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How to Become a Plumber: Requirements, Costs, & Challenges

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Every high school graduate wonders about what they want to do after graduating. Some pursue a college education, while others go to trading schools to learn skilled trades. 

If you picked the latter route and have decided to try your luck in plumbing, this article is for you.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about how to become a plumber and why you should consider becoming one. 

An Overview of Plumbers: A Primer

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around 469,000 plumbers in America as of 2021. In addition, there are around 48,000 job openings each year.

Plumbers are needed in varied settings where there are needs for piping systems. They work in businesses, residences, construction, and factories.

Their main responsibility is to make sure that a building’s plumbing system is running smoothly.

Their duties involve installing pipes, diagnosing problems, locating the source of leaks and obstructions, and fixing or replacing broken pipes.

There are eight different areas of plumbing: water supply, sanitary, drainage, gasfitting, mechanical services, fire protection, roofing, and irrigation. There are also specialized fields in plumbing, such as:

  • Pipefitters: They are responsible for installing and designing pipes in general piping systems such as water supplies and roofings.
  • Steamfitters: Steamfitting involves systems with liquids or gases running at high pressure. These can vary from systems that use water, steam, or chemicals in heating, cooling, or lubricating processes.
  • Gas fitters: A gas fitter is responsible for making sure that systems using gas are running smoothly. They’re also responsible for conducting carbon monoxide tests and smoke testing.
  • Sprinkler fitters: A sprinkler fitter designs, installs, and repairs sprinkler systems and ensures they comply with fire protection safety regulations.

How Much Do Plumbers Make?

A licensed plumber can earn an average of $27 per hour of work. 

Depending on your qualifications, experience, and expertise, you can earn from $33,000 (25th percentile) up to $108,000 (75th percentile) annually.

What You’ll Need to Become a Plumber [& Associated Costs]

A smiling young plumber wearing his uniform and holding his tools in a plumbing store
  • High School Diploma or Equivalent: You don’t need an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree to become a plumber. However, a basic requirement is that you’ve completed high school or have earned a GED certificate.
  • Vocational Training: To become a professional plumber, you are required to put in hours through a vocational training program. The amount of coursework needed will depend on the requirements of your state.
  • Apprenticeship: This will be the longest period in your journey of becoming a plumber. Don’t worry, you can start your apprenticeship while you’re still in school.
  • Plumbing License: A plumbing license is required before you can apply for your first official job as a plumber. You’ll have to pass an exam before becoming a licensed plumber.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Plumber?

  • Online training program: $800–$1000
  • Vocational training program: $10000–$19000
  • Associate’s degree: $3000–$23000
  • Apprenticeship: $0-$1000 for 4-5 years
  • State licensing fees: $75–$300, valid for 1–2 years
  • American Society of Plumbing Engineers: $300–$625

Is It Hard to Become a Plumber?

Becoming a plumber can be difficult at first, but once you become licensed, it can be a pretty rewarding journey.

Although you don’t need a college degree to become a plumber, there’s still plenty of learning tied to the vocation.

It can be an uncommon side hustle, but the profession is not just fixing leaks or installing pipes. It also involves a lot of calculations, especially when making blueprints and ensuring that you have the right tools and materials for the job.

You’ll also have to pay attention to different building codes and safety regulations for every project you take on.

As part of your journey, you may get discouraged as an apprentice if you’re only doing the easy tasks. However, all the knowledge you’ll get from it will help you once you become a professional.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Plumber?

If you plan to become a plumber, there are different paths you can take. You can apply for an apprenticeship out of high school, and you can earn your journeyman license in 2-4 years.

If you went through a vocational training school, it’ll take you about 2-5 years.

Once you have your journeyman license, you’ll have to gain at least four years of precessional work experience before you can become a master plumber.

How to Become a Plumber in 5 Simple Steps

It may seem daunting to become a plumber, but it’s not that difficult. The following steps will guide you in becoming one:

Step 1. Complete Secondary Education or a General Educational Development Course

Getting your high school diploma or earning a GED certificate is essential for a few reasons.

First, completing secondary education or GED teaches you fundamental concepts and skills, such as basic algebra, geometry, and communication.

You will also gain knowledge in physics and drafting which are concepts you’ll apply once you start working.

Close-up of various plumber tools and plumbing materials

Having a diploma also allows you to get into an apprenticeship as a plumber. Without it, you’d find it challenging to advance your plumbing career.

Step 2. Enroll in a Vocational Training Class

After getting your diploma, consider joining a vocational training class to further your skills. Once you enroll in a trading school, you’ll learn about the international plumbing code and different safety protocols.

You’ll also be trained in different areas such as gas piping systems, water pumping systems, and backflow principles. Of course, you’ll be taught basic skills such as blueprint reading, soldering techniques, and installing and repairing plumbing systems.

You can attend a trade school, whether online or in person. Keep in mind that tuition fees and the time it takes to complete your coursework differ between the two.

