California Plumbing License: How to Become a Plumber in California
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Plumbers play a vital role in our society. We need professionals who know how to do the job right to protect us from catastrophes in our homes and businesses. Most states agree on this and require a minimum amount of training and education for all plumbers. It will take you at least four years to learn the trade in California before you can get a license. But it is a skill that will always be in demand.
If you’re considering taking this career path, you’ll need to understand the licensing regulations and how to navigate the terrain. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are 469,000 plumbers nationwide and California employs 40,400 of them, the most of any state in the nation. The national number is projected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031 adding 9,100 of these skilled workers to the ranks. In California, according to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, the projected growth rate is more than six times that at 13% for Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters.
Contractors are struggling to find skilled tradesmen like plumbers, electricians, and HVACR professionals. In fact, 93% of firms in the United States and 85% of firms in California had unfilled hourly craft positions, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, 2022 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey. So, if you get the training you need you should have a variety of jobs to choose from when you’re ready.
Licensing requirements vary from state to state and in some cases from locality to locality, but the need for proper training is universal.
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Plumbing License Requirements for Plumbers in California
Is a license required for Plumbers in California? Yes, but not right away.
To legally perform plumbing work on projects valuing more than $500 in labor and materials in the state of California, you must be a licensed contractor. However, California does not require you to have a license to begin working and learning as long as you are directly supervised by a registered contractor. The state does not license at the apprentice or journeyman level.
The California Contractors State License Board issues the licenses.
Types of Plumbers Licenses in California
What are the different types of plumbers licenses in California?
A Plumbers License is a classification of an Original Contractors License in California. It is a Class C Specialty Contractor License, specifically C-36 – Plumbing Contractor.
Steps to Get a Plumbing Contractor License in California
Be at least 18 years of age.
Have either a Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number.
Have a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
Get work experience under the supervision of a licensed contractor or four years of documented journeyman experience on jobs valuing $500 or less.
Apply for Original Contractors License C-36 specialty.
Provide documentation of four years journeyman-level experience or equivalent college or vocational training program.
Take and pass all parts of the licensing exam.
Pay all fees.
Pass criminal background check, including fingerprinting.
File evidence of workers' compensation insurance or an exemption from the requirements.
Secure contractor’s surety bond.
Benefits of Getting a Plumbing Contractors License in California
There are many benefits to getting your California Plumbing Contractor license:
Most important, it is required by law in California to be licensed through the state to legally perform plumbing work valuing more than $500 in labor, materials, and other costs.
A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
Only licensed plumbing contractors can: operate a business and advertise services, obtain commercial insurance, pull building permits and pass inspections, bid on public and government projects.
Having a license protects your company and customers.
A license gives you a competitive advantage in the job market.
It also increases your earning potential.
What Is the Mean Salary for a Plumber in California?
The annual mean wage for a Plumbing Contractor in California is $72,000, the highest of any state according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The salary for a plumber in California increases—as you might expect—as you acquire more experience, according to indeed.com. Though the state doesn’t license plumbers as journeyman or master, the salary site is presumably referencing levels of experience and expertise.
Apprentice: The average wage for an apprentice plumber is $20.70 per hour in California and $5,550 overtime per year.
Journeyman: The average wage for a journeyman plumber is $28.05 per hour in California and $6,750 overtime per year.
Salary can vary widely depending on the city and many other important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession.
What Business Owners Need to Know
Getting the most out of a plumbing technician, no matter where they are in their licensing journey, takes work. ServiceTitan’s cloud-based, all-in-one plumbing software gives technicians and business owners the technology they need to do the work efficiently, and the data they need to do it smartly.
SMS communications that keep customers informed about the technician’s visit.
Location-specific service history, including recorded calls, accessible from the mobile app.
Required forms that ensure every job is done right, driving consistency.
The ability to build multi-option proposals with photos, on-site, in minutes.
Sales presentations that make conversations with customers easier and drive average ticket.
Mobile payment acceptance, eliminating lost checks and increasing cash flow.
To learn more, schedule a demo with a product expert today.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Plumbing Contractor License in California?
