Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes, and factories.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically do the following:

  • Install pipes and fixtures
  • Study blueprints and follow state and local building codes
  • Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
  • Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
  • Troubleshoot and repair systems that are not working
  • Replace worn parts

Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are three distinct specialties, their duties are often similar. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases. They connect pipes, determine the necessary materials for a job, and perform pressure tests to ensure a pipe system is airtight and watertight.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install, maintain, and repair many different types of pipe systems. Some of these systems carry water, dispose of waste, supply gas to ovens, or heat and cool buildings. Other systems, such as those in power plants, carry the steam that powers huge turbines. Pipes also are used in manufacturing plants to move acids, gases, and waste byproducts through the production process.

Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show where all the pipes and fixtures will go. Their input helps ensure that a structure's plumbing meets building codes, stays within budget, and works well with the location of other features, such as electric wires.

Plumbers and fitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power-plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.

Plumbers and fitters sometimes cut holes in walls, ceilings, and floors. With some pipe systems, workers may hang steel supports from ceiling joists to hold the pipe in place. Because pipes are seldom manufactured to the exact size or length, plumbers and fitters measure and then cut and bend lengths of pipe as needed. Their tools include saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines.

They then connect the pipes, using methods that vary by type of pipe. For example, copper pipe is joined with solder, but steel pipe is often screwed together.

In addition to installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters often direct apprentices and helpers.

Following are examples of occupational specialties:

Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes, businesses, and factories. They install and repair large water lines, such as those that supply water to buildings, and smaller ones, including ones that supply water to refrigerators. Plumbers also install plumbing fixtures--bathtubs, showers, sinks, and toilets--and appliances such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and water heaters. They also fix plumbing problems. For example, when a pipe is clogged or leaking, plumbers remove the clog or replace the pipe. Some plumbers maintain septic systems, the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses not connected to a city or county's sewer system.

Pipefitters install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. They often install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize:

  • Gasfitters install pipes that provide clean oxygen to patients in hospitals.
  • Sprinklerfitters install and repair fire sprinkler systems in businesses, factories, and residential buildings.
  • Steamfitters installpipe systems that move steam under high pressure. Most steamfitters work at campus and natural gas power plants where heat and electricity is generated, but others work in factories that use high-temperature steam pipes.

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers--often referred to as HVACR technicians--work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality in many types of buildings.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Travel to worksites
  • Follow blueprints or other design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers' HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Although trained to do all three, HVACR technicians sometimes work strictly with heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems. They also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.

Depending on the task, HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters and other basic handtools when installing systems. To test or install complex system components, technicians may use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches.

When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This often entails proper handling and disposal of fluids.  

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems.

Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, or electrical work by electricians. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on sheet metal workers, electricians, or home appliance repairers.


Roofers

Roofers repair and install the roofs of buildings using a variety of materials, including shingles, asphalt, and metal.

Roofers typically do the following:

  • Inspect problem roofs to determine the best way to repair them
  • Measure roof to calculate the quantities of materials needed
  • Replace damaged or rotting joists or plywood
  • Install vapor barriers or layers of insulation
  • Install shingles, asphalt, metal, or other materials to make the roof watertight
  • Align roofing materials with edges of the roof
  • Cut roofing materials to fit angles formed by walls, vents, or intersecting roof surfaces
  • Cover exposed nail or screw heads with roofing cement or caulk to prevent leakage

Properly installed roofs keep water from leaking into buildings and damaging the interior, equipment, or furnishings.

There are two basic types of roofs, low-slope and steep-slope:

  • Low-slope: About two-thirds of all roofs are low-slope. Most commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings have low-slope roofs. Low-slope roofs rise 4 inches or less per horizontal foot and are installed in layers.

    For low-slope roofs, roofers typically use several layers of roofing materials or felt membranes stuck together with hot bitumen (a tar-like substance). They glaze the top layer to make a smooth surface or embed gravel in the hot bitumen to make a rough surface.

