Plumbing technicians are in high demand. According to the US Department of Labor, the demand for plumbers is expected to be 16% higher in 2026 than it was in 2016.
Given the tremendous amount of opportunity in the field of plumbing, it’s no wonder so many people are pursuing this profession. If you’re curious about how to become a plumber, here’s a guide to getting started in this industry.
Before you can become a plumber, you’ll need to possess the equivalency of a high school diploma as well as a driver's license. You also must be familiar with tool use, general safety practices, and pipe system design. Trade and technical schools can typically provide this foundational knowledge, although some plumbers acquire this education on the job.
As a plumber, your duties will include installing and repairing water, gas, and drainage piping systems for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Plumbers also are responsible for installing and repairing fixtures, such as toilets and bathtubs, and appliances, like dishwashers and water heaters. A variety of plumbing specialties exist, including pipe fitting, pipelaying, and sprinkler fitting.
Here’s a partial list of other tasks aspiring plumbers may tackle:
Compiling cost estimates for customers;
Interpreting blueprints and abiding by building codes;
Selecting the proper equipment and materials to complete a job;
Inspecting and testing pipe systems and pipelines;
Troubleshooting pipe systems to identify malfunctions; and
Repairing and replacing worn or malfunctioning components.
Licensed plumbers usually follow a set career path. So how long does it take to become a plumber? Here’s an overview of the three stages:
The first stage of most plumbers’ careers is an apprenticeship, which can span 2 to 6 years and involve upward of 2,000 hours of paid, on-the-job training. Apprenticeships also often require roughly 250 hours of education in a classroom setting, where plumbers are taught safety procedures, plumbing regulations, and blueprint reading.
Many plumbing companies offer apprenticeships, as do plumber unions. Although the majority of new plumbers enter the industry in this manner, some technicians-in-training begin as helpers. Either way, landing a position with a plumbing company usually begins by applying for the role, and after being hired as a plumber apprentice, you’ll typically study under a journeyman or a master plumber, completing plumbing jobs under their guidance.
After completing an apprenticeship program, plumbers are considered to be journeymen (also known as journey workers), which qualifies them to perform plumbing duties without any supervision. Once you pass your state's mandatory licensing exam, you can practice the trade on your own. These exams may differ, but they all evaluate the skills and knowledge you acquired during your apprenticeship. Most states will require some degree of continuing education plus licensing renewals.
Once you've been a journeyman plumber for at least 2 years, you're then eligible for the title of master plumber. Attaining this status usually requires passing an exam that evaluates your knowledge and skill level. The distinction between a journeyman plumber and a master plumber generally boils down to leadership. Master plumbers are responsible for supervising less-experienced apprentices and journeymen.
The majority of states require plumbing companies to employ at least one master plumber to qualify for a plumbing contractor’s license. Master plumbers earn higher salaries due to their increased responsibilities.
Becoming a plumber has its advantages and its drawbacks. Here are a few of the most notable pros and cons:
Plenty of opportunity
High job security
Possibility to become your own boss
Lots of pressure
Possibility of unpleasant work environment
Although the fundamentals of plumbing remain constant, modern fixtures and appliances are far more sophisticated. That’s why plumbing technicians must stay up to date with plumbing industry trends.
Plumbers can read trade journals, participate in instructional courses, and attend plumbing trade shows. But, unsurprisingly, browsing the Internet is the best way to stay on top of emerging trends. Here’s a list of several websites and social media hubs for plumbers to learn the latest plumbing tools and techniques:
If you’re considering learning how to become a certified plumber, you likely have several questions regarding this profession. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions:
As you progress along the plumbing career path from apprentice to master, you can expect your income level to rise. For reference, the median plumber salary as of May 2018 was $53,910 per year ($25.92 per hour), according to the US Department of Labor.
Many plumbing companies require their technicians to own a set of tools, while others do not; it largely depends upon your employer. In general, plumbers will own the basic hand tools required to troubleshoot and resolve everyday plumbing issues.
Several institutions offer online plumbing courses that can be completed in as little as six months. Depending upon state requirements, you might need to complete a plumbing course at a traditional brick-and-mortar facility.
Knowing how to resolve a plumbing issue is only part of a plumber’s job. Plumbers also should have the following skills:
Effective Communication: Communicating with customers, managers, and employees is a big component of a plumber’s job.
Manual Dexterity: Plumbers often work in confined spaces and are regularly called upon to make minor adjustments with tools.
Mechanical Prowess: Given that installing, repairing, and maintaining piping systems is critical to a plumber’s job, it’s important to know which tools to use and when to use them.
Physical Vigor: Plumbers are regularly required to lift and transport bulky tools and supplies.
Analytical Aptitude: To diagnose the cause of a plumbing problem and arrive at the best solution, a plumber must be able to assess the issue even if they can’t directly observe it with their eyes.
Similar to other trades that involve manual labor, plumbers can occasionally become injured while on the job. Some of these injuries, such as lacerations from sharp tools or burns from hot pipes, may be relatively minor, but falls from ladders and other elevated areas can cause severe injuries.
The plumbing profession can provide you with a rewarding career. Learning how to become a licensed plumber is just the beginning of your journey. It’s important to note that operating a successful plumbing business involves far more than simply knowing the ins and outs of the trade.
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