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Tennessee Plumbing License: How to Become a Plumber in Tennessee

category-iconPlumbing, TN

Table of Contents
  1. Licensing Requirements for Plumbers in Tennessee

  2. Types of Plumbers Licenses in Tennessee

  3. Steps to Get a Plumber’s License in Tennessee

  4. Benefits of Getting a Plumbers License in Tennessee

  5. What Is the Median Salary for a Plumber in Tennessee?

  6. How Much Does It Cost to Get a Plumbers License in Tennessee?

  7. How to Get a Plumbers License in Tennessee

  8. How Long Does it Take to Get a Plumbers License in Tennessee?

  9. Tennessee Plumber Training Programs and Schools

  10. Tennessee Plumber Licensing Exam Details

  11. Who Issues Plumbers Licenses in Tennessee?

  12. Does My Tennessee Plumbers License Work in Any Other State?

  13. Other Requirements Unique to Tennessee

Learning something as intricate as plumbing takes time, effort, and determination, but it’s a skill set that will always be in demand. Lawmakers throughout the country recognize that this profession is vital to the health and safety of the public. That’s why most states require a minimum amount of training and education to earn a plumbers license.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there is a strong demand for these professionals. Employment of plumbers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029. The Bureau also reports there are 490,200 plumbers nationwide and Tennessee employs 6,390 of them.

And there’s more good news if you’re interested in this profession. The Associated General Contractors of America says contractors are hiring. In the 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 60% of firms in the U.S. and 80% of firms in Tennessee had unfilled hourly craft positions on June 30, 2020.

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License requirements for plumbers vary from state to state and in some cases, like in Tennessee, from locality to locality. It’s important to know what is required where you intend to work before you get started.

Licensing Requirements for Plumbers in Tennessee

undefinedIs a license required for plumbers in Tennessee? Yes.

To be a plumber in Tennessee, you must be licensed. Licenses are issued at both the state and local level. Cities and counties throughout the state issue traditional journeyman or master contractor local licenses while the state issues a Contractor license with a Plumber Classification (CMC or CMC-A) and a Limited Licensed Plumber (LLP) license.

The state-level licenses are issued by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance through the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors.

A Tennessee contractor's license is required BEFORE bidding or offering a price, for projects $25,000 and up (includes materials and labor), as a prime (general) contractor; and subcontractors performing electrical, mechanical, plumbing, HVAC, roofing, and masonry are also required to be licensed as a contractor, when the total portion on the project is $25,000 or more; masonry, when $100,000 or more.

Local jurisdictions have their own licensure for plumbers. Municipalities can also have their own contractor license but those who have a full Certified Mechanical Contractor (CMC) license or a Contractor Plumbing and Gas Piping (CMC-A) license through the state are not required to test with local governments.

Types of Plumbers Licenses in Tennessee

What are the different types of plumbers licenses in Tennessee?

There are three statewide license classifications for plumbers in Tennessee. Two of them are contractor licenses needed for jobs of $25,000 or more and require at least three years of experience.

  • CMC — Full Mechanical Contractor: This license requires education and training in Plumbing as well as HVAC and you must be pre-approved by the Board before you can take the examination.

  • CMC-A  —   Plumbing and Gas Piping Contractor: This license also requires pre-approval for testing. This classification does not include the HVAC component but rather is strictly a plumbing contractor designation.

The third license is intended to regulate those professionals doing plumbing jobs of less than $25,000 and requires one year of experience to qualify.

LLP — Limited Licensed Plumber. An LLP License is meant to ensure that plumbers throughout the state meet a minimum standard of excellence in the field. Many cities and counties have licensing that supersedes an LLP. Check with the local government in the city and county's Local Codes Enforcement office to see if the LLP is accepted for permits and inspections, or if they have their own local plumbing journeyman/master license required. Also, there are 15 counties that are exempt from the LLP license. Those are Benton, Decatur, Dickson, Giles, Henderson, Henry, Hickman, Humphreys, Lake, Lawrence, Lewis, Obion, Perry, Stewart, and Weakley.

Steps to Get a Plumber’s License in Tennessee

  1. You must be at least 18 years of age.

  2. Have a high school diploma or GED.

  3. Gain work experience and get classroom instruction either through an apprenticeship or technical college program. An apprenticeship will give you four to five years of documented experience. A college or technical school program will likely only be a year long.

  4. Once you’ve gained enough knowledge/experience through apprenticeship or employment after college/vocational school you will likely take a locally mandated exam and apply for a journeyman license in the jurisdiction where you intend to work or Test and apply for a state-level LLP allowing you to work on projects valuing less than $25,000.

  5. If you decide you want to bid on projects of greater than $25,000, you’ll need to take the statewide trade exam and Business and Law exam to apply to become a licensed contractor. For either a CMC-A License or for the full CMC you must be pre-approved to take the trade exam.

  6. After receiving passing grades on both of the exams, you will need to complete the Contractor’s License Application Package, including a financial statement either reviewed or audited by a certified public accountant and proof of general liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance.

