Contents (Click To Jump)
- 1 How Much Can You Earn As a Plumber?
- 2 How Long Does It Take to Become a Plumber?
- 3 How Do You Become a Plumber?
- 4 Are There Different Kinds of Plumbing Careers?
- 5 How Do You Get Clients & Work As a Plumber?
- 6 Is Plumbing the Right Career for You?
- 7 Wrapping Up
How Much Can You Earn As a Plumber?
When people interested in becoming a plumber ask me about my career, one of the first things out of their mouth is, “what can you earn as a plumber?”
While this is a pretty personal and somewhat invasive question (after all, I don’t ask what they earn…), I do understand that someone looking to get into the industry wants to know what they can expect in the way of a salary.
A plumber’s salary can vary quite a bit, but in my experience, the average is around $60,000.
There are a few things that affect what you’ll earn. First off, if you’re just getting started, you can expect to earn closer to the $35,000-45,000 range. As you can probably imagine, no one wants to pay top dollar for someone who has nothing more than a little DIY plumbing experience.
When you get into plumbing, you’ll start as an apprentice working under a journeyman or master plumber — more on that later.
Once you reach the level of a journeyman, which is usually after 2-5 years, you can expect to earn close to that average of $60,000.
Your location and clientele will also affect your salary. A few plumbers I’ve worked in higher-end neighborhoods earned over $100,000 a year. The most I’ve heard of was at one of my first employers in the industry; one of the master plumbers earned $145,000 a year, which is pretty impressive and definitely not the norm.
Not everyone gets into plumbing to be a plumber, believe it or not. Some people want the experience to build their own plumbing business down the road. You could work for a few years until you get certified as a master plumber like I did, and then hire apprentices and journeyman plumbers to do the work for you.
This strategy could really work out in your favor if your true talent is selling services rather than patching pipes. Several of my partners at past companies have earned just shy of $200,000 a year doing this.
Keep in mind that this is really a path to become a business owner and not just a plumber. It involves more work and dedication, but really, the sky’s the limit as far as income in the plumbing industry goes.
A normal progression strictly being a plumber would be as follows: $40,000 per year as an apprentice for 2-5 years until you become journeyman; $60,000 per year on average until about 7-10 years in, at which point you can become a master plumber; finally, $80,000-100,000 as a master plumber without any employees.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Plumber?
I touched on this briefly in the income section, but it takes around seven years total to become a plumber working on your own.
When you start out, you’ll need at least your GED and some trade school experience. If you don’t have your GED, you can get one in about three months if you’re dedicated to studying and doing your coursework.
Once you have your GED, the next expected step is trade school. Trade school for plumbing takes around two years in most cases. Honestly, if you’re even remotely intelligent, you can get through trade school with no issues.
The goal of the schools seems to be to weed out the — I’m going to be frank here — really dumb people who would do nothing more than put homes and families at risk with their plumbing practices.
Lots of trade schools offer off-site practice and even some jobs under master plumbers once you’re done with training and have proven yourself a bit.
Plumbers are declining in numbers across the country, and there will always be a need for them. Now is an excellent time to go through trade school because more and more programs are offering job opportunities at the end.
If you don’t get a job offer after your two years of trade school, you’ll need to find a master plumber to work under because, as an apprentice, you can’t work for yourself.
Back in the day, I had a friend getting into plumbing who went through trade school and searched for TWO YEARS for a master plumber to take him on.
Finally, he gave up and got a standard 9-5. Thankfully, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding a master plumber who needs an apprentice nowadays.
As an apprentice, you’ll need 2-5 years of experience before you can get certified as a journeyman plumber. Journeyman plumbers must work under a master plumber still, but they don’t need constant supervision. You’ll have more freedom and can do some jobs on your own.
Finally, after 7-10 years of experience, you can get certified as a master plumber. At that point, you can work under your own license as a private contractor, and you can even hire apprentices and journeyman plumbers.
How Do You Become a Plumber?
Becoming a plumber isn’t all that difficult…it’s really just time-consuming. I’ll break down each requirement to become a plumber below.
As mentioned above, you’ll likely need a GED at the very minimum. This technically isn’t required, but no master plumber worth working under will hire an apprentice without one.
It only takes three months, and if you can’t handle waiting three months, plumbing isn’t for you! You have years of experience required before you’re a “real” plumber; three months is nothing.
You’ll train as an apprentice under a master plumber for 2-5 years until you become a journeyman plumber. If you’re good and apply yourself, you can easily do it in 2 years, and sometimes even less. Be prepared to work long hours until you’ve proven you’re worth promoting.
Then, you’ll train as a journeyman, doing work by yourself but still under a master plumber. Most plumbers take about 7-10 years total before they can move on from journeyman.
You’ll need a certain number of hours of experience (depending on your area), and you need to pass the dreaded master plumber exam.
The master plumber exam is pretty terrible. There’s a written section, and you’ll be given a specific plumbing job to do in a given time frame.
