Plumber Job Description (& How to Become One)
What Does a Plumber Do?
The particular job at hand determines what the plumber's daily responsibility will include, from being brought in to design piping for new construction, to unclogging horribly stopped up drains in existing buildings. Here's some of what's included in the plumber's job description:
- Plumbers need to be able to read blueprints and follow the state and local building codes.
- You can inspect, determine, and troubleshoot existing or potential plumbing problems.
- You need to know and understand every type of piping system, what kind of piping is required, and how to connect them, for a variety of buildings and properties.
- You should also know how to perform basic carpentry, as well as how to attach and weld fillings.
Find a trade school near you.
How to Become a Plumber
In order to become a plumber:
- You must be a minimum age of 18
- You must have either a High School Diploma or GED
- You will have to pass a basic math test
- You will need a clean drug test
- You will need some working knowledge of computers
- Get training at either a trade school or community college program.
- Complete an apprenticeship program which takes 4-5 years to complete.
- Get that plumbing license in whichever capacity your state requires.
Difference Between Apprentice, Journeyman, & Master Plumbers
ApprenticeshipAs a plumber apprentice, you’ll study under a journeyman or master plumber, both through on the job experience as well as through traditional coursework.
- Most apprenticeship programs are an average of 2,000 on-the-job hours.
- You’ll also have 246 classroom hours.
- Apprenticeships take 2-6 years to complete.
- The most common way to enter an apprenticeship is through a plumbers union.
- Another way is studying under a licensed plumber.
A great resource to find out about local apprenticeships is through the United Association.
- A journeyman plumber has completed the required apprenticeship and can practice the trade on his or her own.
- A licensing exam must be passed to become a journeyman plumber.
- The licensing exam tests the knowledge and skills you’ll have learned throughout the apprenticeship.
- There are continuing education requirements and licensing exam renewals required.
- Some states expect this yearly, while others may only require renewal every three to five years.
- To become a master plumber, you must first work for two consistent years as a Journeyman.
- You must also take an exam and pass both the written and practical portions of it.
- Once you’ve passed and are a master plumber, you can work supervisory roles
- You are also qualified to plan and design entire plumbing systems in addition to your previous skills.
Cost of Plumber Training
The most popular program for aspiring plumbers is an apprenticeship. However, many also choose either a certificate or associate’s degree program to begin their plumbing training. There are no wrong answers because all programs lead to an apprenticeship. Find a local plumbing trade school program.
Type of Program
Cost for Education
1 year + apprenticeship
2 years + apprenticeship
Additional costs for training
Most plumbing training programs will include things such as coursework and on-the-job training. But, above and beyond what’s included you should expect other costs like books, tools, and uniforms which can range between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Depending on which program you choose, you may have to think about living expenses, as well.
Find a trade school near you.
Financial Aid for Plumber Trade School
Going to school can be expensive. But, don’t let the cost keep you from pursuing your plumbing education. There are plenty of available monies to be found for most trades, plumbing being no exception. The first thing you MUST do when applying for financial aid is to fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA is the most important step to take when you’re looking for scholarship and grant money. Once that is filled out, you will be eligible for other financial aid opportunities, alongside whatever the Pell Grant allows you.
Scholarships specific to plumbing
- World Plumbing Council: Scholarships through the World Plumbing Council include $10,000 to cover the cost of education and possible living expenses to the candidate. There are two scholarship opportunities available. One is for applicants in developing countries and one for developed countries such as the US and Canada.
- American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE): Many chapters of the ASPE offer scholarships for plumbing applicants. The full list of scholarships and locations are available on the ASPE site.
- PHCC Educational Foundation: Students entering plumbing or HVAC are eligible for the PHCC Educational Foundation scholarships. These scholarships are to help offset apprenticeship costs, which can add up. Deadline is May 1 of each year.
- Nexstar Legacy Foundation: This scholarship is available to qualified people living in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the Cayman Islands. Through the Nexstar Legacy Foundation, there are three different scholarships available for those entering trades such as plumbing. There is the Technician Service Provider Scholarship, an apprenticeship scholarship, and a Troops to Trade scholarship.
The median annual salary for plumbers is $55,160. The highest 10% can earn close to $100k, while those just starting out as plumbers will probably make more along the lines of $32,690. Apprentices bring home between 30%-50% of what fully trained plumbers earn. The more they learn, the more they’ll earn.
