Tennessee plumbing license:
everything you need to know

The Tennessee plumbing industry is growing. Learn an in-demand skill and get your Tennessee plumbing license. This guide contains information about licensing requirements, apprenticeships, and job resources.

What plumbing work can be done without a license?

You need a Tennessee plumbing license to perform plumbing work in the state. Only Tennessee homeowners doing plumbing work on their own residences are exempt from licensing requirements.

What are the different types of plumbing licenses in Tennessee

The monetary value of the work is the distinguishing factor for the two types of Tennessee plumbing licenses. If the project is worth $25,000.00 or less, you can do the work as a limited licensed plumber, or LLP. For these smaller projects, the location matters, too.

If it’s in Benton, Decatur, Dickson, Giles, Henderson, Henry, Hickman, Humphries, Lake, Lawrence, Lewis, Obion, Perry, Stewart, or Weakley counties, then an LLP is not required. Also, not every city or county accepts the LLP. Sometimes, a municipality has its own licensing requirements; Nashville and Memphis are two examples of places where the LLP is not accepted. In fact, if the municipality where you intend to work has its own exam and its own license and you don’t plan to ever work anywhere else, then those are the only testing and licensing requirements you’ll need for plumbing projects under $25,000 in value.

For projects over $25,000.00, you need to have a contractor’s license, specifically a mechanical plumbing contractor’s license known as a CMC-A license. CMC-A licenses are accepted everywhere in Tennessee, and no county or city can require you to pass additional exams in order to work. You’d also be exempt from having to obtain an LLP. A contractor’s license covers the plumbing projects worth more than $25,000 as the prime contractor and as a subcontractor. A prime contractor contracts directly with the homeowner. Subcontractors contract with other contractors rather than with the property owner.

Contractor’s licenses are issued to entities — sole proprietors, partnerships, LLCs, and corporations. Individuals, not firms, apply to become limited license plumbers. LLPs are strictly prohibited from advertising themselves as contractors.

Getting a CMC-A license requires that you prove three years of relevant experience. An LLP licensee candidate must show one year of experience. Once you have your Tennessee plumbing license, you can engage in all facets of plumbing, including doing utility connections, installing irrigation systems, and gas piping. Hourly pay for plumbing work in Tennessee ranges from $11 to $40 per hour. About 22% of Tennessee plumbing jobs pay more than $55,000 per year. 

As the previous generation of skilled tradespeople retire, plumber shortages in the United States are becoming common. Tennessee will continue to see demand for plumbers as this field’s growth outpaces the general labor market.

How to get a plumbing license in Tennessee

The best place to start is to get an apprenticeship. They are commonly sponsored by professional plumbing companies, local unions, or trade and building alliances. Plumbing apprenticeships can take four to five years to complete. Fortunately, you get paid while you learn. Typical prerequisites for a plumbing apprenticeship include being at least 18 years old, having a high school diploma or GED, and showing an aptitude for math.

You also can learn the plumbing trade through formal education. As an example, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology offers a 12-month certificate program in pipefitting and plumbing technology. The cost of tuition, textbooks, and supplies is about $5,300.

Scholarships and financial assistance are available. The Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors (PHCC) Educational Foundation offers a scholarship for individuals doing apprenticeships.

After your apprenticeship or schooling, you can work without a license as long as you’re employed as a plumber by a state licensed plumber or contractor. Upon gaining the hands-on experience, you’ll need to submit the limited licensed plumber’s (LLP) application or the CMC-A mechanical plumbing contractor application.

For an LLP license, you must:

  • Complete the application and sign it before a notary.
  • Pay a fee of $75.
  • Attach proof of one year of plumbing experience.
  • Pass the LLP exam. (The test is open book and consists of 40 questions covering multiple subjects, such as general math, drainage waste and vents, and water supply and distribution. A passing score is 73% or higher. The fee to take the test is $57.

Proof of having a local license can be submitted in lieu of the year of required experience. For example, if you are licensed locally in Knoxville, you can attach a copy of this license to fulfill the experience obligation.

If you have a criminal background, your LLP license application can’t be approved through the usual acceptance procedure. Applicants with complaints or felony convictions must be approved by the full Board at one of six regularly scheduled Board meetings. You’ll have to submit to a criminal background check and present a statement describing your conviction, the court’s disposition, and other important details.

For a CMC-A license, you must:

  • Provide documentation of three years of plumbing experience via the Plumbing Exam Pre-Approval Request form. Once approved, you can schedule the CMC-A exam.
  • Pass the exam, which is an open book test, consisting of a trade knowledge portion and a business and law portion. The 110 trade questions cover multiple topics, like OSHA safety, gas appliances and piping, water supply and distribution, and traps, cleanouts, and interceptors. The business and law test includes 50 questions, focusing on labor laws, bidding, and risk management. A passing score is 73% or higher. The fee to take the test is $114.
  • Complete the application, including a letter of reference and your exam scores.
  • Submit a financial statement prepared by a CPA or licensed PA. This requirement is necessary to assign your license a monetary limit for purposes of bidding on or contracting projects. The monetary limit will be ten times the lesser of both your net worth and your working capital.
  • Submit proof of workers’ compensation insurance and  liability insurance.
  • Pay a fee of $250.

If you have been convicted of a felony or have a complaint history, you must submit an explanation to the Board and be scheduled for an interview.

PSI is the examination vendor for licensing tests in Tennessee. You can prepare for the exams by reviewing PSI’s Candidate Information Bulletins. You also can buy books covering the exam subjects at both the PSI online bookstore and the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (NASCLA) online bookstore.

Should I join a union?

Unions act as employment hubs, and union jobs tend to be more secure. Unions are also generally eager to help their members hone their trade through continuing education offerings. Increased access to health insurance and benefits are other reasons to join a union.

On the other hand, you must pay union dues and possibly initiation fees. Senior members of unions are usually the last to be fired or the first to be considered for promotions, which is a source of frustration among new members.

Insurance for plumbers in Tennessee

Workers’ compensation insurance is required for CMC-A licensing. If you are an LLP and have one or more employees, then you’re an employer and must have this insurance, too,

The monetary limit on your contractor’s license will dictate the minimum of general liability insurance you must carry. For example, if your monetary limit is $500,000, you would need to provide a minimum coverage of $100,000. 

How to get my first plumbing apprenticeship

Online job boards can help you secure a Tennessee apprenticeship. There’s also a list of sponsors you can contact about an apprenticeship. 

Inquire about the application criteria, and then prepare for any necessary interviews. Be prepared to discuss your schooling and work experience.

Does my license work in any other states?

Tennessee has a reciprocity, or trade exam waiver, agreement with Ohio. Though your CMC-A license wouldn’t be valid in Ohio, it can be used to skip the trade exam portion of any Ohio licensing requirement.

How do I stay up to date with plumbing codes?

You can find a list of courses covering plumbing codes, including costs, on the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s website.

What resources are available in the plumbing industry?

The Tennessee PHCC Annual Convention & Trade Show in Knoxville is a great opportunity to network and learn about the plumbing industry. You also can read blogs to learn about emerging industry trends. You may want to consider a specialty niche in plumbing to expand your career growth.