    An increasing number of low-slope roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds.
  • Steep-slope: Most of the remaining roofs are steep-slope. Most single-family houses have steep-slope roofs. Steep-slope roofs rise more than 4 inches per horizontal foot.

    For steep-slope roofs, roofers typically use asphalt shingles, which often cost less than other coverings. On steep-slope roofs, some roofers also install tile, solar shingles, fiberglass shingles, metal shingles, or shakes (rough wooden shingles).

    To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing over the entire roof. Then, starting from the bottom edge, they nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof.

A small but increasing number of buildings now have “green” roofs that incorporate landscape roofing systems. A landscape roofing system typically begins with a single or multiple waterproof layers. After that layer is proven to be leak free, roofers put a root barrier over it, and, finally, layers of soil, in which vegetation is planted. Roofers must ensure that the roof is watertight and can endure the weight and water needs of the plants.


Parts Salespersons

Parts Salespersons sell spare and replacement parts and equipment in repair shop or parts store.


Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Use blueprints to determine locations, positions, or dimensions of parts
  • Install small premade boilers into buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of larger boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats using scrapers, wire brushes, and cleaning solvents
  • Replace or repair broken valves, pipes, or joints, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment

Boilers, tanks, and vats are used in many buildings, factories, and ships. Boilers heat water or other fluids under extreme pressure to generate electric power and to provide heat. Large tanks and vats are used to store and process chemicals, oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.

Boilers are made out of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Manufacturers are increasingly automating the production of boilers to improve the quality of these vessels. However, boilermakers still use many tools in making or repairing boilers. For example, they use hand and power tools or flame cutting torches to cut pieces for a boiler. To bend the pieces into shape and accurately line them up, boilermakers use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles.

If the plate sections are very large, large cranes lift the parts into place. Once they have the parts lined up, they use metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so the parts fit together properly. They join the parts by bolting, welding, or riveting them together.

In addition to installing and maintaining boilers and other vessels, boilermakers help erect and repair air pollution equipment, blast furnaces, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and smokestacks. Boilermakers also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Some install and maintain the huge pipes used in dams to send water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines.

Because boilers last a long time--sometimes 50 years or more--boilermakers must regularly maintain them and upgrade parts. They frequently inspect fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls.


Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers--often referred to as HVACR technicians--work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality in many types of buildings.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Travel to worksites
  • Follow blueprints or other design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers' HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Although trained to do all three, HVACR technicians sometimes work strictly with heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems. They also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.

Depending on the task, HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters and other basic handtools when installing systems. To test or install complex system components, technicians may use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches.

When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This often entails proper handling and disposal of fluids.  

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems.

Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, or electrical work by electricians. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on sheet metal workers, electricians, or home appliance repairers.


Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes, and factories.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically do the following:

  • Install pipes and fixtures
  • Study blueprints and follow state and local building codes
  • Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
  • Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
  • Troubleshoot and repair systems that are not working
  • Replace worn parts

Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are three distinct specialties, their duties are often similar. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases. They connect pipes, determine the necessary materials for a job, and perform pressure tests to ensure a pipe system is airtight and watertight.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install, maintain, and repair many different types of pipe systems. Some of these systems carry water, dispose of waste, supply gas to ovens, or heat and cool buildings. Other systems, such as those in power plants, carry the steam that powers huge turbines. Pipes also are used in manufacturing plants to move acids, gases, and waste byproducts through the production process.

Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show where all the pipes and fixtures will go. Their input helps ensure that a structure's plumbing meets building codes, stays within budget, and works well with the location of other features, such as electric wires.

Plumbers and fitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power-plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.

Plumbers and fitters sometimes cut holes in walls, ceilings, and floors. With some pipe systems, workers may hang steel supports from ceiling joists to hold the pipe in place. Because pipes are seldom manufactured to the exact size or length, plumbers and fitters measure and then cut and bend lengths of pipe as needed. Their tools include saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines.

They then connect the pipes, using methods that vary by type of pipe. For example, copper pipe is joined with solder, but steel pipe is often screwed together.

