AskDefine | Define plumber

Dictionary Definition

plumber n : a craftsman who installs and repairs pipes and fixtures and appliances [syn: pipe fitter]

User Contributed Dictionary



From plummier (French plombier); from plumbum.



  1. One who works in lead
  2. One who furnishes, fits, and repairs lead, iron, glass or plastic pipes, and other apparatus for the conveyance of water, gas or drainage; originally, one who did piping for waste water, as distinct from a pipe fitter, who dealt only with fresh water.
  3. In the Royal Navy, nickname for an apprentice, a boy aged 16 to 18, who is trained in technical skills at the Dockyard Schools to become an Artificer.

Derived terms

Related terms


one who works in lead
  • Japanese: 鉛管工
  • Latin: plumbarius
one who fits, etc, pipes for water, gas or drainage
UK: nickname for an apprentice in the Royal Navy

Extensive Definition

A plumber is a tradesperson who specializes in installing and maintaining systems used for potable (drinking) water, sewage, drainage, venting, heating and air-conditioning, or industrial process plant piping. In most jurisdictions the piping for HVAC, fire protection, and industrial systems are installed by 'steam-fitters', 'pipe-fitters', or 'gas-fitters' tradespeople. Many in these trades are members of organized labor groups, while many are nonunion. Years of training and experience are needed to become a skilled plumber; most jurisdictions also require that plumbers be licensed. A Master Plumber is one who has demonstrated mastery of the trade of plumbing, has worked in the field for many years, is certified in different areas of plumbing, typically trains new plumbers in the trade, and oversees large plumbing projects.
Plumbing codes are very strict, and need for quality plumbing work is high because of the historical health and safety problems associated with poor water supply and sewage removal.
Unusually, in the United Kingdom the plumbing trade still remains virtually ungoverned; there are no effective systems in place to monitor or control the activities of unqualified plumbers or those home owners who choose to undertake installation and maintenance works themselves, despite the health and safety issues which arise from such works when they are undertaken incorrectly. Furthermore, despite having in place an infrastructure dedicated to formally training plumbers and various Statutes, Regulations and Bye-laws designed to dictate and control how and in what manner plumbing works are undertaken, there is nothing to stop anyone without any training whatsoever working as a plumber, safe in the knowledge that it is unlikely that their lack of technical know-how will ever be found-out. Such people are referred to as Cowboys.
Plumbers in the United Kingdom generally undertake the installation of domestic internal hot and cold water pipe work, sanitary fittings and related soil and waste pipe work systems. Domestic, commercial and Industrial gas-fired (central) heating installation, servicing and repair works, and works related to all other gas fired appliances, although undertaken by plumbers, also involves the use of other 'sub-trades' such as pipe fitters, gas fitters etc and (in the case of gas fired appliances) is ineffectively regulated by by an organisation called CORGI (with whom such individuals and organisations are supposed to be registered before working in this sphere), which although entrusted by the UK Government to control works related to this field, have no direct means of controlling or policing such works and are generally only involved in issues arising after the works are completed (and invariably, an accident has occurred). As a consequence there is a large quantity of work undertaken by unregistered, unqualified individuals, which is invariably a risk to the health and welfare of the user.
Oil fired heating appliance installation, servicing and maintenance works must be undertaken by OFTEC registered individuals and Companies in order to operate in the UK and due to the complexity of this type of installation and the relatively small number of oil burning appliances (compared to gas usage) this type of licensing is generally effective in this instance, despite OFTEC generally operating in the same way as CORGI.
Furthermore, because air conditioning design and installation is perceived to be too complex for plumbers to undertake and legislation related to the use and correct disposal of refrigerant for use in the air-conditioning field, air conditioning is considered to be a separate trade in the UK.
Plumbers install and repair pipes, fittings, fixtures, and other plumbing equipment used for water distribution, waste water disposal, and venting in residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings. Plumbing is a traditional field that typically pays well, has good job security, and currently has need of qualified individuals in many locations worldwide. Many plumbers begin their careers in plumbing as helpers to established plumbers, while others enter formal training institutes.
The word plumber dates from the Roman Empire. In Roman times, pipes were made of lead, or in Latin (hence the periodic table of the elements symbol of Pb for lead). Thus, a person with expertise in working with pipes was known as a Plumbumber, which was eventually shortened to plumber.

Some needed skills, interests, and values

  • Reading blueprints, drawings, and specifications to determine layout of water supply, waste, and venting systems
  • Installing, repairing and maintaining domestic, commercial, and industrial plumbing fixtures and systems
  • Locating and marking positions for pipe connections, passage holes, and fixtures in walls and floors
  • Measuring, cutting, bending, and threading pipes using hand and power tools or machines
  • Testing pipes for leaks using air and water pressure gauges
  • Communicating with co-workers, other tradespeople and subcontractors, and management
  • Planning and performing complex calculations for specialized projects
  • Providing time and cost estimates of the work to be performed (both labor and materials)
  • Awareness of legal regulations and safety issues
  • Being comfortable when working in confined spaces or at great heights
  • Ensuring safety standards and build regulations are met.

Plumbers in politics

The term "plumbers" was a popular name given to the covert White House Special Investigations Unit established on July 24th, 1971 during the presidency of Richard Nixon. Their job was to plug intelligence leaks in the U.S. Government relating to the Vietnam War (i.e. the Pentagon Papers); hence the term "plumbers". In the early morning hours of June 17th, 1972, the "plumbers" were arrested while breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. The resulting Watergate scandal and cover-up led to the eventual resignation of President Nixon on August 8th, 1974. A Plumber as named "Plumbertino".

Plumbers in popular culture


plumber in Arabic: سباك
plumber in Danish: Blikkenslager
plumber in German: Klempner
plumber in Spanish: Fontanero
plumber in Hebrew: שרברב
plumber in Dutch: Loodgieter
plumber in Polish: Hydraulik
plumber in Swedish: Rörmokare
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