How to Get a Plumbing License in 5 Steps
Plumbing can be a rewarding and lucrative career choice. Before they start down this career path, aspiring plumbers will need to learn how to get a plumbing license to operate legally in their state.
Many skilled trades require a specific certification or license as proof that an employee has had official training and education. The plumbing business is no different, and a plumbing certification allows an individual to work as a licensed plumber to repair, install, or maintain various plumbing systems. While the high school years can be a great time to learn how to get a plumbing license, it’s never too late to find out how to get into plumbing. In fact, all a person needs to get a plumbing apprentice license is to enroll in a trade school and register as an apprentice under a licensed master plumber.
However, the exact steps for becoming a plumber, getting a journeyman plumber license, and acquiring a master plumber license can vary depending on the state plumbing license requirements. Additionally, some states may have plumber education requirements, such as a high school diploma, GED, or the successful completion of a trade school program. Aspiring plumbers will want to learn more about the various aspects of this career and how to get a plumbing license so they can get to work.
Before You Begin…
Before a student starts down the path of obtaining a plumbing license, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different certification levels, as well as the average plumber salary. This can help the students decide whether this is the right career path for them and how far they want to take their career. Not every plumber decides to start a plumbing company or pursue a master plumber license.
There are three main levels of certification in the plumbing industry, including apprentice plumbers, journeyman plumbers, and master plumbers. On average, a professional plumber will make about $60,090 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, apprentice plumbers earn the least due to their general lack of experience and the need to be supervised while they work. Master plumbers earn the most because they have obtained certification that proves their level of skill and expertise in the field.
As James De Meo, master plumber and HVAC engineer with This Fixed House, explains, “The criteria and difficulty of obtaining a plumbing license varies by state. But generally speaking, most applications involve completing an apprenticeship or a set number of work hours, passing a licensing exam that tests knowledge of the trade and local plumbing codes, and some form of ongoing education to maintain the license.”
Tips for How to Get a Plumbing License
- Research local trade schools that have top-tier plumbing programs.
- Meet with master plumbers in the area that are looking to take on apprentices.
- Read up on the top plumbing tips and practice plumbing skills on DIY jobs to become more familiar with plumbing systems.
- Look into state-specific licensing requirements to determine what is necessary at each licensing level.
STEP 1: Check with your state’s board of plumbing to determine the specific plumbing license requirements in your location.
Learning how to become a licensed plumber starts with a basic understanding of the requirements to get a plumbing license. These requirements can vary depending on the location, however, so it’s important for aspiring plumbers to research the license requirements for the current area and any other states where they plan to work. Typically, a new plumber will only need to be concerned about the license requirements for the state in which they live, but a plumbing company that is located close to state lines may require its workers to adhere to the license requirements for both states.
“Check state and local license requirements to determine what is needed to secure a plumbing license in the area. Some states, like Kansas or Missouri, do not have licensing requirements, while most others have strict regulations that require proof of on-the-job and in-class experience.”
—Timothy Dale, BobVila.com contributor and former Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) Plumbing Project Manager
Similarly, some states may differentiate between a plumbing license and a plumbing contractor license, so individuals will want to check the details carefully when researching state requirements. Plumbing contractors typically hold additional training and licenses, allowing them to work for larger plumbing companies in an expanded capacity. Additionally, aspiring plumbers will want to note that, while some states allow individuals to complete plumbing work unlicensed, the local municipalities in these areas may have their own requirements and regulations.
The education requirements and the number of hours that an apprentice or journeyman plumber must spend in class or on the job differs from one state to another. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t currently require licensing for plumbers, whereas Utah requires the completion of an apprenticeship education program (576 hours), including a minimum of 8,000 hours of training, before an apprentice plumber can take the journeyman plumber licensing test. Some states, such as Texas, may even have additional licensing levels that must be achieved before one can acquire a journeyman or master plumber license.
In most states, operating without a license isn’t a good idea. Without taking the appropriate steps to become a licensed plumber, an individual could face a hefty fine and the possibility of jail time. Similarly, before hiring a new plumber, plumbing companies often conduct a thorough background check, as well as require proof of plumbing certification, before hiring a new plumber.
STEP 2: Enroll in trade school or apply for an apprenticeship to start getting work experience as a plumber.
Getting started in the plumbing industry doesn’t need to be difficult. A quick search for how to get a plumbing license online will generally yield a list of various plumbing certification programs that are available throughout the states. Some programs may even be able to provide online certification, allowing interested individuals the opportunity to study from home or on the go. In most states, a prospective plumber will be required to have a high school diploma or a GED. During this period of study, it’s recommended for the student to focus on subjects that will be useful for a plumbing career, such as geometry, algebra, and physics.
After obtaining a high school diploma or GED, students will need to enroll in a trade school, take one of the best online plumbing courses, or apply for an apprenticeship with a master plumber—or even all three. The application process for a plumbing apprenticeship generally involves filling out forms, taking entrance tests, and going through an interview. Ideally, a plumber apprenticing under a master plumber will also spend some time studying in a trade school to ensure that they fully round out their knowledge, hands-on skills, and on-the-job experience.
Trade school plumbing programs can provide an overview of the knowledge, skills, and training that may be difficult for students to pick up in residential settings. Similarly, there are few substitutions for face-to-face customer interactions during an apprenticeship. Trainee plumbers will want to keep in mind that an apprenticeship is a commitment. The pay is lower than what journeyman and master plumbers make, and the apprentice will need to accumulate an average of 4,000 to 12,000 hours before they can take the test to obtain a journeyman plumber license.
