How to Take the Plunge and Become a Plumber in 6 Steps
Individuals interested in learning how to become a plumber can follow these steps to get their career off the ground.
Plumbers are one of several popular trade careers that are often in high demand due to the importance of plumbing systems in commercial, residential, industrial, and institutional settings. Not only is plumbing used to run clean water into homes, it’s also used to remove wastewater through shower drains, sinks, and toilets. It can also be seen in parks with fountains, in irrigation systems, or in water-bottle refilling stations. Eventually, it’s inevitable that almost every homeowner will need to budget for plumbing inspection costs or the cost to hire a plumber to address issues in their home.
According to James De Meo, master plumber and HVAC engineer at This Fixed House, “It’s obvious, but often overlooked, that plumbing is an essential home service, where there is always high demand for skilled professionals, no matter what the latest trend is or the state of the economy.”
Given the value and prevalence of plumbing systems, it isn’t surprising that a pro plumber could book appointments 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Individuals who are interested in finding out how to become a licensed plumber can feel confident knowing that as long as they learn plumber skills, potentially take classes at a plumbing school, and acquire the proper certifications, they will be more likely to find work with an established plumbing company. Individuals who think this seems like an appealing career choice will want investigate how to become a plumber by following some key steps.
Before You Begin…
Before finding out how to become a plumber, there are a few factors potential students will want to consider about this career path, including the types of plumbing services to learn, the plumbing training requirements, the plumber education requirements, and the average plumber salary. It’s important for an individual to understand exactly what a plumber does before committing to this career. Plumbers work on residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional plumbing systems to install plumbing fixtures, repair pipes, fix leaks, or even dig trenches for installing main service lines.
This career takes physical skill and mental proficiency, especially when it comes to basic math, measurements, blueprint reading, and an understanding of water flow, pressure, and fluid dynamics. To become a qualified plumber, one doesn’t necessarily need to attend a trade school, but it can be beneficial for furthering their career, picking up additional plumbing tips, and acquiring a master plumber license. Also, it’s important to note that plumbers are paid about $60,010 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some customers may even tip a plumber for exceptional work, increasing the earning potential.
“Every day can be different, from fixing leaks to installing new heating systems,” says De Meo. “True installations are where the money is but there is still enough diversity in the job to keep it interesting.”
Tips for How to Become a Plumber
- License requirements to be a plumber vary by state, so before applying for an apprenticeship or a trade school program, potential students will want to check the specific state requirements.
- There are three licensing levels for a professional plumber, including apprentice, journeyman, and master. A plumber apprentice can work under direct supervision, but to be able to work alone, a plumber must obtain a journeyman-level certification.
- Individuals who have obtained their plumbing qualifications in a different state may be able to get a license in their current state without having to take the state trade exam through a reciprocity agreement.
- Becoming a plumber requires a high school diploma or a GED. Those who want to pursue this career will want to get the necessary education in math, physics, and chemistry.
- The home can be a great resource to learn plumbing. Home plumbing systems can help prospective plumbers become more familiar with plumbing fixtures, water lines, drain lines, vent lines, and water-using appliances.
STEP 1: Get a high school diploma or GED, if you don’t already have one.
It isn’t a good idea to start down a career path without first finding out what that path holds, so it’s important to learn how to be a plumber before committing to this goal. In order to learn to be a plumber, students will need to earn a high school diploma or acquire their GED. This level of education is essential for ensuring that the individual has a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that are relevant to the plumbing trade, including math, physics, chemistry, blueprint reading, communication skills, and computer skills.
While there are no specific courses that are exclusively designed for the plumbing trade, Explore the Trades recommends that students take algebra, geometry, and trigonometry to enhance their math skills. Additionally, physics courses can help students understand water flow, pressure, and fluid dynamics, while chemistry provides students with knowledge about various chemicals, solvents, solutes, and chemical reactions. Most chemistry courses will also teach students how to read labels and safety data sheets. Students who seek to learn more on their own time can also turn to the best online course platforms such as Udemy or Masterclass.
However, even before graduating high school, there are steps that an individual can take to better prepare for this career path. The first step is to figure out how to get into plumbing. Individuals who are interested in plumbing as a career will want to take the opportunity to familiarize themselves with common plumbing systems, plumbing tools, and small plumbing projects they can take on before receiving a plumbing license, such as replacing the kitchen faucet or changing a toilet flapper. These basic jobs can help the prospective plumber get hands-on experience while bolstering their confidence.
Another avenue that prospective plumbers can research before graduating or getting their GED is the specific plumbing requirements and licensing regulations of the state. These requirements vary from state to state, so an individual can pass the licensing test in one state and start a career as a plumber, but if they move to another state, then they may still need to pass the test in their new location before they can work as a plumber.
STEP 2: Look into trade schools and take vocational courses.