In addition to installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters often direct apprentices and helpers.

Following are examples of occupational specialties:

Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes, businesses, and factories. They install and repair large water lines, such as those that supply water to buildings, and smaller ones, including ones that supply water to refrigerators. Plumbers also install plumbing fixtures--bathtubs, showers, sinks, and toilets--and appliances such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and water heaters. They also fix plumbing problems. For example, when a pipe is clogged or leaking, plumbers remove the clog or replace the pipe. Some plumbers maintain septic systems, the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses not connected to a city or county's sewer system.

Pipefitters install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. They often install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize:

  • Gasfitters install pipes that provide clean oxygen to patients in hospitals.
  • Sprinklerfitters install and repair fire sprinkler systems in businesses, factories, and residential buildings.
  • Steamfitters installpipe systems that move steam under high pressure. Most steamfitters work at campus and natural gas power plants where heat and electricity is generated, but others work in factories that use high-temperature steam pipes.

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers--often referred to as HVACR technicians--work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality in many types of buildings.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Travel to worksites
  • Follow blueprints or other design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers' HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Although trained to do all three, HVACR technicians sometimes work strictly with heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems. They also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.

Depending on the task, HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters and other basic handtools when installing systems. To test or install complex system components, technicians may use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches.

When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This often entails proper handling and disposal of fluids.  

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems.

Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, or electrical work by electricians. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on sheet metal workers, electricians, or home appliance repairers.


Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Power plant operators, dispatchers, and distributors control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Control power-generating equipment, such as boilers, turbines, generators, and reactors
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary

Electricity is one of our nation's most vital resources. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), and wind and solar power.

The following are types of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers:

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators also start and stop equipment and record the data. They may need to respond to abnormalities, determine the cause, and take corrective action.

Power distributors and dispatchers, also known as systems operators, control the flow of electricity as it travels from generating stations to substations and users over a network of transmission and distribution lines. They prepare and issue switching orders to route electrical currents around areas that need maintenance or repair. Distributors and dispatchers also monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers. They must detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures.

Power plant operators control, operate, and maintain machinery to generate electric power. They use control boards to distribute power among generators and regulate the output from several generators. They regulate the flow of power between generating stations and substations, and they monitor instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant.


Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Use blueprints to determine locations, positions, or dimensions of parts
  • Install small premade boilers into buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of larger boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats using scrapers, wire brushes, and cleaning solvents
  • Replace or repair broken valves, pipes, or joints, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment

Boilers, tanks, and vats are used in many buildings, factories, and ships. Boilers heat water or other fluids under extreme pressure to generate electric power and to provide heat. Large tanks and vats are used to store and process chemicals, oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.

Boilers are made out of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Manufacturers are increasingly automating the production of boilers to improve the quality of these vessels. However, boilermakers still use many tools in making or repairing boilers. For example, they use hand and power tools or flame cutting torches to cut pieces for a boiler. To bend the pieces into shape and accurately line them up, boilermakers use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles.

If the plate sections are very large, large cranes lift the parts into place. Once they have the parts lined up, they use metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so the parts fit together properly. They join the parts by bolting, welding, or riveting them together.

In addition to installing and maintaining boilers and other vessels, boilermakers help erect and repair air pollution equipment, blast furnaces, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and smokestacks. Boilermakers also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Some install and maintain the huge pipes used in dams to send water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines.

Because boilers last a long time--sometimes 50 years or more--boilermakers must regularly maintain them and upgrade parts. They frequently inspect fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls.


Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Power plant operators, dispatchers, and distributors control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Control power-generating equipment, such as boilers, turbines, generators, and reactors
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary

Electricity is one of our nation's most vital resources. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), and wind and solar power.

The following are types of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers:

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators also start and stop equipment and record the data. They may need to respond to abnormalities, determine the cause, and take corrective action.

