Wondering how to become a plumber? Our guide covers the education, apprenticeship and licensing requirements on your journey to getting certified as a licensed plumber — and offers a peek into the day-to-day, job outlook and typical salary.
Skilled plumbers fulfill a crucial need in society, and demand for plumbers continues to grow. Though the manual labor is often grueling, a career in plumbing can be quite lucrative — and doesn’t require expensive schooling and massive student loan debt.
Scroll on to learn how to become a plumber — and what you can expect out of the career.
How to Become a Plumber in 4 Steps
Becoming a plumber does not require the college career path. Instead, you will complete high school and find work as an apprentice. After a few years, you can get licensed as a journeyman plumber and then a master plumber.
As a master plumber, you’ll reach peak earning potential and can even run your own plumbing business.
License laws and types vary by state. Determine the state that you wish to operate in as a plumber, and research those specific guidelines. The steps below offer a more general look at how to become a plumber.
1. Get Your High School Diploma or GED
Becoming a plumber is all about licensure, so college is not a requirement. However, plumbers typically need to have their high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED) to start an apprenticeship. A diploma or GED is also important if you plan to take any plumbing courses at a community college (more on that below).
In high school, math will be crucial to your role as a plumber. Each day, plumbers use concepts from algebra and geometry, and they’re regularly calculating using various units of measure.
If you are currently a high school student interested in becoming a plumber, take all the math courses you can. In addition, choose classes like physics and shop to help you build an effective knowledge and skills base.
2. Become an Apprentice
Once you have your diploma or GED, the next step to becoming a licensed plumbing contractor is either attending plumbing school or completing an apprenticeship. Plumbing school is typically optional (but we’ve got more details below); many plumbing hopefuls skip straight to an apprenticeship.
An apprenticeship offers on-the-job experience and classroom education. Programs vary by state and organization in terms of structure, length and application process.
In general, you can find a plumbing apprenticeship program through trade unions, community colleges, trade schools and even private businesses. You might need to pass an exam or interview with a licensed plumber.
Plumbing apprenticeships generally last four to five years, during which time you’ll receive roughly 2,000 hours of on-the-job training in the plumbing trade, plus technical instruction. During this time, you’ll learn about local plumbing codes and regulations, how to read blueprints and OSHA safety regulations.Advanced education may cover topics like plumbing fixtures and drainage systems. Unlike pursuing a college degree, however, plumbing apprenticeships are paid.
As an apprentice plumber, you won’t be able to tackle projects yourself. Instead, you will shadow a journeyman plumber or a master plumber, depending on the program.
3. Become a Journeyman Plumber
Upon completing your apprenticeship, you can apply to become a licensed journeyman plumber. Once you reach this status, you will be able to work unsupervised on commercial and residential projects.
To be considered a journeyman plumber, you will need to pass your state’s licensing exam. In general, you will need to renew this license every three to five years and take continuing education courses to maintain your licensed status.
At the journey level, you can work for a plumbing company or start your own business.
4. Become a Master Plumber
If you want to work in a supervisory capacity or be able to employ additional plumbers for your business, you will need to become a licensed master plumber.
Licensed master plumbers have the highest earning potential. The top 10% of plumbers can earn $99,920 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Most states require you to operate as a journeyman plumber for a set number of years (between two and five) before you can seek licensure as a master plumber. To earn your license, you’ll need to pass a written and practical exam.
Depending on your state, you may be able to earn special endorsements and certifications. For example, in the Lone Star State, in addition to your Texas plumbing license, you can obtain endorsements for medical gas piping installation, multipurpose residential fire protection sprinkler installation and water supply protection installation and repair.
Optional: Go to a Trade School
A plumbing apprenticeship program includes on-the-job training and some classroom instruction, but many plumbers choose to attend a vocational school as a first step. Plumbing trade schools may offer special certification or even a two-year associate degree.
Potential education topics at a vocational school might include plumbing theory, water distribution, blueprint reading, draining and venting, pipe cutting and soldering and even electrical basics.
Earning a special degree or certification can give you a leg-up when applying for competitive apprenticeships.
How Much Do Plumbers Make?
The median pay for plumbers last year was $59,880, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though the labor is tough, hours can be long and the work can be dangerous, becoming a licensed plumber may be well worth it if you have the necessary skills and dedication.
And on the high end, earning potential for master plumbers nearly reached $100,000 for the top 10%.
While the BLS targets 5% job growth through 2030, the increase in home renovation projects due to the ongoing pandemic may create even more plumbing jobs in the years ahead.
What Do Plumbers Do?
Plumbers can work on both residential and commercial projects. The day-to-day duties might include remodeling bathrooms and kitchens, replacing and repairing water and drain lines, installing new water heaters, installing new faucets, installing new toilets and installing water filtration systems.
Plumbers need to be able to cut and solder pipes, diagnose and troubleshoot issues with plumbing systems and interpret (or even draw) blueprints. If you run your own plumbing company, you will also need to handle advertising, scheduling, taxes and billing — or hire someone to do that for you.
A plumber’s skill set is varied. As a plumber, you will need the technical knowledge to diagnose plumbing problems and make repairs. You will also need to be proficient in using a wide variety of tools, including saws, hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches and torches. Remaining in top physical condition is crucial, as you will frequently do heavy lifting and perform tasks that require stamina, often in very hot or cold environments.
Plumbers often work in tight, cramped, hot spaces and face grueling conditions every day. They regularly encounter hazardous materials and raw sewage and must adhere to safety standards to avoid work-related injuries, including electrical shock and contamination.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Becoming a Plumber
We’ve found the answers to the most commonly asked questions about becoming a plumber, including how long it takes until you’re repairing leaky sinks on your own.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Plumber?
Becoming a licensed plumber takes at least four to five years, as this is the general length of an apprenticeship. Some aspiring plumbers choose a year or two of vocational school before their apprenticeship. After completing an apprenticeship, you can earn your journeyman and then master plumber license.
How Much School Do Plumbers Need?
To earn a plumbing license, you must first complete a four- to five-year apprenticeship and then pass the journeyman exam; an apprenticeship includes classroom instruction but no formal school program. Some plumbers choose to attend a year or two of plumbing trade school before their apprenticeship.
How Much Money Do Plumbers Make?
In 2021, the median pay for plumbers was $59,880, but the top 10% earned $99,920.
Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati, Ohio. He focuses on banks, loans and insurance for The Penny Hoarder. His work has been featured on Debt.com, The Ladders, Glassdoor, WDW Magazine, Angi and The News Wheel.