Benefits of Getting a Plumbers License in Tennessee

There are many benefits you’ll see from getting your Tennessee plumbing license:

  • Most importantly, it is required by law in Tennessee to be licensed through state or local government to legally perform plumbing work unless you are an employee of a licensed plumber.

  • 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 Median Salary for a Plumber in Tennessee?

The annual mean wage for a plumber in Tennessee is $52,050, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That salary increases, as you might expect, as you acquire more experience, according to indeed.com.

Apprentice: The average salary for an apprentice plumber is $14.01 per hour in Tennessee and $5,429 overtime per year.

Journeyman: The average salary for a journeyman plumber is $24.34 per hour in Tennessee and $10,331 overtime per year.

Salary.com lists the average licensed plumber salary in Tennessee a little higher at $52,800 as of January 29, 2021, but the range typically falls between $45,900 and $60,400. Salary can vary widely, depending on the city where you work and other factors like education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Plumbers License in Tennessee?

There are different fees associated with the many different plumbing licenses in Tennessee.

If you choose to start with some sort of technical or vocational school education, you can expect to pay $4,000 to $5,000 per year for in-state tuition. Apprenticeships are considerably less costly — usually $2,000 to $2,500 per year for four to five years — and often your employer will pay that fee as long as you maintain a B average or better and you will be earning a wage from the first day in the field.

Licensing application fees and exams at the local level vary from city to city and county to county. The statewide business and law exam costs $57 and the statewide trade exam also costs $57. To earn a Full Mechanical Contractor (CMC) license or a Plumbing & Gas Piping (CMC-A) license, the application fee is $250. For a Limited Licensed Plumber (LLP) license, the exam fee is once again $57 and the application fee is $75.

All licenses must be renewed every two years. The contractor license renewals cost $200. The renewal of the LLP costs $50.

How to Get a Plumbers License in Tennessee

The first step in getting the state of Tennessee Contractor License is to take and pass the state-mandated contractors exam. You’ll need pre-approval from the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors to sit for a Full Mechanical Contractor exam or the CMC-A exam. Once you’ve received approval you must pass the exam and then submit a completed Contractor’s License Application Package to the Board. The mailing address is:

Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors 500 James Robertson Pkwy. Nashville, TN 37243-1150 Telephone: (615) 741-8307or Email: Contractor.App@tn.gov

You can save time by applying online at http://core.tn.gov/  and may pay by credit or debit card or e-check.

However, your journey to a statewide license will begin well before this at the local level.

WORK EXPERIENCE: Plumbers in Tennessee begin as either an entry-level worker, an apprentice or a student to gain the necessary experience to apply for state or local licensing. You must be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED equivalency. Then you will need to acquire some combination of formal education and practical experience. There are a couple of ways you can satisfy these two components. The requirements vary in cities and counties throughout the state. For specific details, contact your local licensing board. 

In many cases, you need a minimum of 8,000 hours (or four years) of work experience and anywhere from 576 to 900 hours of classroom-based instruction to be eligible to apply for your local level journeyman plumbers license. This can be done through completing a degree at a technical college and then working for a licensed plumber or through a registered apprenticeship.

APPLY TO TAKE EXAMINATION: Once you’ve fulfilled the work experience requirements, you may apply to take the local plumbing exam. After successfully passing the exam and providing any other documentation the local jurisdiction prescribes, you will be issued a journeyman or master license as appropriate.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, has a Board of Plumbing Examiners to oversee the examination and licensing of master and journeyman plumbers. You also must register first as a helper so the board can document your hours to be applied toward the five years of experience required for the master license.

Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee, also issues both journeyman and master licenses through the Shelby County Plumbing Code Board and requires all apprentices to be registered. Before applying to the Plumbing Code Board to take the examination for licensing as a master plumber, each applicant must provide proof that he/she is a graduate engineer from an accredited college or university with at least 4 years of experience in the design and installation of plumbing systems or that he is a licensed journeyman plumber and has a minimum of 4 years of experience in the installation of plumbing systems as a journeyman plumber.

Before applying to the Board to take the examination as a journeyman plumber, each applicant must provide proof that he/she has had a minimum of 3 years of experience installing or helping install plumbing installations.

The application fee for a Master plumber license is $150 and for Journeyman plumber license is $30. Apprentice registrations are $12 and all must be renewed annually for the same amount.

STATE CONTRACTOR LICENSE: If you choose to work on projects valuing $25,000 or more, you will need your Tennessee Contractor’s License. Also, in certain municipalities, even on plumbing projects valued at less than $25,000, you may be required to be licensed at the state level. That license would be for Limited Licensed Plumber (LLP). You do not need pre-approval for the LLP exam, which costs $57 and the application fee is $75. This license must be renewed every two years at a cost of $50.

