Plumbing is a recession-proof career, and it’s one of the more profitable and rewarding trades. 1 You have the freedom to work solo or with an established company while maintaining job security—it’s not like pipes are becoming obsolete any time soon! Our blueprint will show you how to become a plumber, make good money, build your skillset, and earn a solid reputation. If you follow these steps, you can look forward to a dynamic career where you can work on your feet instead of staying sedentary, take on new challenges, and regularly interact with people.
Becoming a plumber: An overview
When someone hires you to install entire pipe systems or fix potentially disastrous leakages, you need to assure them that you know what you’re doing. To become a professional plumber, you have to prove your knowledge and experience by reaching the following benchmarks:
- High school diploma or equivalent, like a GED
- Apprenticeship or trainee program
- State licensure
Once you become a licensed plumber, the journey to career success has only just begun. You must make wise business decisions and enhancements that set your skills apart:
- Decide between freelancing or joining an existing company.
- Create a business plan to achieve those goals.
- Continue your education to reach higher pay scales and more advanced jobs.
- Protect your business with appropriate liability insurance.
Like installing a drain pipe in a newly renovated bathroom, there’s a systematic step-by-step process to perfect your most crucial project: your business. Let’s take the plunge!
Step 1: Education & licensure
There’s an educational ladder to climb to the top of the industry. Most trades, including plumbing, have strict requirements because of the potentially dangerous working conditions and occupational hazards. Here are the stepping stones involved:
High school diploma or equivalent – Plumbing does not require an advanced degree. However, if you want to land a competitive apprenticeship (the next stop), you should take foundational high school courses like algebra, geometry, physics, and computer skills.
Formal training – Plumber apprenticeship programs are a staple of the plumbing industry that let you earn while you learn. They have two parallel components: classroom instruction and hands-on work experience. There are three standard routes to land a plumbing apprenticeship and the training you need:2
- Local union chapters – Plumbing has a strong union base and provides excellent opportunities for mentorship and experience. Typically, applicants must complete a written test in math, science, reading, and writing. They must also pass a physical examination to prove adequate fitness and an interview with union members.
- Licensed plumber or private business – Through personal industry connections, you can work directly under a licensed plumber. These apprenticeships typically pay more but are highly competitive (so brush up on those technical skills!).
- Trade school programs – These two-year programs offer low-cost, comprehensive classroom education that gives you a headstart on the apprenticeship coursework.
With a credentialed trade school certificate, you’ll be a more competitive and prepared candidate. Plumbing apprenticeships are educational, but they’re also vocational. You’ll get paid to work in a limited capacity under a journeyman (a plumber who completed training) or master plumber as you continue your classroom learning and prepare for your examinations.
Plumber’s license – The exact requirements vary from state to state but usually include anywhere from 2 to 5 years of experience—typically covered by an apprenticeship program—and passing the licensure exam. The test covers technical plumbing knowledge and local codes regarding vents, pipes, sizing, and more.3 Once you become a licensed journeyman plumber, you’re able to work in the field independently.
Master Plumber license (optional) – This advanced certification opens other doors for you. Some states even require a Master Plumber license to own and operate your own business. This next step can take another five years of work experience under a master plumber and a second certification test but is likely to pay off later. Your career will lift off once you can work independently, whether as a journeyman or master plumber.
Step 2: Build your business
Now that you are legally allowed to work on your own, it’s time to decide on your plumbing career path. Should you be an independent contractor or join a team? As with anything else, there are pros and cons to both career paths:
Freelance plumbing business – Starting on your own creates a set of challenges right off the bat. You have to build your brand, attract customers, create an online presence for marketing purposes, and handle all logistics from business licenses to insurance and beyond. However, you’ll have complete freedom to set your schedule and choose your projects and clients.
Reputable existing company – An established plumbing business will have the necessary infrastructure to support you as you start your career, including arranging jobs, handling payroll, and taking care of legal and administrative tasks. However, they’ll likely take a cut of profits and dictate your workdays for you. Many plumbers start as journeymen to gain more experience and build connections but may eventually break off to start their own business ventures.
Step 3: Get your emerging business off the ground
Whether you start out as an independent plumber or make the switch later on, you’ll want to consider essential business requirements like:
- Creating a thorough business plan including financing, internal structure, marketing strategies, and opportunities for expansion
- Securing a business license and Employer Identification Number (EIN), if necessary
- Investing in proper equipment
- Registering with the appropriate state and county boards
- Hiring additional plumbers, including journeymen and apprentices
- Starting a website, Facebook business account, Yelp page, and joining other online directories like Angie’s List, Thumbtack, and HomeAdvisor
- Building and maintaining a solid customer base through referral programs, online interaction on social media or business directories, and word of mouth
- Investing in the necessary liability insurance coverage (but more on that shortly!)
There’s a lot to think about! But if you can assemble an entire plumbing system from a two-dimensional blueprint, you can navigate a plumbing business’s requirements.
Step 4: Protect your plumbing business
All that hard work doesn’t amount to much if you lose it all in a liability settlement that you could have easily avoided. Make sure your earnings don’t go down the drain by buying insurance coverage.
General liability insurance is of utmost importance to your business’s success and longevity—whether as an individual or a larger crew. This type of coverage includes investigation, defense, and settlement for third-party claims of bodily injury, property damage, and personal and advertising injury. Insurance is vital when you’re entering people’s homes, interacting with customers, and doing the bulk of your work at third-party job sites. It’s important to note that general liability insurance doesn’t cover injury to your own employees, or damage to your own property, or equipment. For other important protection—for yourself, others, and the valuable items that keep your business afloat—you should also consider:
Business Equipment Protection – You’ll want Business Equipment Protection to insure your valuable plumbing tools so you can keep working despite any accidents or incidents.
Commercial property insurance – If you operate a business location, you’ll want to protect yourself from paying out-of-pocket in the case of damage to your property by theft, fire, flood, and so on. That’s where commercial property insurance comes in.
Auto liability insurance – You’ll probably need commercial auto insurance if you own or lease vehicles under a company name or if your personal auto insurance doesn’t cover the business activities you carry out with your vehicle. Otherwise, your existing auto insurance policy should be enough.
Workers’ compensation – If you have employees working under you, nearly all states require you to take out a workers’ compensation insurance policy to cover the costs of workplace illnesses or injuries among your staff. With Thimble, you can get monthly or on-demand Plumbers Liability Insurance, with the option to add Business Equipment Protection to any monthly plan. All you have to do is click “Get A Quote” or download the Thimble mobile app. After that, it takes less than a minute to purchase the protection you need. You’ll instantly get your policy and a Certificate of Insurance (COI) in your inbox—so simple in comparison to the rest of your daily duties!
Turn your pipe dream into a reality
Becoming a plumber doesn’t happen overnight. But with hard work, the right training, and great mentors, it’s well within your reach. After that, all you need is a solid business plan, the necessary insurance coverage, and a few handy tools—you’ll be on your way to success before the pipes start singing.