States with the Highest Paying Median (average) Salaries
Shortage of Plumbers
Here’s a little fact: For every three skilled trade workers leaving their industry, there is only one skilled trade worker entering it. This fact holds true for the plumbing industry, as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the employment outlook for skilled plumbers is expected to grow 4 percent through 2029.
Even though the employment growth is excellent, employers are still reporting difficulty in finding skilled plumbers to fill the growing void being created by those who are retiring. New building construction, along with stricter regulations on industry standards for economic efficiency plumbing are both reasons for the spike in job openings. Find a trade school near you.
- Pipelayers are the guys (or gals) who install the pipes needed for plumbing systems. Think drainage for storms or water mains. Their work is very strenuous because they also have to do the digging for the pipes, as well as grading the trenches where the pipes will be placed. The pipelayers secure the pipes by using special glue, welding, or cementing them firmly in place. The average yearly salary for pipelayers is $37,780.
- Pipefitters are in charge of large industrial plumbing projects. They also install and maintain heating and cooling piping systems in manufacturing, industrial, and commercial settings. Pipefitters make an average salary of $50,620.
- Steamfitters install the piping systems which move steam under high pressure in any setting where heat and electricity are generated. The average annual salary for steamfitters is $50,550.
- Salary is dependent on location, industry, or project and can vary for everyone.
Women in Plumbing
Many trades are looking at a critical time because more people are retiring than entering the fields. Plumbing is just one of those trades facing similar issues. Many women thinking about going into trade professions may stay away from plumbing based on some stereotypical thoughts like, say, plumbers butt-crack (yes, it’s a thing), and the fact that it can be an exceptionally messy job (such as clogged toilets). However, many women in the plumbing field feel that they are treated very professionally by both their male co-workers and their clients.
Plumbing can be an exceptionally lucrative career for those in the field, not excluding women. And now especially because more contractors are eager to train women in plumbing. It’s not that plumbing companies don’t want women to work for them, in fact, quite the opposite. Women just don’t seem to be packing in to learn the male-dominated trade. The fact is, women can find an excellent, well-paying career as a plumber just as easily as men, if not more so.
The gender-pay gap is perhaps the biggest within the plumbing industry, with women earning over 25% less than their male counterparts. However, due to the extreme shortage of qualified plumbers, this wage gap could potentially close if more qualified women plumbers were to fill the opened positions.
- The Dwyer Group offers a $1500 scholarship to be used for trade or technical school. A short essay is one of the requirements to be eligible.
- Another scholarship for women entering trade professions is from Tradeswomen, Inc. Women entering plumbing school are also entitled to the plumbing scholarships listed in the financial aid section of this article.
Plumber Licensing & Certification
The Federal Government does not regulate licensing for plumbers; they are on a state-by-state government level. Most states have some sort of licensing requirement for plumbers and any general contractors. However, if plumbers aren’t licensed, they could be subjected to expensive fines and it could result in the loss of their being allowed to practice their trade.
- Licensing: There is no standard when it comes to licensing for plumbers. Each state has their own rules and regulations. Most states do require 2-5 years of plumbing experience before the plumbing licensing exam can be taken. Practice tests are available online and can increase the chances of passing the somewhat difficult licensing exam. The plumbers licensing exam will test the knowledge of local codes and best practices.
- Certification: Certifications are not requirements, but they do help plumbers regarding career advancement. Once the plumber has completed the apprenticeship and has successfully gotten their license, they will be eligible to sit for the certification exams. There are a few different certifications available to plumbers. Through the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors Association, in partnership with Green Plumbers USA, there is a training and certification program available for water and energy efficient technologies. With the way the environment is going green, this certification is a good idea for plumbers to consider. There is also the National Inspection Testing Certification(NITC) available to Journeymen Plumbers. The NITC also offers Journey and Master Plumber level certifications for plumbing codes and a Mastery certification exam for plumbers with over five years experience. There are fees involved, and they vary depending on the exam.
APPRENTICESHIP, JOURNEYMAN, AND MASTER PLUMBERS: UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE
- Apprenticeship: A plumber apprentice studies under a journeyman or master plumber to learn the trade on the job as well as through coursework. Most apprenticeship programs are an average of 2,000 on-the-job hours and 246 classroom hours which takes 2-6 years to complete. The most common way to enter an apprenticeship is through a plumbers union. A great resource to find out about local apprenticeships is through the United Association. Another way is studying under a licensed plumber.
