How to Become A Plumber: The Definitive Guide

How to Become A Plumber: The Definitive Guide
Cian
Last updated at July 29, 2021

Learning a trade like plumbing is not only lucrative but is also considered “recession-proof.” Just like modern society needs doctors to ensure the community’s good health in good times and bad, plumbers help ensure proper sanitation, which is an aspect of society that will never go away.

Claiming that licensed plumbers always have work and never get laid off is plain wrong. However, master plumbers enjoy lots of opportunities and are typically paid well. 

Becoming a master plumber takes years of training since plumbing systems have a complex infrastructure. It will take you time to learn the skills and understand the codes and statutes necessary to ensure proper sanitation. 

But the great pay and excellent job stability you enjoy after you become a licensed plumber make the years you spend in training worth the effort.

If you’re wondering how to become a plumber, the next step you should take is to get a glimpse of what it will take for you to become one.

To help you out, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to become a plumber.

What Does A Plumber Do?

The primary responsibilities of a plumber include installing, maintaining, and repairing fixtures for water and gas in both residential and commercial settings. Plumbers may provide their plumbing services factories in any industry as well.

A plumber may also fix malfunctioning heating systems and other fixtures that conduct liquids and gases in commercial and residential buildings. 

To complete their task, a plumber often needs to work in enclosed spaces, stand on ladders, and work outside in the elements for hours on end. In addition, a plumber typically works alone and is required to travel a lot, sometimes long distances, to carry out repairs or installations as per the client’s requirement.

All in all, the duties of a licensed plumber include:

  • Traveling to condominiums, residential buildings, and businesses of all sizes to assess plumbing problems.
  • Interpreting blueprints for repairs and new installations.
  • Using special equipment to find, pinpoint, and diagnose the plumbing issue.
  • Recommending the best repair long-term option after determining the cause of the plumbing issue.
  • Calculating estimates for repair or new installations before carrying them out.
  • Determining the material requirements for completing an installation or repair.
  • Installing amenities such as sinks, bathtubs, toilets, toilet paper holders, and other related appliances.
  • Installing pipes and other plumbing fixtures.
  • Cutting, welding, or assembling pipes, fittings, and fixtures required for repair or installation.
  • Repairing appliances and fixtures related to the plumbing of the building.
  • Ensuring that installation or repair is carried out in compliance with state codes and regulations.

Some specialize in designing plumbing systems while ensuring they meet all of the state’s regulatory requirements.

How Much Money Do Plumbers Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that plumbers earn a median annual salary of $56,330 as of May 2020. Plumbers serving in the manufacturing industry make the most money on average ($58,580/year), followed by:

  • Those working for the government ($58,260/year)
  • Working alongside civil engineers at construction sites ($56,840/year)
  • Serving as contractors fixing plumbing, heating, and AC issues ($55,620/year)

The demand for master plumbers is estimated to increase by 4% by 2029, which is considered an average pace of growth in demand. 

The states of California, Texas, and New York have the most demand for licensed plumbers. However, plumbers in Alaska, Illinois, and Massachusetts get paid the most, earning over $80,000 annually for plumbing jobs.

Your salary will depend on where you’re located and the demand for plumbers. Plumbers that have additional qualifications and more experience get paid more.

How to Become A Plumber

A college degree is not required to become a plumber. However, to make plumbing your career path, you will need to obtain a high school diploma or a GED. To begin training and become a plumber, you must: 

  • Have a foundation in algebra and geometry; and 
  • Understand the basics of physics.

Some roles require you to know how to perform computer-aided drafting. Therefore, if your school offers blueprint reading and computer-aided drafting classes, taking those classes can make you stand out from other potential hires when job-hunting.

Besides these requirements, since the nature of the job is physical, having healthy shoulders, strong knees, and a back that can bear weight will make working easier.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how you can become a licensed plumber:

Step #1: Get Your High School Diploma (or GED)

Getting a high school diploma makes you eligible to receive training and become a plumber. However, if you don’t have a diploma, you can earn your GED and start the process of becoming a plumber.

The idea behind these pre-requisites is that it gives you the basic knowledge of language, science, and math that you will need to pursue a career in the trade industry. Furthermore, to become a plumber, having advanced math knowledge is considered a must since making accurate measurements is a huge part of the job.

Knowledge of physics is also seen as necessary since plumbers need to gauge water when working with pipes and fittings. So, besides algebra and geometry, thermodynamics, biology, and the metric units of measurement are some of the topics that getting a high school diploma or GED will help you learn and subsequently succeed as a plumber.

Keep Your Record Clean

Plumbing as a career path will respect your hard work. However, having a criminal background, a driving record or a failed drug test can impact your ability to get work.

For safety and insurance reasons, employers may avoid working with you if you have:

  • Several moving violations
  • Felony convictions (of any type)
  • Failed drug test
  • DUIs or DWIs 
  • Reckless driving convictions
  • Specific misdemeanor offenses 

A valid driver’s license and a clean driving and criminal record make it easier for you to get hired. In addition, employers hire drug-free applicants much faster. 

Before you can apply for a job, though, you need to complete training and get your plumbing license.

Step #2: Get Trained

After getting your school diploma or GED, you need to get trained before becoming a master plumber. There are two ways to do this: you can (1) either join a trade school and enroll in a technical plumbing course or (2) get an apprenticeship. 