From what I’ve heard and experienced, it’s always something that you’ll never run into out on a job. You’ll have to apply what you know to a new situation to pass. It’s brutal.
Certification & Licensing
You won’t need certification to become an apprentice plumber. Technically, you could go to work under a master plumber with no education or trade school experience, but no one will ever hire you.
To become a journeyman plumber, you’ll need 8,000 hours of experience, and you need to pass a written and physical test before you get certified.
You need a whopping 12,000 hours of experience to become a master plumber. Plus, you need to pass that grueling test I was just talking about. It’s definitely worth getting your certification if you have the experience.
It was the best decision I ever made going out on my own, and I’m sure you won’t regret it either.
Are There Different Kinds of Plumbing Careers?
At the end of the day, plumbers are plumbers. If you have the certification, you can technically do any plumbing job you want.
However, there are some minor distinctions within the industry that can honestly make an enormous difference in your work and lifestyle. Let me explain.
Residential vs Commercial
Your first choice will be between residential and commercial plumbing applications. Residential plumber involves working on people’s homes, while commercial plumbing could involve service calls to businesses or larger, non-residential buildings.
A residential plumber is probably the type you’re more familiar with. They’ll come into your house, assess the issue, and fix it.
A commercial plumber will do the same, but they generally work with more involved equipment that services an entire building rather than a single-family residence or apartment.
The actual work involved will be pretty different. Commercial plumbing equipment is heavier, bigger, and more intricate, so it will likely take a more significant toll on your body.
Alternatively, you’ll have more people working alongside you in most cases, so it’s a less lonely job. And if you don’t think that matters to you, just wait until you’re five years in and start talking to yourself in random people’s bathrooms!
Commercial plumbing also tends to be a bit better in terms of hours and lifestyle. Most larger buildings that experience an issue have backup systems in place, so there are fewer 2 AM emergencies.
Most commercial jobs take place during business hours when someone is there to witness the issue. You’ll usually have a more regular schedule when working in commercial plumbing.
New Construction vs Service Plumbing
One of the most important choices you can make as you’re getting into the plumbing industry is between new construction and service plumbing.
New construction involves roughing in plumbing and installing entire systems in brand new homes being built. Service plumbing is what you probably envision when you think of plumbers: service calls for leaks, floods, clogs, and other common plumbing issues.
I’ll say right off the bat that if I could go back and start my career over, I would hands down get into new construction if I could.
You never have to deal with angry or frustrated homeowners, you don’t have to sell your services to individual customers for each job, and the pay is often higher.
Most importantly, plumbing for new construction is just more fun. You solve new problems every time you work a job.
As you can imagine, unclogging toilet after toilet as a service plumber is neither fun nor unique from house to house — although finding the occasional bizarre household item causing the blockage is quite funny.
With that being said, getting into new construction is extremely difficult unless you know someone who builds houses. More houses are already standing than are being built, which means there’s a much greater demand for service plumbers.
Service plumbing has its upsides too. For one, you won’t be in an unfinished house in the dead of winter connecting pipes that could get you wet if you make a mistake.
You also will more likely be in an air-conditioned home doing repairs than sweating your butt off in the summer heat in a house with no doors or windows.
Plus, your jobs will often be mindless because you’ve done them 100 times before. I often listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I work on routine issues. It’s a pretty sweet deal most of the time.
How Do You Get Clients & Work As a Plumber?
As an apprentice plumber, it’s not your job to get clients — same thing for a journeyman. You work under the master plumber, and you comfortably rely on them to bring in business. However, you also stand to earn less because they take a cut of the profits from your work.
Once you reach the level of a master plumber and go out on your own, you’ll have to write your own ticket. That means if you don’t bring clients in, you also don’t earn any money.
You can employ a few strategies to get clients once you reach that point in your career. I used digital marketing to build an online presence and get traffic to my site through search engines.
You could hire a marketing agency, rely on word of mouth, or even drop flyers or business cards in an area you want to get clientele.
If you’re in new construction plumbing, forming relationships with builders will be your bread and butter. When they build, they NEED a plumber. If you’re their first thought, you’re in good shape.
Honestly, a combination of all of the above is an excellent place to start. First off, it’s the 21st century — if you don’t have a website for your company, you’re effectively admitting you don’t really want any work.
Hire someone to make a website if you need to and do some digital marketing. Form relationships with existing and potential clients and do outstanding work to maintain word-of-mouth advertising.
If all else fails, you can always opt to work with another master plumber who has a booming business in place already. Just know that it can be pretty challenging to find a master plumber to take you on at any level.
Is Plumbing the Right Career for You?
Plumbing isn’t for everyone, but for the right person, it can be the perfect career. I’ll break down some benefits and downsides below to give you a good idea about what to expect from your plumbing career.
There are definitely some big benefits when it comes to working as a plumber. These are the things that can truly be the cherry on top for you if you’re strongly considering becoming a plumber.
First off, everyone needs plumbers, and they always will. That means you’ll always have the potential for work. As long as you’re willing to stay hungry and go get clients, they will be there for the taking.