Due to the wide range of specialties and services in the plumbing industry, it’s almost impossible for an apprentice plumber to get first-hand experience in every facet of the business. Trade school training can help round out this education, but for those who are interested in specific areas of the plumbing industry, it’s best to seek out an apprenticeship with one of the best plumbing services that specializes in those areas. Otherwise, the apprentice may get a lot of experience with other plumbing systems but gain very little knowledge about their preferred specialty.
STEP 3: Take an exam to become a licensed journeyman plumber once you’ve met the state’s work experience requirements.
An apprenticeship is just the start of the journey to becoming a licensed plumber. Typically, an apprentice is not allowed to work as a professional plumber without direct supervision. Additionally, apprentice plumbers do not receive the same level of compensation as journeyman or master plumbers. Most states require an individual to work as an apprentice for 1 to 4 years in order to gain hands-on experience in the plumbing field while under the supervision of a master plumber. This gives the apprentice the opportunity to gain new skills, grow their experience in the field, and develop a better understanding of the job.
After spending several years as an apprentice, the plumber can study and take a test to become a licensed journeyman plumber. This certification will allow the plumber to work without supervision and receive a higher salary for their work. The plumber will need to contact the licensing body for their state and fill out an application to take the test. This will generally include showing proof of experience, completing a basic application form, and paying a small fee to take the test.
The journeyman plumber license test will typically be made up of situation-based scenarios that the test-taker needs to be able to recognize and respond to with accurate information gained through hands-on experience and in-class learning. Individuals who are planning to take the journeyman plumber licensing test will need to study and consider taking one or more practice tests to prepare. Another great way to get ready for the test is to consult with other plumbing professionals who have taken the test previously.
Once apprentice plumbers have successfully completed the test, they will be licensed journeyman plumbers. At this skill level, some plumbers will choose to leave the company they apprenticed with to start their own plumbing business, though it can be beneficial to spend 1 to 2 years working for an established company while building up enough financial investment to start a new company.
STEP 4: Apply for a master plumber license once you have enough experience under your belt as a journeyman.
Many journeyman plumbers are happy with their current licensing level. A journeyman plumber license allows the plumber to work for an established plumbing company without direct supervision, so they can earn a fair wage for a hard day of work. Journeyman plumbers who prefer to work on their own can start a one-person business that primarily focuses on minor repairs or residential renovations. Similarly, ambitious journeyman plumbers can immediately start their own plumbing business with a crew of staff.
However, a journeyman plumbing license does have some limitations. Depending on the area, a journeyman plumber may not be able to take on apprentices, which can reduce the pool of potential hirees for a new company. Also, journeyman plumbers do not make as much money as master plumbers, so it is beneficial to consider pursuing a master plumbing license for those who are looking to increase their earning potential.
The exact requirements to become a licensed master plumber vary by state, so individuals will want to check the state-specific regulations for their area. In most cases, an individual will be required to work as a journeyman plumber for 1 to 2 years and provide proof of this experience before being allowed to take the master plumber licensing test. Master plumbers are often responsible for maintaining and repairing indoor and outdoor plumbing systems in residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional settings.
The master plumber licensing exam will test the individual’s knowledge of a wide variety of plumbing systems, including fire suppression systems, storm drainage systems, water supply systems, the installation of plumbing systems, knowledge of the international plumbing code, knowledge of the international fuel gas code, plumbing terminology, and plumbing job management. After passing this test, the individual will receive their master plumber license, which is highly recommended for plumbers who want to start their own plumbing business and is also necessary to run apprenticeship programs for new plumbers.
STEP 5: Check to see if your state has a reciprocal agreement with nearby states if you plan on working in more than one state; if not, apply for additional licenses.
As mentioned, there may be a significant difference in the licensing requirements from one state to another. While some states may allow individuals to work on plumbing systems without a license, other states have strict apprenticeship training and testing guidelines. Due to the discrepancy between state licensing requirements, receiving a license in one state does not automatically certify the individual to work as a professional plumber anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, plumbers who decide to move may have to retake their plumbing license tests to receive a state-specific license.
However, in most cases, the plumber will not need to reinvest years of their life in an apprenticeship program. As long as there is proof of the work experience, most licensing organizations will allow the plumber to take the test immediately, though there will still be a small fee to take the test. Additionally, they will not be able to work in the state until they have completed this step in the process.
There are a couple of situations in which moving to a different state or working in multiple states does not require a plumber to apply for additional licenses. The first is if the plumber is moving to a state that does not have plumber licensing requirements. The plumber can work as usual, though they may need a business license or contractor license depending on the area. Another situation is if the state in which the plumber received their license has a reciprocal agreement with one or more nearby states.
States will be able to issue the plumber a license as long as the plumber can show proof that they received a valid plumbing license in a state with a reciprocal agreement in place. Plumbers can check the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) to determine which states have reciprocity agreements. They’ll want to keep in mind that there may still be an application process and a small fee to process the application, though the exact process depends on the state and the license type.
Plumbing can be a challenging and rewarding career that comes with fair compensation and the pride of working with your own hands to build or maintain existing plumbing systems. However, a plumbing license is required in most states and local municipalities before one can work as a professional plumber. Individuals will need to register with a trade school or under a master plumber to become an apprentice plumber, then spend about 1 to 4 years working as an apprentice to be eligible to take the journeyman plumber licensing test. Ambitious individuals who want to train their own apprentices, start a plumbing business, or simply earn a higher salary can then pursue the master plumber license after working as a journeyman plumber for 1 to 2 years.