for a nuclear reactor or powering offshore platforms. In addition to installing new systems, steamfitters troubleshoot and repair problems.
This type of work carries a higher-than-average risk of injury or illness, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says.
If this work sounds appealing, related career fields might also interest you. Among them:
- Construction/building inspector
- Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration worker
- Industrial machinery mechanic
- Stationary engineer
According to the BLS, the number of steamfitters will grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than average. In 2010, the median pay was $22.43 an hour, or $46,660 per year.
Your opportunities will continue to expand because of increased construction of new power plants and factories. Another factor is states’ adoption of a modification to the International Residential Code regarding sprinkler systems.
To be a steamfitter, you must be willing to work nights, weekends and holidays and to change plans to handle emergencies or meet deadlines. You’ll need to be in good physical condition and strong enough to move heavy pipe. You could work in bad weather and in high noise levels.
A steamfitter must be good at troubleshooting and repairing problems and know how to use a variety of tools and machinery. To install piping systems, you must be comfortable reading blueprints, specifications, drawings and sketches. You must be able to weld, solder, braze, cement, fuse and join systems. You’ll also work independently much of the time, particularly when testing systems.
The most common path to becoming a steamfitter is through a formal apprenticeship offered by a union, contactor or trade association. You can also pick up required skills at a local community college or trade school.
The State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development offers a typical five-year apprenticeship with 8,000 hours of training on the job plus 500 hours of paid instruction. Applicants must meet age, education and physical ability requirements, plus have a valid driver’s license or reliable transportation.
Apprenticeships usually also require some unpaid training and completing first aid, CPR and safety courses.
Steps to Becoming a Steamfitter
Most steamfitters enter the trade upon completion of an apprentice program. To apply, trainees should:
- Be at least 18
- Possess a high school diploma or equivalent credential
- Pass a test of basic math
- Successfully complete a drug test
- Be comfortable using computers
After completing training, make sure you know about any state licensing requirements. This information is available through a state board of licensing and from unions and contractors.
Many steamfitters start as helpers. It’s a good idea to call several contractors to get an idea of hiring expectations before starting training. If you opt for courses at a technical school or community college, try to get paid or unpaid part-time work with a contractor at the same time.
A journeyman steamfitter has an opportunity to move up to a job as a foreman, construction manager or project manager.