The application fee for Original Contractors License is $330. Once you have passed the certification exam, you will need to pay an additional $200 for the Initial License Application Fee. In addition, there is a cost for the fingerprinting scan. Those fees vary by site. To renew a license on or before the expiration date is $450. For a list of all fees, click here.
How to Get a Plumbing Class C Specialty License in California
WORK EXPERIENCE: California requires anyone applying to take the licensing exam to be a Plumbing Contractor to demonstrate four years of journeyman-level experience in the field. That experience can be entirely hands-on or up to three years in an approved college or vocational training program, but at least one year must be in the field. The CLSB explains:
A journeyman is a person who is a fully qualified, experienced worker (as opposed to a trainee, helper, laborer, assistant, apprentice, etc.) and is able to perform the trade without supervision, or a person who has completed a plumbing apprenticeship program.
All experience claims must be verified by a qualified and responsible person, such as an employer, contractor, foreman/supervisor, fellow employee, other journeyman, union representative, building inspector, architect, engineer, or homeowner. The person verifying your claim must have firsthand knowledge of your experience—that is, he or she must have observed the work that you have done—and must complete the experience certification portion of the application.
One way to get the experience you need is through an apprenticeship program like those offered through the California Apprenticeship Coordinators Associations. Also, California’s Department of Industrial Relations has resources online to help you find an apprenticeship program near you through a local union or Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JACT).
APPLY FOR LICENSE: Once you’ve fulfilled the work experience requirements, journeyman plumbers may apply for a Contractors License. You are essentially applying to sit for the exam. There are currently three ways to complete this form:
Easy-Fill: Fill out the form online, then print and mail it to CSLB with the $330 fee.
PDF: Print a blank form, then fill it out and mail it to CSLB with the $330 fee.
Order: Receive a blank form by mail, then fill it out and mail it to CSLB with the $330 fee.
PAY APPLICATION PROCESSING FEE: The fee for the Original Application (plumbing exam for one classification) is $330. You must submit this payment and all required documents along with your application, mailed to CLSB Headquarters in Sacramento. You can find the step-by-step guide here along with the mailing address for all of the forms.
TAKE LICENSING EXAM: The test will consist of both a trade examination as well as a Law & Business examination. All new applicants for a license must also complete the asbestos open-book examination if it has not been done previously after taking and passing the Trade and Law & Business Exam. The purpose of the guide and the examination is to make contractors aware of the risks of dealing with asbestos and to provide the knowledge base necessary to respond appropriately to construction situations where asbestos is or may be present. The booklet contains general information about asbestos abatement standards. The examination and verification form must be completed and submitted to the CSLB prior to licensure.
COMPLETE CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK: All applicants must complete a criminal background check and disclose any criminal pleas or convictions. You must also submit to fingerprinting in accordance with California law. If you have ever been convicted of a crime, including DUI or other Vehicle Code violations, the CSLB will be informed. This does not mean you’ll automatically be denied licensure—the CSLB reviews each application and considers factors such as the nature and severity of the crimes, the amount of time that has passed since the convictions, and any evidence of rehabilitation submitted by the applicant.
PROVIDE PROOF OF INSURANCE: All applicants must file evidence of workers' compensation insurance or exemption from the requirements. The Certificate of Workers' Compensation Insurance is provided by the workers' compensation insurer.
PROVIDE PROOF OF CONTRACTOR BOND: A contractor's bond of $15,000 is required for a license to be issued or renewed. The bond is filed for the benefit of consumers who may have sustained damage as a result of defective construction or other license violations, and for the benefit of employees who have not been paid wages that are due to them. The bond must be written on a form approved by CSLB, by a surety company licensed and authorized to write surety bonds through the California Department of Insurance. Only authorized surety companies may order the approved Contractor's Bond form.
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How Long Does it Take to Get a Plumbing Contractors License in California?
It will take a minimum of four years to qualify to take the Original Contractors License Exam in California. However, you will be working and accumulating the necessary journeyman experience—and can be earning money—the whole time.