Plumbing is a career that requires years of commitment, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be formal classroom learning or training. Many prospective plumbers get into plumbing through DIY plumbing jobs at home before working toward an apprenticeship with a local plumbing company. This career route can be an effective way to get an apprenticeship under an established plumber, allowing the apprentice to learn hands-on skills in a live environment as they gain the experience and knowledge necessary to learn how to become a journeyman plumber.
The drawback to jumping straight into an apprenticeship is that the prospective plumber may be missing out on key technical topics or specialized training that can help improve their range of skills, such as pipe systems education, plumbing codes, blueprint reading, and safety procedures. While an established plumbing company will teach new apprentices most of this information, some companies tend to stick to purely residential work, while others specialize in industrial, institutional, or commercial plumbing systems.
It’s recommended for individuals to look into trade schools and the best online plumbing courses to further their knowledge, training, and experience. Most of these programs will provide a simulated plumbing environment, where students can learn plumbing skills without the risk of flooding a customer’s home or setting fire to the insulation. One benefit of studying in a trade school before starting this career is that skilled and experienced instructors can provide direct feedback while watching the students perform various tasks.
As De Meo explains, “Some people choose to attend vocational or trade schools offering plumbing courses. This is a formal education process which is typically followed with an apprenticeship.”
Before applying to a trade school, students will want to research the institution and the program to determine how long it will take to complete. Most training programs take about 2 years to complete. Some may lead into an active apprenticeship, though this isn’t typically guaranteed. Additionally, some trade schools will offer business courses, such as budgeting or management, so that students can work toward a goal of running their own plumbing business.
STEP 3: Apply for an apprenticeship.
One of the most important parts of learning to become a plumber is gaining experience and the necessary skills to work on a range of plumbing systems. This includes learning plumbing fundamentals, reading blueprints, cutting pipes, soldering, designing pipe systems, inspecting and diagnosing issues, and also repairing or replacing existing plumbing systems. It’s also important for a trainee to have a firm understanding of the basic plumbing fields, such as residential, industrial, institutional, or commercial plumbing.
- Residential plumbing is generally limited to water lines that measure up to 2.5 inches in diameter. These plumbing lines are typically considered small lines and are used to carry water through the home. Residential plumbers also deal with vent lines and drain lines for the home.
- Industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) plumbing tends to focus more on large water lines and drain systems that are present in schools, hospitals, factories, and malls. Plumbers who specialize in this field will typically need a more advanced understanding of blueprint reading, pipe system design, and shut-down procedures. However, ICI plumbing jobs often pay more than residential work.
The licensed plumber who is overseeing the apprentice may lean more toward residential plumbing than industrial or institutional plumbing, which can leave a gap in the apprentice’s knowledge. With this in mind, it’s important for the trainee to research potential master plumbers before applying to work with them to ensure that their general scope of work covers areas of the plumbing field that are of interest to the apprentice.
According to De Meo, “[An apprenticeship] still seems to be the most common route. An apprenticeship combines on-the-job training with classroom theory and practical instruction. Most programs take [up to] 5 years to complete.”
“Apprenticeships should be seen as opportunities to build a network, gain experience, and improve technical skills. Take time to research master plumbers in the area to find a knowledgeable individual that will help further professional development.”
—Timothy Dale, BobVila.com contributor and former Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) Plumbing Project Manager
In order to secure an apprenticeship with one of the best plumbing services, prospective plumbers can reach out through their trade school or they can look into apprenticeship opportunities through local plumbing companies, trade unions, or industry associations. An apprenticeship for plumbing will generally last about 4 to 5 years before the apprentice is able to take the test to become a journeyman plumber. During this time, the apprentice must work under the direct guidance and supervision of a master plumber.
“When I started with no prior experience, I joined an apprenticeship program,” explains Andrew Miles, CEO at WaterFilterCast.com. “This typically lasts 4 to 5 years and combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction.”
“I had to document a specified number of work hours,” Miles recalls. “I remember meticulously tracking my hours and ensuring that all of my work was verifiable to fulfill this requirement. Then, I had to apply for and pass the state licensing exam, which tested my knowledge of plumbing codes, best practices, and practical application of my skills. I also had to provide proof of insurance and pay a licensing fee to the state. Being thorough and detail-oriented throughout this process was necessary to make sure that all prerequisites and documentation were accurately submitted. That’s probably the best advice I can give on that process.”
STEP 4: Get a plumbing license to become a journeyman plumber and work independently.
Completing an apprenticeship can take 4 to 5 years of hard work. During this time, the apprentice will get paid a lower salary than a licensed journeyman or master plumber. Additionally, the apprentice cannot take on work independently or without supervision, which means that they are unable to start their own plumbing company. Even if starting a company isn’t an aspiration, journeyman plumbers make more and are in higher demand than apprentices because they can be sent out to complete work with direct oversight.
