What is plumbing?

Plumbing can typically be described as a series of pipes and fixtures that both provide a clean water supply to buildings and remove waste water out of a property, through drains and into sewers underground. An average dwelling may have one or more bathrooms and a kitchen that will have a water supply plumbed in and a way of managing waste. It can also include heating systems as well as cooling and ventilation systems.

Plumbing work is usually carried out by professional plumbers who need to study theory and carry out practical work to assess their competence.

Many people may assume that plumbing work is just about fixing leaks and fitting bathroom or kitchen related items. However there is actually much more to plumbing than might meet the untrained eye. Plumbing is actually vital to any property build as without the input from a trained plumber there is the chance that any piping could be laid incorrectly or in the wrong places. Getting a plumber involved early on a build means that everyone is clear on where pipes are to be laid and what fixtures and fittings need to be placed where.

Where do plumbers work?

A plumber could be required to work in a wide variety of areas such as a new build housing estate, a property restoration, an office block, factory, ship or an airport; in short; anywhere there is a need for a water supply could require plumbing expertise.

What type of work do plumbers do?

A plumber could be called upon to follow a plumbing blueprint or they could be needed to design a plumbing layout themselves. Typically this depends on the size of a build but nevertheless a plumber will be needed to plan pipework and fittings from scratch at some point in their career.

Plumbing isn’t just about installation and maintenance they could also be involved in gas work, installing heating and cooking systems and in some cases ventilation and cooling systems too. For this type of work additional specialist qualifications and approval will usually be necessary.

It is common for a heating system in the UK to be run on gas and therefore many plumbers choose to become qualified gas engineers in order to include this in their list of skills. Understandably any gas system installation needs to be completely safe which is why a plumber must be registered on the Gas Safe register in order to carry out gas plumbing work legally and safely.

The key types of plumbing work a typical plumber could be called to do are:

  • Issues with water supply: a plumber could be required to repair and maintain anything like a leaking toilet, pipe or tap. They could also be asked to install, replace or relocate items requiring a water supply, for example replacing a bath with a shower unit, moving a toilet to a different position or fitting a new bathroom suite.
  • Gas work: As mentioned a plumber usually needs additional approval to work with gas and could be called on regularly to work with gas appliances such as boiler installation or repair, safety testing of boilers and heating supply, fixing leaking radiators and installing gas hobs or cookers. For safety reasons annual checks on gas appliances are recommended and sometimes needed by law and this is another task a qualified plumber might carry out.
  • Mechanical services: Plumbers might also take additional qualifications in order to repair, install and maintain ventilation and cooling systems. This may include working with pipes, flues, air conditioning units and other associated areas.
  • Emergency work: Problems like water leaks can do significant damage and may need urgent attention. A gas leak obviously poses an immediate safety risk. As such plumbers could be called on to carry out emergency plumbing work to stop a water or gas leak or prevent further damage to a property.
  • Other tasks: Plumbing work might also fall outside these core areas and could include being involved with irrigation systems, plumbing for fire services as well as outside drainage both over and underground.

Qualities of a plumber

A plumber will obviously need to be adept at understanding what is needed from any task or challenge they are given. They need to be physically able to carry out manual tasks as well as have the ability to design a plumbing system if needed or identify a plumbing problem that might not be immediately obvious.

As well as physical and mental attributes a plumber should also have a degree of customer service skills. Any plumbing job is likely to involve dealing with people. This could be a homeowner, a building contractor or a site manager and a plumber needs to be equipped to engage fully with these types of people. Plumbers might often need to work with other types of tradesperson, for example they may work together on a build with electricians, plasterers or tilers and working together may achieve the best results.