Electrician vs. Plumber – Which Trade Should You Choose?
A lot of our readers are at the start of their professional journey, and they are torn between two or more trade careers. Some are certain that they want to become electricians, others find themselves drawn towards HVAC, and others becoming interested in plumbing.
On this page, we'll dive into the "electrician vs. plumber" debate, and look at the positives and negatives of each career.
(If you'd like to go over the "HVAC vs. Electrician" debate, we've written a post about that as well.)
Electrician Job Tasks
Our entire site is basically one big description of an electrician's job responsibilities (and we go into great detail on the homepage), so poke around a little and you'll learn a thing or two.
If we had to sum it up, we'd say: electricians are in charge of putting in the wires and equipment that move electricity into and around a structure. After electrical equipment has been set up in a safe and efficient way, they use a variety of measurement tools to be sure that it's safe and "up to code."
Plumber Job Tasks
Contrary to public opinion, there is a great deal of variety in the plumbing occupation. Plumbers (along with pipefitters and steamfitters) install the pipes that transport materials, liquids, and gases into and out of a building. They also do a lot of maintenance work after pipes have been installed. And, similar to electricians, they work on a wide variety of buildings, including industrial buildings (such as factories and power plants), commercial buildings (such as sports arenas, malls, office buildings, restaurants, and shops), and residential homes and apartment complexes. If it's a building, it's got pipes, and it needs plumbers.
What Are The Training Periods Like?
In order for someone to be a licensed electrician (aka a "journeyman electrician"), he or she needs to complete an electrical apprenticeship that lasts four-to-five years. The apprenticeship takes place during normal work hours (usually 40 hours a week), where the apprentice has "hands on" learning at each job site. Apprentices are paid for their work, and they typically receive pay raises at specific points during the program. Apprenticeships can be difficult to attain–there's an entrance exam and a round of interviews–-so people who don't have any experience or who need help preparing for the apprenticeship exam can take classes at a local community college or vocational / technical school.
For plumbers, the apprenticeship is very similar. It takes about the same amount of time–four or five years, depending on the area you live in–and plumber apprentices are paid for the work they do. There are different rules and regulations in each state, so you'll have to find out about the specific requirements where you live/want to work. You can take a look on our state pages for information about the requirements in the state you live in.
Verdict: Tie. The training periods are very similar for electricians and plumbers. They're long, but they're a fantastic opportunity to learn a trade, get paid, and NOT incur any student loan debt.
Electrician Salary vs. Plumber Salary
This is an interesting one. According to the latest data released by the government, the median pay for electricians is a couple hundred dollars more per year than it is for plumbers. Here's how it breaks down:
- The median pay for plumbers in the United States is $49,140 per year
- The median pay for electricians in the United States is $49,840 per year.
If you forget your high school math, the median is "the number in the middle." In the stats above, it means that half of the plumbers make more than $49,140 in a given year, and half of the plumbers interviewed make less than $49,140 in a given year.
Verdict: Tie. Pretty close.
How Many Jobs Are There Currently In The United States?
This is an interesting statistic: there are currently 386,000 plumbers in the United States, whereas there are more than half-a-million (583,000) electricians in the United States. Becoming an electrician is a much more popular choice. That shouldn't affect your decision at all, but it's interesting to note.
If you decide to become an electrician or a plumber, can you count on there being jobs when you finish your apprenticeship? Regardless of which career you choose, you're in good shape. The expected growth for all occupations in the U.S. is 11% between the years of 2012 and 2022. For electricians, the expected growth is 20%, and for plumbers, the expected growth is 21%. Either way, you can count on there being work in a couple of years!
That kind of job security is a wonderful thing. The majority of Americans move through their professional career with absolutely no assurance that they'll be able to keep their jobs, or to find new jobs if–and when–they lose them.
Verdict: Tie. This is an important statistic, because it's such great news. In the plumber vs. electrician debate, you'll be sitting pretty in a few years, no matter which job track you choose.
I've Heard Plumbing Can Be A Little Gross
We should talk about this, and any real discussion of these two trades should touch upon it. So let's get to it: let's talk about feces.
Every time you've ever seen a plumber on television, he's up to his elbows in it. Is that how it is in real life?
No. Of course not. Sometimes, yes. But not all the time.
Just like electricians, plumbers do a lot of installation work on new buildings, and those pipes are clean as can be. There are, of course, plenty of situations where they DO have to work around human waste, but you already knew that.
But there's something else that's very important to keep in mind, too–it's not uncommon for electricians to encounter work situations that are absolutely disgusting. They work in cellars (both residential and industrial) where small animals have died many years previous. They work in restaurants where there's rotting food all over the place and/or tons of grease build-up from deep fryers. They work in industrial plants–including sewage treatment plants–where there's, well, feces. And, don't forget–electricians just get plain dirty a lot of the time. Before you get home and take a shower, electricians are pretty grimy.
Verdict: The electricians win this one. Electricians do, in fact, get dirty, but not as dirty (and not in such a specific way) as plumbers do.
Which Career Are You More Interested In?
In reality, both options are solid choices. Both types of professionals earn livings that are high above the national average, both enjoy expectations of excellent job growth, and both take about the same amount of time when it comes to apprenticeships.
Basically, it comes down to your interest! Which will you find more satisfying as a career? Talk with people in both trades, and try to get a feel for which career path will match with your personality. Either way, you'll be making a wise choice!