For example, taking an online plumbing course from Penn Foster would cost you $790 and it’ll take around 5-9 months to complete.

Meanwhile, if you’re enrolling in a trade school like the South Florida Institute of Technology, you’ll have to shell out $14,000 for tuition and books. Then, the entire program runs for 15 months.

Step 3. Complete Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships are basically hands-on learning experiences and an excellent way to gain first-hand experience in the plumbing trade.

You don’t have to finish your training course to get into an apprenticeship program. In fact, you can study and be an apprentice plumber at the same time. Some trading schools even include this in their curriculum.

If you only have your high school diploma or GED credential, you can still get into a plumbing apprenticeship.

To do this, you’ll need to approach a representative from the local plumber union in your area. They’ll be able to guide you with available plumbing apprenticeships.

It will take you 2-5 years to complete this program, depending on the company or your trading school curriculum. 

Although they’re still working to be professionals, apprentices can earn as much as 50% of the plumber’s average salary. You can use this money to cover your education and other needs.

Step 4. Obtain Your First Plumber License

At this stage, you should have gained enough technical knowledge and hands-on experience to become a professional in the plumbing industry.

After your training and apprenticeship, the next step is to get your plumber license.

There are two levels of plumber licenses: the journeyman plumber license and the master plumber license. Although, requirements in each state may vary, and some states have different types of licenses.

USA Plumbing has compiled the different plumbing requirements per state. It lists everything you need to acquire a journeyman or a master plumber license.

Aside from this, you should also check out whether your state allows for a reciprocal license. Having one means you can work in certain states without taking another exam.

The minimum requirement to get a journeyman plumber license is to have a 4-year apprenticeship experience under a registered master plumber.

Once you have met the conditions, you can apply for the journeyman plumber certification exam.

Ensure you have competent knowledge about plumbing codes and different safety regulations. You should also know the basics of maintenance, repair, and installation of plumbing systems.

In some states, such as Arizona and California, you’ll need to have a contractor’s license before you can get employed as a plumber.

In North Carolina, they have different types of licenses. They’re called the Plumbing Class I and Class II licenses. The difference lies in which type of properties they can work in.

A plumber holding a Class I license can work in residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional properties. Meanwhile, a Class II plumber can only work in detached single-family houses.

Step 5. Gain Experience and Become a Master Plumber

As you obtain your first license as a journeyman, there are still steps you’ll need to take before becoming a master plumber.

A young male plumber fixing a sink in bathroom

First, you’ll have to gain relevant work experience for at least 2 years, but it depends on your state. Alternatively, you can start your own plumbing business as long as you meet the necessary business permits.

After earning enough experience, you can apply for the master plumber licensure exam.

If you pass the exam, you can offer plumbing services, such as designing blueprints and consultations. If you build your own business, you take on apprentices and guide them through the trade.

Remember that you’ll also have to study to keep your license. Most states require at least 6 hours of Continuing Education for every 2-year licensing period.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Plumber

Now that we know how to become a plumber, let’s explore why you should consider becoming one.

  • Stability: When you get into the plumbing industry, you can expect that there will always be a job waiting for you.
  • Job variety: There are varied tasks you can get while working as a plumber. This can range from fixing leaks to installing entire plumbing systems. 
  • Flexible Work Environment: Although you are trained in different jobs surrounding the profession, you can choose the projects you want to accept. Additionally, you’re able to work on your own time and terms.
  • Keeps You Active: Plumbing requires problem-solving skills and calculations, keeping your mind sharp. Further, it’s a physical job, so you’re always active and can stay fit while doing projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Highest Qualification in Plumbing?

The highest qualification in plumbing is becoming a master plumber. You get qualified as one after earning your journeyman and, subsequently, master plumbing licenses. 

You’ll also have to complete 2-6 years of apprenticeship. Once you become a master plumber, you can earn as much as $64,000 annually.

What Tools Do Plumbers Use?

A plumber’s toolbox is filled to the brim with various tools. The most essential plumbing tools they use consist of varied pliers, pipe cutters, and wrenches. They also use plungers, augers, and a hacksaw.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

There are plenty of other professions out there that involve physical labor and problem-solving skill, including:

  • How to Become an Arborist: This tutorial is for anyone who’s always been curious about becoming a tree surgeon but doesn’t know where to start.
  • How to Become a Carpenter: If you were always good at handicrafts, this tutorial will teach you how to make a career as a carpenter.
  • How to Become a Locksmith: Make a career out of everything involving locks and keys! This tutorial is the perfect start.

Wrapping Up

Becoming a plumber is no easy feat. You’ll have to put in years of study and apprentice work before getting your first license.

Once you know how to become a plumber, you’ll find out that it’s a fulfilling process.

Every job you take can further enrich you mentally and physically. Aside from that, you can also have a stable source of income. 

We would like to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! If you liked this article, share it with family and friends who might be interested in plumbing.

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