What Does it Take to Get Certified as a Plumber?

woman fixing pipe under sink
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Water is essential for life on Earth, and having it piped directly into our homes and businesses is convenient. With the myriad uses for water on a daily basis, the job of plumbers is crucial. According to Study.com, the mean annual salary is $53,910 (for all Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters) and the job outlook is great for the plumbing industry, whether you choose to work as a commercial plumber, residential plumber, or service and repair plumber. There will seemingly always be a need to route this invaluable resource into our lives. In addition, HVAC workers, contractors, and fire extinguisher installers all rely on plumbers to help them complete their jobs.

Becoming a plumber requires a combination of education and experience. There are two main paths into the career. The main thing to know when figuring out what it takes to get certified as a plumber is that each state has their own certification requirements.

plumber in kitchen with tools

Step 1 - Graduate High School

Whether you go on to learn in a classroom or through a hands on apprenticeship, you will first need to earn a high school diploma or GED as a minimum requirement. To prepare for the experience, focus your high school studies towards creating a strong math and science knowledge base. The information will be invaluable as you continue. Equally important is to keep a clean record. Refuse drugs and cigarettes and make sure you don’t have any criminal events that could keep you from qualifying for jobs that require safety as well as insurance approval. Employers and insurance companies don’t like to take risks. You may also need to pass a pre-employment drug test.

Step 2 - Pick a Learning Option

After high school you can learn about pipe systems, sewage removal, and septic tanks via trade school, community college, technical schools, or vocational programs in your area. Typical classes will include pipe cutting and soldering, draining and venting, electrical basics, water heating systems, and local plumbing codes. Students must demonstrate extensive knowledge of drafting, local safety regulations, and mathematics. Aspiring plumbers must also be able to handle materials and tools safely, identify different kinds of pipes, and install various plumbing fixtures.

Option number two is to learn the same skills through an apprenticeship. This opportunity is commonly available through plumbing companies. The advantages of the trade school route are control of your schedule, flexibility, and a well-rounded generalized view of the industry. On the other hand, an apprenticeship has less control and flexibility but often pays you during your apprenticeship and ensures a job when you are done.

plumber with apprentice adjusting pipe

Step 3 - Invest the Time

If you take the classroom route, you can earn a degree in around two years. However, you will need additional hands-on training at that point. An apprenticeship takes between two and five years to complete. In the end, the time investment is about the same either way you go.

Step 4 - Become a Journeyman

The first level of certification in the plumbing field is called journeyman. Again, criteria is different for each state, but it typically takes five years experience before qualifying for the certification test.

plumber checking pipes under sink

Step 5 - Become a Master Plumber

If you choose to move to the next level of expertise, you can become a master plumber. This is typically a requirement if you want to branch out to your own business. It comes with a lot more responsibility and you may have to cover the costs of your own insurance. Requirements vary, but two to ten years experience as a journeyman is typical.

plumbing specifications with tools

As we mentioned, regulations vary by state. Here are a few examples.

Oregon—As a plumber, you must have a state license to work in Oregon. To be eligible for a journeyman plumber license, you must have completed a four-year registered apprenticeship program or have completed 576 hours of classroom training, and have proof of 3,850 hours of commercial and 3,850 hours of residential experience as a journeyman or apprentice plumber. You must pass an exam.

Pennsylvania—Plumbers in Pennsylvania don’t need a state license but there may be local licensing requirements so make sure to check these before you begin work.

Texas—Texas requires state licensing. For journeyman status, you must currently be registered as a plumber’s apprentice or as a tradesman plumber limited in Texas, or as a journeyman or master plumber in another state. You must have at least 8,000 hours of experience. Unless you are a licensed journeyman or master plumber in another state, you must complete a 48-hour approved training course. You must pass an exam.

States generally have plumbers renew their licenses every two years.