Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 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.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training, as well as some classroom instruction, each year. In the classroom, apprentices learn safety, local plumbing codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. They also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are offered by unions and businesses. Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly, some start out as helpers. The Home Builders Institute offers a pre-apprenticeship training program in plumbing and other trades.