- Journeyman: A journeyman plumber has completed the required apprenticeship and can practice the trade on his or her own. A licensing exam must be passed to become a Journeyman Plumber. The licensing exam tests the knowledge and skills learned throughout the apprenticeship. There are continuing education requirements and licensing exam renewals required. Some states expect this yearly, while others may only require renewal every three to five years.
- Master Plumber: To become a master plumber, you must first work for two consistent years as a Journeyman. You must also take an exam and pass both the written and practical portions of it. Once you’ve passed and are a Master Plumber, you can work supervisory roles, and you are also qualified to plan and design entire plumbing systems in addition to your previous skills.
State-by-State Plumber License Resources
Alabama requires a license for general contractors and subcontractors if the project cost, including labor, is at least $50,000.00 for commercial and industrial jobs, $10,000.00 for residential jobs, and $5,000.00 for swimming pools.
Alaska requires a separate license for commercial and residential contractors. Non-residential contractors aren’t required to take an exam, but residential contractors need to complete the Alaska Craftsman Home Program or post-secondary course in Arctic engineering, followed up by an Endorsement Application for Residential Construction.
Plumbers, electricians, and those who work with asbestos abatement, hazardous paint, boilers, and explosives must also have a Certificate of Fitness for the Trades.
Arizona has separate licenses for commercial and residential work, and also has dual licensing to cover both on one license. Residential construction is defined as houses, townhomes, condos, cooperative units, and apartments with four units or fewer. A license is necessary to bid on jobs of $750.00 or more.
A homeowner in Arkansas doesn’t need a license to do the work himself or herself. However, a contractor (if used) must be licensed if the work, including labor and material, exceeds $2,000.00. Subcontractors working for a licensed contractor do not need their own license. However, if the general contractor is not licensed, then the subcontractor does need their own license.
In general, California requires a license for jobs exceeding $500.00 whether on a single project or on multiple projects totaling this amount.
General contractors are not licensed by Colorado. Rather, they are licensed locally. Electrical and plumbing contractors, however, are licensed by the state. Contractors are required to get a business license, but not every contractor is required to get a contractor’s license. Local regulations should be checked.
Connecticut differentiates between “major contractor” from “minor contractor”. A major contractor is licensed to work on institutional residences (care homes, jails, etc.), hotels/motels, multi-family residences, and other large sites. A minor contractor is licensed to work on private homes and small multi-family units. A license is needed if the job exceeds $200.00 for a single job or if the yearly work exceeds $1,000.00 total.
Delaware requires a license for jobs exceeding $50,000.00. Digging a water well and/or installing a pump requires a separate license in Delaware.
Florida has two license types: registered and certified. A registered contractor is licensed to work at the local level, while a certified contractor can take work anywhere in the state. Irrigation contracting is considered a specialty license and require that specific license.
Georgia requires a license for work on detached single-family or two-family homes or single-family townhomes less than four stories tall, and for projects exceeding $2,500.00. A contractor must also take the Georgia Business Law exam.
Hawaii requires a licensed contractor for jobs exceeding $1,000.00 and/or requiring permits. Electrical and plumbing licenses are required for jobs involving those specific trades. General engineering contractors are needed for land leveling, sewers, excavations, and paving. General building contractors are needed for building structures such as additions and new construction.
Idaho doesn’t license general contractors at the state level. However, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, well drillers, fire sprinkler systems, and public works contractors are licensed by the state. General contractors are licensed at the local level.
Aside from public works and roofing, Illinois doesn’t issue contractor licenses. Requirements must be checked at the local level.
Indiana only license’s plumbers at the state level. All others should be checked locally.
Iowa requires that all construction contractors be registered with the Iowa Division of labor only if their work will earn $2,000.00 for that year. “Construction” includes new construction, building alterations, and home improvement projects.
Kansas only licenses water well drillers and asbestos abatement contractors. All others are handled at the local level.
Kansas licenses can be researched at individual city and county websites.
Kentucky only licenses electrical, plumbing, and HVAC contractors. A homeowner can perform his or her own plumbing work with the proper permits, but for safety’s sake HVAC and electrical require a licensed contractor. Kentucky has HVAC reciprocity with Ohio.
Louisiana requires a building contractor be registered if construction work exceeds $75,000.00. Home improvement and repair contractor limits are between $7,500.00 and $75,000.00. If a repair or improvement exceeds this limit, the home improvement contractor must register as a building contractor.
Maine only licenses plumbing, electrical, and asbestos abatement contractors. Although general contractors need not be licensed, a business license is still required.