Power distributors and dispatchers, also known as systems operators, control the flow of electricity as it travels from generating stations to substations and users over a network of transmission and distribution lines. They prepare and issue switching orders to route electrical currents around areas that need maintenance or repair. Distributors and dispatchers also monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers. They must detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures.

Power plant operators control, operate, and maintain machinery to generate electric power. They use control boards to distribute power among generators and regulate the output from several generators. They regulate the flow of power between generating stations and substations, and they monitor instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant.


Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants help people get through difficult times or get additional support. They help other workers, such as social workers, and they help clients find benefits or community services.

Social and human service assistants typically do the following:

  • Work under the direction of social workers, psychologists, or others who have more education or experience
  • Help determine what type of help their clients need
  • Work with clients and other professionals, such as social workers, to develop a treatment plan
  • Help clients get help with daily activities, such as eating and bathing
  • Coordinate services provided to clients by their or other organizations
  • Research services available to their clients in their communities
  • Determine clients' eligibility for services such as food stamps and Medicaid
  • Help clients complete paperwork to apply for assistance programs
  • Monitor clients to ensure services are provided appropriately

Social and human service assistants have many job titles, including case work aide, clinical social work aide, family service assistant, social work assistant, addictions counselor assistant, and human service worker. They serve diverse populations with a range of problems. Their work varies, depending on the clients they serve.

With children and families, social and human service assistants ensure that children live in safe homes. They help parents get the resources, such as food stamps or childcare, they need to care for their children.

With the elderly, workers help clients stay in their own homes and under their own care whenever possible. They coordinate meal deliveries or find personal care aides to help older people with day-to-day needs, such as doing errands or bathing. In some cases, human service workers help look for residential care facilities, such as nursing homes.

For people with disabilities, social and human service assistants help find rehabilitation services that aid their clients. They may work with employers to adapt positions to make them accessible to people with disabilities. Some workers find personal care services to help clients with daily living activities, such as bathing or making meals.

For people with addictions, human service assistants find rehabilitation centers that meet their clients' needs. They also find support groups or twelve-step programs. They work with people who are dependent on alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other substances or behaviors.

With veterans, assistants help people discharged from the military adjust to civilian life. They help with practical needs, such as finding housing and applying skills gained in the military to civilian jobs. They also help with navigating the overwhelming number of services available to veterans.

For people with mental illnesses, social and human service assistants help clients find resources to cope with their illness. They find self-help and support groups to provide their clients with an assistance network. In addition, they help those with more severe mental illnesses care for themselves by finding personal care services or group housing.

With immigrants, workers help clients adjust to living in a new country. They help clients locate jobs and housing. They also may help clients find programs that teach English, or they may find legal assistance to help immigrants get their paperwork in order.

With former prison inmates, human service assistants help clients re-enter society by finding job training or placement programs. Human service assistants help former inmates find housing and connect with programs that help them make a new life for themselves.

With homeless people, assistants help clients meet their basic needs. They find temporary or permanent housing. They find places, such as soup kitchens, that provide meals. Human service assistants also help homeless people find facilities for other problems they may have, such as joblessness.


Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers--often referred to as HVACR technicians--work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality in many types of buildings.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Travel to worksites
  • Follow blueprints or other design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers' HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Although trained to do all three, HVACR technicians sometimes work strictly with heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems. They also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.

Depending on the task, HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters and other basic handtools when installing systems. To test or install complex system components, technicians may use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches.

When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This often entails proper handling and disposal of fluids.  

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems.

Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, or electrical work by electricians. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on sheet metal workers, electricians, or home appliance repairers.


Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes, and factories.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically do the following:

  • Install pipes and fixtures
  • Study blueprints and follow state and local building codes
  • Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
  • Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
  • Troubleshoot and repair systems that are not working
  • Replace worn parts

Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are three distinct specialties, their duties are often similar. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases. They connect pipes, determine the necessary materials for a job, and perform pressure tests to ensure a pipe system is airtight and watertight.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install, maintain, and repair many different types of pipe systems. Some of these systems carry water, dispose of waste, supply gas to ovens, or heat and cool buildings. Other systems, such as those in power plants, carry the steam that powers huge turbines. Pipes also are used in manufacturing plants to move acids, gases, and waste byproducts through the production process.

Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show where all the pipes and fixtures will go. Their input helps ensure that a structure's plumbing meets building codes, stays within budget, and works well with the location of other features, such as electric wires.

Plumbers and fitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power-plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.

Plumbers and fitters sometimes cut holes in walls, ceilings, and floors. With some pipe systems, workers may hang steel supports from ceiling joists to hold the pipe in place. Because pipes are seldom manufactured to the exact size or length, plumbers and fitters measure and then cut and bend lengths of pipe as needed. Their tools include saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines.

They then connect the pipes, using methods that vary by type of pipe. For example, copper pipe is joined with solder, but steel pipe is often screwed together.

In addition to installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters often direct apprentices and helpers.

Following are examples of occupational specialties:

Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes, businesses, and factories. They install and repair large water lines, such as those that supply water to buildings, and smaller ones, including ones that supply water to refrigerators. Plumbers also install plumbing fixtures--bathtubs, showers, sinks, and toilets--and appliances such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and water heaters. They also fix plumbing problems. For example, when a pipe is clogged or leaking, plumbers remove the clog or replace the pipe. Some plumbers maintain septic systems, the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses not connected to a city or county's sewer system.

Pipefitters install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. They often install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize:

  • Gasfitters install pipes that provide clean oxygen to patients in hospitals.
  • Sprinklerfitters install and repair fire sprinkler systems in businesses, factories, and residential buildings.
  • Steamfitters installpipe systems that move steam under high pressure. Most steamfitters work at campus and natural gas power plants where heat and electricity is generated, but others work in factories that use high-temperature steam pipes.

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Use blueprints to determine locations, positions, or dimensions of parts
  • Install small premade boilers into buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of larger boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats using scrapers, wire brushes, and cleaning solvents
  • Replace or repair broken valves, pipes, or joints, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment

Boilers, tanks, and vats are used in many buildings, factories, and ships. Boilers heat water or other fluids under extreme pressure to generate electric power and to provide heat. Large tanks and vats are used to store and process chemicals, oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.

Boilers are made out of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Manufacturers are increasingly automating the production of boilers to improve the quality of these vessels. However, boilermakers still use many tools in making or repairing boilers. For example, they use hand and power tools or flame cutting torches to cut pieces for a boiler. To bend the pieces into shape and accurately line them up, boilermakers use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles.

If the plate sections are very large, large cranes lift the parts into place. Once they have the parts lined up, they use metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so the parts fit together properly. They join the parts by bolting, welding, or riveting them together.

In addition to installing and maintaining boilers and other vessels, boilermakers help erect and repair air pollution equipment, blast furnaces, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and smokestacks. Boilermakers also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Some install and maintain the huge pipes used in dams to send water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines.

Because boilers last a long time--sometimes 50 years or more--boilermakers must regularly maintain them and upgrade parts. They frequently inspect fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls.


Home Health and Personal Care Aides

Home health and personal care aides help people who are disabled, chronically ill, or cognitively impaired. They also help older adults who may need assistance. They help with activities such as bathing and dressing, and they provide services such as light housekeeping. In some states, home health aides may be able to give a client medication or check the client's vital signs under the direction of a nurse or other healthcare practitioner.

Home health and personal care aides typically do the following:

  • Help clients in their daily personal tasks, such as bathing or dressing
  • Do light housekeeping, such as laundry, washing dishes, and  vacuuming in a client's home
  • Organize a client's schedule and plan appointments
  • Arrange transportation to doctors' offices or for other kinds of outings
  • Shop for groceries and prepare meals
  • Provide companionship

Aides often keep track of when a client's prescriptions need to be filled or when the client has his or her next doctor's appointment. Aides may prepare leisure activities, including exercise, to keep their clients active and healthy. They may go for walks with their clients or play games with them. In some states, home health aides may be able to provide some medical services. Aides may be expected to complete unpleasant tasks such as emptying a client's bedpan or changing soiled bed linens.

