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.
Bacteria have been shown to live in "premises plumbing systems". The latter refers to the "pipes and fixtures within a building that transport water to taps after it is delivered by the utility". Community water systems have been known for centuries to spread waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera, however "opportunistic premises plumbing pathogens" have been recognized only more recently; Legionella pneumophila discovered in 1976, Mycobacterium avium, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are the most commonly tracked bacteria, which people with depressed immunity can inhale or ingest and may become infected with. These opportunistic pathogens can grow for example in faucets, shower heads, water heaters and along pipe walls. Reasons that favor their growth are "high surface-to-volume ratio, intermittent stagnation, low disinfectant residual, and warming cycles". A high surface-to-volume ratio, i.e. a relatively large surface area allows the bacteria to form a biofilm, which protects them from disinfection.
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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.
Plumbing is any system that conveys fluids for a wide range of applications. Plumbing uses pipes, valves, plumbing fixtures, tanks, and other apparatuses to convey fluids. Heating and cooling (HVAC), waste removal, and potable water delivery are among the most common uses for plumbing, but it is not limited to these applications. The word derives from the Latin for lead, plumbum, as the first effective pipes used in the Roman era were lead pipes.