Trainees will want to speak to the master plumber who has been in charge of the apprenticeship program before thinking about taking the journeyman plumber licensing test. This mentor figure will need to provide feedback on the apprentice’s current skill level, knowledge base, experience, and any areas of concern. Having this information at the ready is one of the best ways for an apprentice to prepare for the journeyman licensing test, allowing them to target areas of their education and understanding that may be lacking compared with other areas that they have become more familiar with during their apprenticeship.
On this test, apprentices can expect to find questions related to general construction laws, clean water service pipes, bathroom faucet installation, medical piping, water conservation laws, cost-reduction methods, safe working habits, and an understanding of plumbing systems. Ideally, an individual taking the journeyman licensing test will have mastered the basic skills of the trade; become familiar with local plumbing codes; and spend time honing their customer service, managerial, troubleshooting, and mechanical skills.
Trainee plumbers will want to research local licensing requirements specific to their location, then speak to the master plumber in charge of the apprenticeship or contact the local plumbing association to find out the necessary steps and documents needed to take the journeyman license test. This will often include documentation that verifies the past 4 or 5 years of work experience as an apprentice, as well as proving that the apprentice meets any education prerequisites that have been set by the local licensing authority.
STEP 5: Gain experience and take the licensing exam to become a master plumber.
Plumbers who make it to the journeyman level are allowed to work without supervision for an established plumbing company or even start their own plumbing business. According to the New England Institute of Technology, this position also comes with a higher salary than an apprentice receives and better job prospects. In fact, many journeyman plumbers reach this level and remain there for the rest of their careers, instead of spending more time and money to invest in further studies before potentially taking the master plumber licensing test.
Regardless of whether the master plumber certification is appealing or not, the next step along this career path is to become more familiar and experienced with a broad range of plumbing systems. It’s also a good opportunity to find a specialization that can be used to attract business, such as replacing water heaters or installing filtration systems. Some plumbers even choose to focus on niche areas, such as pool system plumbing, which can be a great way to get recurring business from local community pools or private pools.
It’s recommended for a student to find out how to become a master plumber while working as an apprentice or journeyman plumber. Those who decide to pursue a master plumber license will want to plan to spend 2 to 5 years as a journeyman plumber, learning as many skills and as much information about this trade as possible. Depending on the state, the plumber may also need to complete specific educational training, such as graduating from advanced plumbing courses or acquiring specific certifications.
Anyone who plans to oversee apprentice plumbers will need to pass the master plumber licensing test, which typically includes a written test and a practical exam. Some states may also require a background check before allowing the individual to take the test. Once the plumber meets the necessary experience, education, and examination requirements, they can submit their application for a master plumber license. They’ll want to double-check every document to ensure the application is complete and accurate; this will help avoid delays in the process.
STEP 6: If desired, start your own plumbing business and start building a client list.
Not every plumber strikes out on their own to start an independent plumbing business, so if management isn’t a strong point, then it’s perfectly acceptable for an individual to work as a plumber for an established plumbing company. Similarly, some plumbers choose to start a business, but they don’t hire any additional staff. This allows them to keep the overhead costs low, though it can be stressful to manage independently if the business is not going well or if it rapidly grows in popularity. Business owners will also want to budget for the best plumbing software like Jobber to help manage their business efficiently while growing it and adding to their client list.
Journeyman plumbers and master plumbers are considered experienced and skilled enough to work on their own. Individuals who want to start a plumbing business can begin to build the business as soon as they have their journeyman plumbing license, though many plumbers will wait until they have their master plumbing license before starting a plumbing business. This can be a benefit, as the company can advertise this level of skill, and it will stand out when prospective clients search online for “hire a plumber near me.”
Additionally, the master plumber will be able to take on one or more apprentices to help manage the daily workload. Working with apprentices is a great way for master plumbers to get more affordable labor while also gaining the opportunity to bring new employees into the business. Apprentices who get along with their master plumber mentor may even stay on after passing the journeyman license test, making it easier for the master plumber to take on more work or expand the business to new locations.
General plumbing services for basic residential repairs is likely the easiest plumbing field to get into. There is a steady flow of customers looking for a plumber to fix a leak, unclog a drain line, or put in a new faucet. However, it’s a good idea for a master plumber to choose a specialty that the business can advertise, such as replacing water heaters or working on septic systems. It’s also necessary for them to invest in the proper tools and equipment to tackle any plumbing jobs, while using websites, signs, flyers, and similar advertising tactics to market the business.
There are many in-demand trades that could be great career choices, including plumbing. If this trade seems like an attractive career path to pursue, then it’s important for a student to learn as much as possible about plumbing systems, plumbing services, licensing, education, and apprenticeship programs in order to map out the best route to become a plumber. Achieving this goal takes time and dedication, but prospective plumbers can look forward to a reasonable salary, consistent work, and the potential for further advancement. Additionally, plumbing is a great field for individuals who want to run their own business.