Some aides are hired directly by the client or the client's family. In these situations, the client or the client's family supervises the aide and gives the aide tasks to do.

Home health aides, unlike personal care aides, typically work for certified home health or hospice agencies that receive government funding and therefore must comply with regulations. They work under the direct supervision of a medical professional, usually a nurse. These aides keep records of services performed and of the client's condition and progress. They report changes in the client's condition to the supervisor or case manager. Aides also work with therapists and other medical staff.

Home health aides may provide some basic health-related services, such as checking clients' pulse, temperature, and respiration rate. They also may help with simple prescribed exercises and with giving medications. Occasionally, they change simple dressings, give massages, care for skin, or help with braces and artificial limbs. With special training, experienced home health aides also may help with medical equipment such as ventilators, which help clients breathe.

Personal care aides--also called homemakers, caregivers, companions, and personal attendants--provide clients with companionship and help with daily tasks in a client's home. They are often hired in addition to other medical health workers, such as hospice workers, who may visit a client's home. Personal care aides do not provide any type of medical service.

Direct support professionals work with people who have developmental or intellectual disabilities. They may help create a behavior plan, provide employment support, and teach self-care skills, such as doing laundry or cooking meals. They may also provide other personal assistance services.


Roofers

Roofers repair and install the roofs of buildings using a variety of materials, including shingles, asphalt, and metal.

Roofers typically do the following:

  • Inspect problem roofs to determine the best way to repair them
  • Measure roof to calculate the quantities of materials needed
  • Replace damaged or rotting joists or plywood
  • Install vapor barriers or layers of insulation
  • Install shingles, asphalt, metal, or other materials to make the roof watertight
  • Align roofing materials with edges of the roof
  • Cut roofing materials to fit angles formed by walls, vents, or intersecting roof surfaces
  • Cover exposed nail or screw heads with roofing cement or caulk to prevent leakage

Properly installed roofs keep water from leaking into buildings and damaging the interior, equipment, or furnishings.

There are two basic types of roofs, low-slope and steep-slope:

  • Low-slope: About two-thirds of all roofs are low-slope. Most commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings have low-slope roofs. Low-slope roofs rise 4 inches or less per horizontal foot and are installed in layers.

    For low-slope roofs, roofers typically use several layers of roofing materials or felt membranes stuck together with hot bitumen (a tar-like substance). They glaze the top layer to make a smooth surface or embed gravel in the hot bitumen to make a rough surface.

    An increasing number of low-slope roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds.
  • Steep-slope: Most of the remaining roofs are steep-slope. Most single-family houses have steep-slope roofs. Steep-slope roofs rise more than 4 inches per horizontal foot.

    For steep-slope roofs, roofers typically use asphalt shingles, which often cost less than other coverings. On steep-slope roofs, some roofers also install tile, solar shingles, fiberglass shingles, metal shingles, or shakes (rough wooden shingles).

    To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing over the entire roof. Then, starting from the bottom edge, they nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof.

A small but increasing number of buildings now have “green” roofs that incorporate landscape roofing systems. A landscape roofing system typically begins with a single or multiple waterproof layers. After that layer is proven to be leak free, roofers put a root barrier over it, and, finally, layers of soil, in which vegetation is planted. Roofers must ensure that the roof is watertight and can endure the weight and water needs of the plants.


Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers--often referred to as HVACR technicians--work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality in many types of buildings.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Travel to worksites
  • Follow blueprints or other design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers' HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Although trained to do all three, HVACR technicians sometimes work strictly with heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems. They also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.

Depending on the task, HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters and other basic handtools when installing systems. To test or install complex system components, technicians may use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches.

When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This often entails proper handling and disposal of fluids.  

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems.

Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, or electrical work by electricians. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on sheet metal workers, electricians, or home appliance repairers.


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