Maryland license’s plumbers (including gas fitters), electricians, HVAC, and home improvement contractors. They must have an MHIC license.
Massachusetts requires anyone supervising or performing construction work to be licensed.
Residential roofers, remodelers, and builders must be licensed if gross receipts equal at least$15,000.00. Plumbers are licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health, electricians by the Board of Electricity. HVAC contractors are licensed at the local level.
Any project exceeding $500.00 requires a contractor license.
Missouri requires licensing only for work done in towns that exceed a population of 15,000.
License searches are done at the local level.
A construction contractor or subcontractor must register with Montana’s department of Labor and Industry only if they have employees. Electricians and plumbers are required to be licensed regardless of number of employees.
Builders, plumbers, renovators, and HVAC contractors do not need licenses, but they do require registration if the contract exceeds $2,500.00. Electricians must be licensed with the Nebraska State Electrical Division. Counties with populations of 100,000 or more require a business license.
New Hampshire only licenses asbestos and lead abatement contractors, plumbers, and electricians. For electrical work, license requirements are determined by the type of circuit. Signaling circuits such as fire alarms do not require a license for installation. Circuits for heat, light, or power do require a license.
New Jersey home builders and home repair contractors must be registered with the state. Electricians, plumbers, and home improvement contractors must be licensed. Home repair contractors dealing in cash payments over a period of 90 days or less do not need licenses.
All contractors in New Mexico must be licensed with the state regardless of the contract.
Asbestos abatement is the only contract work licensed at the state level in New York. All others are handled at the local level.
License searches must be done at the local level.
North Carolina requires a general contractor’s license for jobs costing $30,000.00 or more. All electricians, plumbers, HVAC, and fire sprinkler contractors must be licensed.
General contractors are licensed at the local level. Electrical, plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, and hydronics are licensed at the state level regardless of contract.
Oklahoma licenses plumbers, electricians, and mechanical (HVAC) contractors. General contractors are licensed at the local level.
Oregon requires a license for anyone performing construction activity for compensation. The exceptions are handyman projects totaling less than $1,000.00 and being “casual, minor, or inconsequential in nature”.
Pennsylvania only licenses asbestos and lead abatement contractors at the state level. All others are locally licensed.
Licenses are researched at the local level.
Rhode Island requires registration with the Contractor’s Registration Board for building, repairing, or remodeling 1- to 4-family residences. Electricians, plumbers, and HVAC contractors must be licensed.
South Carolina requires a license for residential work totaling over $200.00.
South Dakota only licenses plumbers, electricians, and asbestos abatement contractors. General contractors are licensed at the local level.
License search: electrical call 605-773-3573, plumbers call 605-773-3153
Tennessee requires a license for bidding on jobs exceeding $25,000.00, and on masonry work exceeding $100,000.00.
Only specialty contractors, including HVAC, fire sprinkler systems, plumbing, and well drilling/pump installation specialists, need to be licensed in Texas.
Utah requires all contractors be licensed at the state level regardless of the size of contract. There are over 50 classifications of licenses.
Vermont licenses general contractors or home improvement contractors at the local level. Plumbing/HVAC and electrical contractors are licensed at the state level.
Tradesman licenses are required for electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and all gas fitting. Construction contractors are licensed by the Virginia Board for Contractors at three levels:
- Class A: Single contracts at $70,000.00 or more, or $500,000.00 in a single year.
- Class B: Single contracts at $7,500.00 to less than $70,000.00, or $150,000.00 to less than $500,000.00 in a single year.
- Class C: Single contracts at $1,000.00 to less than $7,500.00, or less than $150,000.00 in a single year.
General and specialty contractors must be registered with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Electricians must be licensed and plumbers certified.
General contractors are not required to be licensed, but any subcontractors must be even if the general contractor is licensed. DC has project cost limits according to license class:
- A – No limit
- B – $10,000,000.00
- C – $5,000,000.00
- D – $2,000,000.00
- E – $500,000.00
Plumber certification search
Plumbing, electrical, HVAC and building contractors must apply for credentials at the state level. Building contractors must have a Dwelling Contractor Certification and a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier Certification to pull permits.
Only electricians are licensed at the state level. All others are licensed at the local level. Inspectors are not guaranteed on every permitted electrical project, but they may be specifically requested if you want to be assured of an inspection.
Wyoming Contractor Licenses
Electrician licenses are checked by calling 307-777-7288.