The starting salary for an apprentice plumber (around $40,000 on average) might not be amazing, but within 7-10 years, you could be making over $100,000.
Play your cards right and hire other plumbers to work for you, and there’s effectively no limit to how much you could earn as a business owner in the industry.
Yep…most plumbing companies I know offer medical benefits to their full-time employees, including apprentices. Never underestimate the value of medical coverage from your employer!
Once you reach the level of a master plumber, you can continue to grow indefinitely. You can opt to work for yourself, or you could hire apprentices, journeyman plumbers, an administration team, and even management to continue to grow.
Heck…you could have a plumbing business servicing multiple states or the entire country if you’re committed to growth.
Little Eduction Required
Most jobs I know of that pay $100,000 or more require a master’s degree or even a doctorate. Not plumbing!
You get your GED and two years of trade school behind you, and you’re set. You’ll spend very little time and money on schooling to earn a great salary.
While plumbing can be a fantastic option for many, there are definitely still some downsides to the job (just like anything in life).
Here are a few of the big downsides I’ve experienced in my time as a plumber.
It Can Be a Crappy Job…Literally
Plumbing involves dealing with people’s water supply lines and waste lines, so it can get…messy. Some jobs will require you to dig around in a customer’s toilet drain pipes to clear a clog.
I’ve pulled everything from human excrement and wads of toilet paper to used feminine products out of toilets. There is no way to sugarcoat this part of the business; it’s disgusting.
Even clearing a sink drain can still be a little nasty — think clumps of human hair, discarded toothpaste, and globs of rotten food. Yum! One thing I’ll say is that plumbing will keep you honest about your daily showers!
I do extensive sanitizing when I get home from a job, but the feeling of a particularly gross day on your skin takes a few hours to fade, even after a good scrubbing.
Even Mike Rowe — the guy who climbs into storm drains and scrubs septic tanks clean on Dirty Jobs and Someone’s Gotta Do It — who glamorizes the plumbing industry in many ways for the low barrier to entry and relatively high pay still maintains that working some plumbing jobs is exceptionally unpleasant, to put it mildly.
The bottom line is: if you’re afraid of getting a little dirty, plumbing isn’t for you unless you strictly work in new construction.
Challenging Work Environment
Whether you’re in residential or commercial plumbing, service or new construction, your work environment isn’t always going to be ideal.
Get ready for working in the heat of the summer in homes that aren’t air-conditioned, in a damp crawlspace in the dead of winter, and, most often, in a home or office where there is no bathroom available.
Many of my fellow plumbers bring a bucket with them to the job site because they know bathrooms won’t always be available. And every so often, you’re lucky enough to be on bucket brigade!
Hard On Your Body
Plumbing is a physically demanding job. Some jobs will require you to haul tools, equipment, and heavy piping from your shop or truck to your worksite. Others will require you to shimmy into uncomfortable positions or contort your back and neck to get a good view of what you’re doing.
This is partially a benefit because you feel like you did a full day’s work by the end of the day, and you’ll never have trouble sleeping. However, I can tell you from personal experience that 10+ years as a plumber will undoubtedly give you chronic back and neck pain.
Usually No Retirement Plan
Having medical benefits as a plumber is great, but you shouldn’t expect your employer to offer a 401k. That means you’ll either be working until you physically can’t anymore, or you’ll have to set up a retirement plan on your own.
Even so, your employer likely won’t contribute to it. Especially because plumbing is hard on the body, and you can’t do it forever, it would be nice to have a 401k to fall back on.
Undesirable Work Hours
You know all those times you had a flood or leak at 3 AM and called an emergency plumber? Well, as a plumber, you can expect to be getting up in the middle of the night to respond to those same problems.
The work hours pretty much always suck. You’ll miss out on some family and friend get-togethers, and you can’t always plan your weekends in advance because you’ll never know when your services are needed.
It Can Be Awkward
Working in people’s homes can be pretty awkward. I was once called to a job (during the pandemic) where the toilet in a single-bathroom apartment was leaking into the unit below.
I had to take up the time and space of the couple living there and put their only toilet out of commission just to fix the problem for their neighbors downstairs (even though their toilet was functioning fine). Therefore, the couple couldn’t go anywhere and had to deal with a stranger in their home and no toilet access for over 2 hours. Needless to say, it was uncomfortable for me as the plumber to put these people out like that.
But, even if you’re there for the unit owner or homeowner, entering people’s homes can be unpleasantly uncomfortable at times, especially if the problem you’re there to fix is….ummm…messy.
I will never forget one job where the couple fought and screamed at each other the entire time I was there. It was super uncomfortable. I’ve never tried to repair a leak so quickly.
So, maybe a career in plumbing is perfect for you, and maybe it’s not. There are upsides and downsides to working in the industry, but that can be said about any job.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some insight into how to get started as a plumber and what to expect once you’re on the job. If you do pursue a plumbing career, be careful, stay focused, and above all else…always bring an extra pair of rubber gloves!