Some individuals prefer getting an apprenticeship a little after enrolling in a technical plumbing course for a deeper understanding of plumbing. That being said, the majority of plumbers enter the industry through an apprenticeship before getting their license.

Complete a Techincal Plumbing Course

A variety of schools offers these courses. Your local community college, trade school, union, or professional plumbing associations most likely have programs that you can enroll in to become a master plumber. 

Some plumbing associations now also offer online courses that you can complete at your own pace and become a plumber. While the curriculum depends on the state’s licensing requirements, the subjects you’ll learn about will likely include:

  • Cutting and soldering pipes
  • Basics of electrical work
  • Draining and venting
  • Plumbing codes and regulations
  • Functioning of water heating systems

A majority of the states require students enrolled in a technical plumbing course to complete a certain number of classroom hours before becoming licensed plumbers.

Complete an Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship programs last between four and five years and can help you establish your plumbing career smoothly. Trade schools, union chapters, and even local businesses offer apprenticeships to those who prefer to be more hands-on with work rather than learn in a classroom. 

An apprentice is paid for the work they do as they learn, and the coursework they must complete is also paid for. The business gets the benefit of cheaper labor, and the apprentice gets to learn from the best and establish a career.

However, almost all plumbing apprenticeship programs have a pre-selection process. This is because workers are plentiful, and the business needs to make sure you’re a capable apprentice before they pay you for working and learning.

Getting Into A Program

Your plumbing apprenticeship begins with an aptitude exam, where you must demonstrate that you have the basic foundational skills needed to succeed as an apprentice. If you proficiently show that you have the basic skills required, you will pass the exam.

You must then get approved by the panel of established plumbers in an interview. In that interview, you will be asked questions that put your way of thinking to the test. Most questions will be related to plumbing, with questions like “how do you balance following instructions with independent thinking?” mixed in.

Breakdown of the Five-Year Program

If the panel approves you, you can begin your apprenticeship program with a salary of 45% per hour of the regulated minimum paid. Your salary will increase to 50% per hour in the second year, 60% in the third year, and 80% in the fourth year. 

A senior tradesperson will supervise you as you learn the trade, and you will need to put in the number of hours assigned to you.

It is also important to note that you will need to attend classes one or two nights a week during the first four years of your apprenticeship. You will take these classes at the local trade union or technical school.

After four years of learning, you must take the certification exam in the fifth year to become a journeyman plumber. However, getting certified isn’t enough for you to begin professional work — you will need to pass all of your state’s licensing requirements to become a journeyman plumber. 

The costs of passing these licensing requirements are not covered by the business or school you completed your apprenticeship program. If you work without proper licensure, you may have to pay severe penalties.

After you become a journeyman plumber, you can work independently without any restrictions — as long as your apprenticeship contract permits. However, your contract may restrict you from changing employers for a limited time. You may also be required to repay a portion of the training fees to your employer.

Furthermore, if you want to do a specific class of work, your state may require you to earn additional licenses before proceeding.

Step #3: Earn Your License

After completing job training, you will need to earn a plumber’s license to prove your skills. However, bear in mind, some states don’t require you to get a plumber’s license, and licensing standards aren’t uniformly established across the country. 

Most states require 2-5 years of experience and passage of an exam testing your knowledge of the trade and the local code. Some require plumbers to pass a practical exam in addition to a written exam to earn a plumber’s license.

Step #4: Work As A Master Plumber

You likely won’t need to search much for work. Residential service careers are in high demand across the country. 

As you continue gaining experience, you will make more and more money. You could also take some classes and develop new skills that help advance your career. You can advance to the master plumber role over time, which offers higher pay and better benefits.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is being a plumber a stable job?

Plumbers play a vital role in society — they are akin to doctors and lawyers. Good doctors warrant the health of the members of society, and lawyers ensure a functional legal system. In the same way, licensed plumbers play a critical role in maintaining both residential and business spaces.

For this reason, a job in plumbing is very secure regardless of what market they work in. You can expect to have a steady and consistent flow of work.

Do I need financial aid for attending a vocational school to learn to plumb?

You don’t have to pay as much for a vocational school as you need to so you can attend a four-year program. That said, vocational programs still cost money to attend. Therefore, you can apply for financial aid to attend the program depending on your financial status and the cost of attending the school you want to attend.

Is there scope for financial growth working as a plumber?

Your pay increases every year when you take up an apprenticeship program. After you learn how to become a plumber, you can take additional training and earn specialty licenses that boost your earnings. The more specialized knowledge you gain, the more money you can make. You could also become a master plumber if you work hard.

Do plumbers need to get a job, or can they offer their services as an individual?

Who they work for — a business or themselves — depends on the plumber’s skill level, preferences, and career goals. Some plumbers choose to get a license and work for the same company their entire careers. Others choose to run their own business.

You can do both at different points in your career if you choose to.

Do plumbers get benefits?

One of the greatest advantages of working as a plumber is that they receive excellent benefits. As a plumber working for a business, you will enjoy everything from healthcare to retirement money and everything in between.

Conclusion

Plumbing systems are an integral part of the country’s infrastructure, and they’re credited for the enormous strides society has made in health and sanitation in the last 200 years.

Learning the intricacies of these systems takes persistent effort over a long period. It is also important to note that the requirements of becoming a plumber, such as obtaining a license, vary from state to state, although most states share some common requirements.

Now that you know what a career in plumbing can offer you and how you can become one, do some research on local plumbing license requirements, and you’ll be ready to start training to become a plumber.

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