California Plumber Training Programs and Schools
Plumbers are responsible for a lot more than just fixing leaks or clogs. They design, install, and renovate systems that carry liquids or gasses. There are many programs to get the training you need to become a plumbing professional in California. You’ll need to find a contractor or company with an opening for an apprentice. You can do that independently or enroll in a trade school or local union apprenticeship program. Those programs can often help connect you with a licensed plumbing contractor to oversee your apprenticeship.
You can also choose to earn a degree in plumbing and heating at a college or university. It will take about four years to get the classroom and hands-on training you need to prepare for the licensing exam. For example, California Community Colleges offer associate's degrees in plumbing technology. It’s not unusual for community colleges to offer plumbing degree programs in combination with a closely related field like gas technology or heating.
You’ll learn about plumbing systems including:
Underground water supply
Waste and vent piping both inside and outside of buildings
Residential and service plumbing
Any program should also cover OSHA safety training, detailed instruction in chemistry, mathematics, physics, blueprint reading and drafting, in-depth examination of state codes, and advanced training about water treatment systems, water heaters, plumbing appliances, and plumbing fixtures.
Here are two great lists of the best plumbing colleges and universities in California:
Niche: 2023 Best Colleges with Plumbing Degrees in California
Prepler: Best Plumbing Colleges & Universities in California
Trade schools and certificate programs are plentiful and can be found by doing a simple computer search. Among them are: Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors Association of California, United Association: Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, & Service Techs, and Foothill College offers a certificate program as well.
Tuition: The cost of tuition depends on the program you choose and varies widely. The good news is in many programs you’ll be earning while you’re learning. Tuition for a trade school can be as little as $1,250 to $3,000 for a certificate program or an associate’s degree can run from $3,000 to $23,000, depending on the school, according to education.costhelper.com.
Program Prerequisites: Most programs require you to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED (General Educational Development) degree. Many require you to pass a physical and a drug test.
On-the-Job Experience: While on the job, you will need to have good customer service skills, be detail-oriented, have mechanical capability, and be physically fit because the job can include some heavy lifting and hours of walking, standing, and working in tight spaces.
California Plumbing Contractor Licensing Exam Details
According to the study guide on the CSLB website, you can expect the test for a Class C-36 License to consist of multiple-choice questions and be divided into five major sections:
1. Planning and Estimating (21%) 2. Rough-in and Top Out Plumbing Systems (26%) 3. Finish Plumbing Installations (15%) 4. Service, Repair, and Remodel Plumbing Systems (20%) 5. Safety (18%)
The Law and Business Examination is divided into eight major sections:
1. Business Organization (10%) 2. Business Finances (15%) 3. Employment Requirements(12%) 4. Bonds, Insurance, and Liens (10%) 5. Contract Requirements and Execution (23%) 6. Licensing Requirements (8%) 7. Safety (15%) 8. Public Works (7%)
All applicants for a new license will also need to complete the asbestos open book examination after passing the contractors licensing exam.
Who Issues Plumbing Contractors Licenses in California?
The Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board issues and renews all plumbing contractor licenses in the state. They offer a free workshop on the first Friday of every month on how to get your contractor license.
Does My California Plumbing Contractors License Work in Any Other State?
Yes. There are reciprocity agreements with Arizona, Louisiana, and Nevada.
Other certifications can help you demonstrate your proficiency to potential employers and clients. National Inspection Testing and Certification (NITC), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (ASSE Certifications), and other professional certifications are not required but may make you a more attractive hire to prospective employers or can increase your marketability to customers.
Other Requirements Unique to California
To keep your state-issued license current, California requires you to renew it before it expires every two years. The fee for an active timely renewal is $450. There is a $225 additional fee for a late renewal.
Though the California Contractors State Licensing Board does not require continuing education to renew your license, you will want to stay informed about emerging technology and regulations. Certain trade organizations like Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors Association of California (PHCC) require continuing education for you to remain active. Each PHCC chapter offers approved continuing education and requires six hours per year.
You can stay up to date on all Plumbing industry news in several ways: