How to Become a Plumber

Written by Beth Hering
Published on June 17, 2022 · Updated on September 16, 2022

How to Become a Plumber

Written by Beth Hering
Published on June 17, 2022 · Updated on September 16, 2022

Most of us are quite familiar with the types of things plumbers do. Perhaps one visited your house to install a new water heater or fix a persistent leak. Maybe you’ve even seen plumbers around construction sites reading blueprints to properly install pipes for a brand new house or building.

But, have you ever wondered how someone becomes a plumber? Here, we break down in detail exactly how to become a plumber: 

Step 1: Plumber Education

If you want to become a plumber, the journey to entering this trade begins by earning a high school diploma or its equivalent. During high school, aspiring plumbers benefit from taking classes that increase their numerical aptitude. Math abilities help with measurements and calculations that plumbers frequently perform. 

Plumbers do not need to earn a college degree. However, they do need to obtain a solid knowledge base about their industry. They must understand local codes and safety regulations and be able to apply these things to their daily work. 

Plumbers should be able to read blueprints in order to install pipes and other items correctly. They also should possess a keen understanding of plumbing principles in order to identify problems and troubleshoot.

While aspiring plumbers need to read and memorize material related to their job, much of their education comes from hands-on experience. This critical “real life” training comes from working under the guidance of experienced plumbers. Section 3 discusses the routes people take to learning the profession: trade schools and apprenticeships.

Potential plumbers may find it beneficial to get into good shape prior to pursuing the career. Plumbers need to possess sufficient strength to carry and hold heavy tools and materials. They also must be flexible enough to maneuver in and out of tight spaces. Similarly, being on one’s feet and performing physical tasks for much of the day demands stamina.

If someone wishing to become a plumber does not currently hold a driver’s license, he or she may wish to obtain one. Plumbers commonly travel to various locations, and employers often expect workers to drive a company vehicle.

Step 2: Plumber Training and Work Experience

Before getting into the details of how plumbers learn their trade, it helps to understand the big picture. People do not learn how to become a plumber overnight. It takes roughly four to six years to become a plumber. 

These professionals perform work that can have serious implications if done incorrectly. Therefore, states and even some local municipalities set stringent requirements before allowing someone to practice plumbing on his or her own.

While specifics often vary by state, an individual who wants to become a plumber generally has to pass a test. The exam covers a range of important topics

  • Drainage
  • Venting
  • Plumbing fixtures
  • Septic and sewer systems
  • Regulations
  • Backflow prevention, to name a few

An experience requirement also must be met. This qualification can be obtained by working under a master plumber or licensed journeyman for a certain number of years.

Learning how to become a plumber can involve a number of years of preparation, which can deter some who may be considering the career. After all, the process can take as long or longer than acquiring a bachelor’s degree! But you must realize that plumbing trainees earn as they learn! Yes, that means they get paid for their services. While trainees do not earn the same wage as licensed plumbers, they do start out making roughly half that amount and enjoy incremental salary increases as they gain additional training.

Step 3: Plumbing Trade School vs. Plumbing Apprenticeship

As mentioned earlier, two routes exist for obtaining the necessary knowledge and hands-on experience required of plumbers. Here, we look at trade school programs vs. plumbing apprenticeships.

Plumbing Trade School

Some people who wish to become plumbers choose to attend a vocational or trade school. Classes there cover material useful for both working as a plumber and for passing the licensing exam, such as how to use certain tools, how to read blueprints, and what plumbing codes exist in your region. 

Additionally, since trade schools maintain relationships with various organizations, the institution can assist students in landing a suitable arrangement for obtaining the necessary hours of work experience.

Plumbing Apprenticeship

Other aspiring plumbers can apply directly to local unions, trade associations, or specific businesses offering plumbing apprenticeships. These programs consist of both educational and hands-on components. A good place to start when looking for an apprenticeship is the governmental website apprenticeship.gov. Major job boards such as Indeed and CareerBuilder also frequently include listings for apprentice plumbers.

Do I need a plumbing license or plumber certificate to become a plumber?

In the interest of public safety, working as a plumber requires a license. With licensing requirements varying by state, however, smart prospective plumbers should check into their state’s specifics from the get-go. In fact, many places require obtaining an apprentice license before even starting to train as a plumber.

Two common licensing distinctions in plumbing are:

  • Journeyman Plumber - Requires accumulating the state-mandated amount of work experience (apprenticeship) and passing an exam demonstrating knowledge and skill. Getting to this point of being dubbed a “licensed plumber” usually takes about 4-6 years.

  • Master Plumber - After working as a journeyman plumber for several years, some plumbers choose to take the state licensing exam to be classified as a master plumber. Obtaining this level of licensure shows a high level of achievement in the trade and qualifies the holder to take on more complicated tasks. Master plumbers can also command greater salaries.

Note that plumbers need to renew their licenses on a regular basis in accordance with the policies of their state or municipality.

Step 4: Start Working

With a license in hand, a plumber can build a career of providing vital services to others while earning a good salary. The median annual wage of a plumber in May 2021 was $59,880 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The highest 10 percent of plumbers earned close to $100,000. Plumbers also often receive attractive benefit packages, especially those who belong to unions.

Current BLS projections show the demand for plumbers increasing 5% between 2020-2030. While people always will depend on plumbers for basic services, growth of the profession rests heavily on economic conditions. New construction and investment in updating older structures boosts the need for plumbing professionals.

Plumbers licensed at the journey level may advance over time to become a master plumber, supervisor, or project manager. They can broaden career opportunities by obtaining optional certification. For instance, the American Society of Plumbing Engineers offers a Green Plumbing Design Certificate for those interested in sustainable practices.

Some plumbers opt to pursue licensing requirements to start their own business. Being an independent contractor provides greater flexibility in choosing hours and projects. Along with being the leader, however, comes greater responsibility. Plumbers considering that route must develop significant business acumen and a clear understanding of all that goes into running a company beyond skill in the trade.

FAQ

  • What does a plumber do?

    • Plumbers are trained professionals who deal with piping systems in houses and other types of buildings. When a structure is being built, they may install pipes to carry water or gas. They also get called upon to fix leaks or drainage problems, repair or replace broken pipes, connect water-related appliances such as dishwashers and water heaters, and put in fixtures such as bathtubs and sinks.
  • What kind of hours do plumbers work?

    • The nature of the job does not always make standard workday hours possible. Plumbing problems can occur at any time, which necessitates calling in these professionals at night or on the weekend. Similarly, plumbers working on construction projects must conform to completion schedules. This may entail arriving on site at early-morning hours or putting in significant overtime as deadlines draw near.
  • What qualities might make someone a good plumber?

    • Plumbers need to possess sufficient physical strength and dexterity. They should be mechanically inclined, comfortable using a range of tools, and understand math well enough to perform measurements and calculations. Since plumbers work at various sites throughout their career, they should be comfortable traveling regularly to new places and interacting with unfamiliar people. Plumbers also benefit from being strong problem-solvers capable of observing and testing in order to arrive at viable solutions.
  • Could plumbing be a good field for a woman?

    • As in many trades, females continue to be underrepresented in plumbing. However, there are thousands of women who have completed the training to become licensed plumbers. Female plumbers command respectable salaries just like their male counterparts, and women plumbers experience less of a wage gap compared to many other occupations. As Baby Boomers continue to retire, qualified people – regardless of gender – will be needed to fill their places in the years ahead.