Plumbing industry statistics 2024

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a plumber fixing a pipe inside a bathroom

In its Current Population Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that some 635,000 people worked as plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in 2023, installing and repairing the nation’s plumbing and piping fixtures and systems. IBISWorld, the industry research and analysis firm, reported a somewhat smaller workforce: 564,001 workers for the same year. Differing sources and methodologies may account for the discrepancy in figures.

Key takeaways

Of the trades generally requiring a high school diploma and to which entry is typically through extended, paid on-the-job training (apprenticeship), plumbing, pipefitting and steamfitting are among the better-paid occupations.

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Geography is a key factor affecting earnings, as the mean wage varies significantly from state to state. With an annual mean wage of $87,980 for the occupation, Illinois ranks highest. Arkansas, where the mean wage is $46,750 a year, is at the bottom.

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There is little diversity in the industry workforce, which is overwhelmingly male and white. Data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows the number of women, Black or African American, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino workers has increased slightly in recent years.

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General plumbing industry statistics

Plumbers work primarily in construction, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit the sector hard when government mandates forced construction projects to pause or stop entirely. Employment figures still suggest a need for more plumbers post-pandemic, as the 2022 BLS figures show an employment estimate that is 24,950 lower than in 2019.

  • The 2023 workforce included 564,001 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters when counted through business payroll statistics. The number may be as high as the 635,000 reported when households were surveyed for the Current Population Survey data.
  • Employment is expected to grow by 2% between the years of 2022 and 2032.
  • The average U.S. plumbing business includes five employees in 2023, which is a larger workforce than in 2018.
  • Revenue per employee has also gone up since 2018.
  • Industry revenue is estimated at $126.4 billion in 2023, a decrease in compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 0.8% over the past five years.
  • As of 2023, there were 113,347 U.S. plumbing businesses, an increase of 0.6% from the previous year. That number is still 3.8% fewer than the 117,803 businesses counted in 2019.

Among the businesses employing the estimated 482,700 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in 2022, classifications were as follows:

  • Sixty-four percent were plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors.
  • Ten percent were self-employed.
  • Four percent were heavy and civil engineering construction firms.
  • Four percent were government agencies.
  • Three percent were manufacturing companies.10

Plumbing industry overview

Plumbers showed a modest increase in employment in recent years and is expected, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, to show an overall 2% growth by 2032. The average growth rate for all occupations is 3%. Nearly 11,000 new jobs are projected for the period 2022 through 2032, with a median pay rate of $60,090 per year, or $28.89 per hour. An average of 42,600 openings for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters are expected each year during that decade, arising from the need to replace those who change occupations, retire or leave the workforce for other reasons.

Another 10-year projection, also derived from BLS statistics, estimates the industry’s job growth rate higher than the national average (4.26% vs. 3.71%, respectively).

Education, training and credentialing

Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters typically learn the trade through four- or five-year apprenticeship programs (receiving 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training annually) or in vocational-technical school programs.

Most states require plumbers to have a license, which requires passing an exam, having work experience or both. Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming are among the states that do not have statewide licensure. However, individual cities and counties in those states may have licensure requirements, and some localities may offer reciprocity.

Plumbers may be divided by experience level: apprentices receiving paid on-the-job training, licensed journey-level workers permitted to work independently and master plumbers with additional experience and credentialing. Recent nationwide figures approximate the following for each experience level:

  • Apprentice plumbers: 21,971
  • Journey-level plumbers: 222,597
  • Master plumbers: 212,969

Some states require plumbers to reach the master level before they are permitted a contractor’s license. Regulations vary from state to state, so plumbers need to contact their local municipalities to be certain of compliance.

Market conditions

Plumbers serve local areas but compete on a regional level. Most are independent contractors, but direct competition is low due to constant demand. Aging plumbing system refurbishment and maintenance have been reliable sources of income for plumbers, even during economic downturns.

While an unstable commercial market caused plumbing profits to decrease between 2018 and 2023, the commercial sector is expected to recover as corporate profit climbs. It will not rebound to pre-pandemic levels though. The residential portion of building construction accounted for 47.2% of the plumbing industry’s total revenue in 2019.

Within the industry, the top five key revenue generators by percentage of total are as follows:

  • General plumbing services: 49.7%
  • Mechanical services: 38.2%
  • Building sprinkler system installation: 6.7%
  • Steamfitting and piping services: 5.6%
  • Lawn sprinkler installation: 1.6%

Compensation

The May 2022 median pay for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was:

  • $60,090 per year
  • $28.89 per hour

The lowest 10% of these workers earned less than $37,250 a year, while the top 10% of wage earners made over $101,190 annually.

As evidenced in the table below, industry wages have been climbing steadily since at least 2012.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Plumbing wages vary by industry. Among those paying the most in 2022, the median annual wage was the following:

  • Manufacturing: $62,300
  • Heavy and civil engineering construction: $60,450
  • Plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors: $60,010
  • Government sector: $59,95014

As can be seen from the graph below, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters are among the better-paid trade occupations. Among construction-related occupations that require similar levels of education and training, electricians earned more, and boilermakers and telecommunications technicians earned comparably in 2022.

Job outlook

Projected employment growth for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters from 2022 to 2032 is approximately 2%, from 482,700 to 493,600 in 2032. This is comparable to the average growth for all occupations.

  • For the annual average of roughly 42,600 job openings over the decade, many hires will replace workers who either exit the labor force or switch careers.
  • New construction projects as well as plumbing system repair and maintenance in existing structures will generate demand for plumbing services.
  • The need for sprinkler fitters will increase as states further adopt building code changes that require fire suppression systems.

How many plumbers work in the U.S.?

In 2022, there were about 428,000 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the U.S. Of these, the highest numbers of plumbers were found in California (40,260), Texas (37,980), Florida (26,930), New York (26,670) and Pennsylvania (14,840). The fewest were located in Alaska (810), Vermont (830), Wyoming (1,110), West Virginia (1,240) and North Dakota (1,280).

Plumbing industry by state

Wages for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters vary by state. In 2022 the five states with the highest annual mean wage were the following:

  • Illinois ($87,980)
  • Alaska ($86,820)
  • New Jersey ($84,150)
  • New York ($83,410)
  • Massachusetts ($82,020)

The cost of living also varies among states, and the figures for annual mean income should be considered accordingly. Of these five states, three rank among the top six states with the highest cost of living index in 2024.

Plumbing industry demographics

While some industry demographics of U.S. plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters lack strong diversity, others, such as age, show significant variance.

Age

As pictured in the chart below, of the total plumbing industry workforce of 635,000 noted in the final Current Population Survey for 2023, more than 20% are 55 years of age or older, nearing the point where they may be planning for retirement.

Gender and ethnicity

Slight changes are evident in the makeup of the plumbing workforce from 2020 and 2023. In composition by gender, despite increases in the number of women it is still a monolithic population. Data from the Current Population Survey shows an increase of some 1,600 women in the trade, but a slightly smaller percentage of women working as plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in 2023 than three years ago. The occupation is still 84.7% white, but the workforce now includes 7.5% more workers whose ethnicity is Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, or Asian.

Education 

A high school diploma or equivalent followed by an apprenticeship lasting four or five years is the most common route to a career in plumbing, pipefitting or steamfitting. Vocational/technical schools offer postsecondary training.

Among those working in the trade in 2021, education breakdown was as follows:

  • 252,105 people held a high school diploma or equivalent
  • 133,654 people had some college education
  • 52,061 people had secondary education but no diploma

Those with postsecondary education most commonly chose majors in these areas:

  • Business (6,587 people)
  • Engineering (3,795 people)
  • Education (1,820 people)

Those with specialized majors in 2021 most frequently chose training in mechanical technologies, military science, leadership and operational art, and construction.

Excluding workers with advanced degrees, those individuals who achieved an associate degree received higher annual salaries in 2021 than others, $66,647 on average.

Plumbing industry outlook

A 10-year projection from the BLS shows the number of jobs for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters estimated to grow more than the national average between 2019 and 2029, at a rate of some 4.26% for the industry versus 3.71% for all jobs nationally.

Nonresidential construction projects take time. Plumbing services are typically needed toward the end of those projects, slowing post-COVID recovery in the sector more so than in some other industries. Residential sector plumbing needs carried the industry through the worst of the pandemic. With mortgage rates and inflation rising, new residential home starts and home improvement spending are expected to fall over the next five years, negatively impacting the industry.

Industry analysts note that repair and maintenance of existing plumbing systems continue to be a steady income source and are likely to remain so in the near future.

The size of the plumbing labor force is expected to peak in 2028, at an estimated high of about 569,000 workers, and then drop off to an estimated 511,100 in 2029 — around 4.3% higher than the workforce size seen 10 years previously.

FAQ

What training is required to become a plumber?

The most common route to a career in plumbing, pipefitting or steamfitting is a high school diploma or the equivalent followed by an apprenticeship lasting four or five years and consisting of some 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Some people anticipating a career in the industry may obtain training through courses offered by a vocational school or technical college.

How big is the plumbing industry in the U.S.?

According to an industry analysis published by IBISWorld in 2023, the plumbing industry had a total market value of $126.4 billion in 2023, up from $112.7 billion in 2019. The industry includes:

  • 113,000 businesses
  • No single company with a market share greater than 2%
  • 564,000 employees

The industry is characterized by small businesses employing fewer than 10 people.

How much does an entry-level plumber make?

A number of factors affect the earnings of workers in this industry, including geographical location, education, the market sector in which the worker is employed and the nature and extent of their experience. According to the BLS, in May 2022, the median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was $60,090. The bottom 10% of workers earned less than $37,250 annually, while the highest-paid 10% saw a median wage of $101,190 a year.


References

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