How To Become a Plumber (Plumbing License Guide)

Table of Contents

What is a Plumber?

A plumber is a skilled trade worker trained and licensed in the installation and maintenance of plumbing systems. These systems are used to facilitate the flow of water, gas, solid or liquid waste, and other materials.

While most plumbers posses similar skills, not all plumbers are the same. Here are the most common types of plumbers: 

Residential Plumbers

Residential plumbers work in residential settings, such as homes and apartments. They install, maintain, and repair residential plumbing systems.

Then there comes the industry-specific skills that you’ll learn such as how to install pipes, how to properly measure pipe fitting, and how to test piping systems. You’ll also learn how to safely replace worn-out parts and specify which material is needed for the job.

Any experienced residential plumber will tell you that there are occasionally situations they haven’t come across in their career. In those situations, it’s important to remain calm and use your plumbing knowledge to find the root of the problem.

What is a Residential Plumber?

Their work involves installing pipes, setting up hot water systems, and cleaning drains. They also fix problems with residential septic or sewer systems. They also install, service, and repair water fixtures and water-using appliances.

Residential plumbers are those that are called in to inspect and repair issues within a residential home. Some common issues include a clogged sink, toilet dilemmas, and broken piping. 

They’re also used to fix dilemmas in the septic and sewer systems of a home, as well as install different water fixtures that the client might request. 

How to Become a Residential Plumber

First things first, you’ll need to have graduated with a high school diploma or something of equivalent education. 

Next, in order to learn the proper skills for the job, you’ll need to apply to attend a technical or plumbing school. There you’ll learn things such as welding, pipefitting, and begin learning about local codes.

The technical school classes should only take no more than a year to complete, then you’ll move on to an apprenticeship with a local expert. The apprenticeship takes 4 or 5 years to complete and requires up to 2,000 hours of training each year.

Luckily, that training is required to be paid, so you’ll be making a fair living while you build your career as a residential plumber!

Click here to browse residential plumbing jobs.

Commercial Plumbers

Commercial plumbers specialize in handling plumbing work for commercial structures. These include stores, office buildings, multi-family dwellings, hotels, and restaurants among others. As they work in larger structures, their work is also often more complex.

What is a Commercial Plumber?

As for the type of tasks they do, commercial plumbers handle common plumbing issues on a larger scale than their residential counterparts. This includes installing pipes, repairing leaks, and maintaining plumbing appliances.

How to Become a Commercial Plumber

Commercial plumbers are more educated when it comes to larger plumbing networks and pipes. For instance, they undertake training for swimming pools, sprinkler systems, and multi-zoned water and heating appliances.

This extensiveness in jobs is why many states differentiate them from residential plumbers. An example is Arizona, which grants separate licenses for residential and commercial contractors. The state further differentiates commercial contractors by “general contractors” and “small general contractors”.

Click here to browse commercial plumbing jobs.

Industrial Plumbers

Next up, we have the industrial plumbers who deal with humongous pipes. These pipes are those found in industrial buildings, such as factories and plants.

Some industrial plumbers also need diving licenses, as they may work underwater.

Cross-Categorical or General Plumbers

These plumbers have had training for residential, commercial, and industrial plumbing work. As such, they can do most of what these other plumbers.

However, some still choose to concentrate on a specific area. For instance, they may work 75% of the time with residential consumers. They may then work on 15% commercial jobs and 10% industrial.

How To Get a Plumbing License

Plumbing is a profession that requires licensure and certification to protect the public.

Typically, plumbing professionals need to pass an exam and complete a background investigation before they can begin work.

How does the plumbing license process work?

1. Attend a Plumbing School

The process to get a plumbing license typically begins with schooling.

Depending on the state, this is usually a trade school or college program that can take anywhere from two years to five years. The goal is to gain the experience and skills you need for your license exam.

Click here to check out plumbing schools near you.

2. Complete a Plumbing Apprenticeship

Once you’ve completed schooling, it’s time to find a plumbing apprenticeship program.

These programs are available through many state departments, as well as local businesses and nonprofits.

They usually offer a mix of classroom and hands-on training. You will be given the opportunity to work with other plumbers and apprentices as you learn the trade.

2a. Get an Apprentice Plumber License, if your state requires it

Some states require that plumbing apprentices are licensed, in which case attending a trade school can be beneficial.

You may need to get your license before working as an apprentice, or you will receive your license after completing the apprenticeship program or working in an apprentice plumber job.

3. Prepare For The Licensing Exam

A practical exam (also known as a performance exam) simulates a work situation to test a candidate’s ability and skill in performing critical and frequently performed job duties.

The exams are conducted by professional raters who are experts in the field.

While it is not easy to pass a practical examination by studying alone, the right study method can be extremely helpful in preparing for this type of exam.

Besides reading and studying the material, candidates should also practice using the tools they will be using on their practical exam.

Moreover, candidates should be familiar with the plumbing codes before taking the practical exam.

The codes are updated every code change cycle and provide accurate definitions for all the plumbing terms that will be used on the exam.

The practical exam consists of questions based on plumbing of one- and two-family dwellings and commercial installations. It also covers water supply protection and residential fire protection systems.

4. Obtain a Journeyman Plumber License

To receive your journeyman plumbing license, you must have a high school diploma or GED certificate.

You will also need to demonstrate between three to five years of work experience as an apprentice or under the direct supervision of a master plumber.

Having a master plumber sign an affidavit will be very helpful in demonstrating your required experience.

You will usually need to complete a journeyman plumber exam to further prove your competency for a license.  Depending on the state, the cost to get your plumbing license ranges from $25 – $250.

5. Work Towards a Master Plumber License

To become a master plumber, you must have at least two years of journeyman plumbing experience, although some states have greater experience requirements.

You will also need to pass a master licensing exam and submit a notarized affidavit from a master plumber.

Once you earn your master plumbing license, you’ll be able to perform just about any plumbing job available. You’ll also stand to make a much higher salary at your next job.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a plumbing license cost?

Licensing fees for plumbing cost between $150 and $250, depending on the state. The cost to get your plumbing license depends on the state you’re working in and the type of licensing you’re looking to earn.

You’ll pay a license fee and periodic renewal fees which vary by length and amount. Renewal costs range from $25 to $200 for a single year, with renewal lengths varying by state.

How long does it take to become a plumber?

In general, it takes about 10 years to become a licensed master plumber in any state. There is no minimum training requirement to work as a plumber, meaning you can start a plumber helper or entry level apprentice job with no experience.

That being said, each state has different training and experience requirements. It takes about two years to complete plumbing school, or 3 – 5 years to complete a plumbing apprenticeship and become a journeyman plumber.

At this point, you can become a master plumber after about two more years of journeyman experience along with proven expertise in blueprinting, management, and higher-level plumbing tasks.

Do you need a license to be a plumber?

You will need a license in order to become a plumber in just about any line of work. Unless you plan on doing handyman work, most plumbing companies will require you to get a license.

What kind of plumbing work can be done without a license?

Plumbers without a license can complete jobs that do not require a permit, such as drain cleaning, and replacements. However, working without a license limits job prospects and comes with professional risks, such as fines and penalties.

Is it illegal to do plumbing without a license?

It is illegal for unlicensed plumbers to engage in plumbing work that requires a permit. Plus, many state and local laws prohibit hiring an unlicensed plumber.

Can I transfer a plumbing license to another state? (Plumbing License Reciprocity)

Yes, some states have plumbing license reciprocity and will allow you to exchange your plumbing license for one in the another state.

Other states do not have license reciprocity, but will waive licensing fees or exam requirements for those with out-of-state licenses.

Make sure to check your state’s specific reciprocity rules before making a move.

What states do not require a plumbing license?

These states do not require a plumbing license:

  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wyoming


Note that while these states don’t require a license at the state level, some require licensing at the city or local level. 

How To Become a Plumber By State

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