To obtain either a Full Mechanical or Plumbing and Gas Piping contractor license, you must pass a business and law exam and a trade exam, submit the appropriate application and supporting documentation, which includes financial statements either reviewed or audited by a Certified Public Accountant, and proof of workers’ compensation and general liability insurance.

All state contractors licenses are issued with a classification, like CMC for Full Mechanical Contractor and a monetary limit. The monetary limit is an amount approved for contracting/bidding, and this is based upon your financial statement prepared by a CPA, and experience. A “reviewed” financial statement is required to obtain a monetary limit of $3,000,000 or less; an “audit” is required to obtain a monetary limit more than $3,000,001 to Unlimited. Financial statements must be prepared by a properly licensed CPA. A contractor’s license is issued in the exact name as on the Financial Statement. 

You do need pre-approval for either the CMC or CMC-A exam. The cost of the Business and Law and trade exam for either costs $57 each and the application fee is $250.

Contractor licenses also must be renewed every two years. The renewal fee is $200. Applicants who wish to establish a corporation, LLC or Partnership must register with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office. There are detailed instructions on how to do that here.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Plumbers License in Tennessee?

It will typically take four to five years to complete a plumbing apprenticeship in Tennessee. Most of the certificate or degree programs through technical school take a year or two and then you would need a minimum of a year of experience working for a licensed plumber before qualifying for the LLP. You need at least three years of documented experience to be eligible to test for either of the contractor level licenses and sufficient time to prepare to successfully pass the statewide Law and Business and trade exam and meet the other rigorous financial and insurance mandates.

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Tennessee 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, so they must know more than just the mechanics. They must know plumbing code. For the most part, there are two ways to get the practical experience and the formal education you need to qualify to take any mandated plumber license exam at the state or local level. You can either go to college or technical school and then get an entry-level job to gain practical experience or you can join an approved apprenticeship program. 

There are many programs to get the training you need to become a plumbing professional in Tennessee and they are located all over the state. A certificate program can take a matter of months or you can get a one or two-year degree at a technical or community college.

There are also many more options for online training like Fortis. You may also choose to gain the necessary experience through a Registered Apprenticeship program. The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development maintains a statewide list of Eligible Training Providers and Registered Apprenticeships are allowed automatic inclusion on that list.

You’ll learn about plumbing systems including:

  • Underground water supply systems

  • Stormwater

  • Sewer drainage

  • Fixture installation

  • 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.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology offers degrees and certificates at many of its campuses statewide including TCAT Knoxville, TCAT Morristown, TCAT Crump, TCAT Nashville, TCAT Dickson, TCAT Murfreesboro, TCAT Elizabethton, and the online catalog of courses has one program designed specifically to help prepare you for the LLP, and another that covers electrical to prepare you for the Full Mechanical Contractor (CMC) license.

Here are three great lists of the best Plumbing colleges and Universities in Tennessee:

  • Universities.com: Best Plumbing Colleges in Tennessee

  • Niche: 2021 Best Colleges with Plumbing Degrees in Tennessee

  • Prepler: Best Plumbing Colleges & Universities in Tennessee

You’ll see that many of the same colleges or programs appear on all of these lists.

Tuition: The Cost of Tuition depends on the program you choose and varies widely. Most of the programs offered through TCAT take about one year of full-time enrollment and cost about $4,000. The cost of online training programs can be significantly less.

Apprenticeship

If you choose to forego a more traditional college degree, a formal apprenticeship can give you the hands-on and classroom instruction you need. The downside of this approach is the time commitment. Most apprenticeships take about four to five years while a certificate program and one year of experience is enough to earn your LLP.

However, many local jurisdictions require at least three years of experience to be eligible for a license, so you would have that documented experience through an apprenticeship. Apprentice positions are listed on job sites like indeed. They are also offered through unions like UA Local 572 in Nashville, UA Local 43 in Chattanooga, and UA Local 614 in Memphis where they liken the apprenticeships there to receiving a “full-ride” scholarship.

Non-union-based apprenticeship programs are offered by the Tennessee Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors with a school located in Knoxville and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Tennessee where members pay $2,075 per year for tuition including books and materials and non-members pay $2,675.

Here are some other benefits of apprenticeships:

  • As a full-fledged employee of the sponsoring company, a Registered Apprentice completes a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training and a minimum of 144 hours of related technical instruction for each year of apprenticeship.

  • Apprenticeship terms are occupation specific, but the average term is four to five years.

  • Successful completion of the Registered Apprenticeship Program earns the apprentice nationally recognized certification as a journeyperson.

Program Prerequisites: You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED. 

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.

Tennessee Plumber Licensing Exam Details

Local-level licensing exams vary by city and county. Check with the local licensing board for those details.

The state has contracted with PSI Testing services for all Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractor exams. The Tennessee Contractors Candidate Information Bulletin describes the exam and the process.

The Business and Law Management Exam has 50 questions and a time limit of 140 Minutes. It covers:

  • Licensing Requirements

  • Estimating and Bidding

  • Business Organization and Financial Management

  • Tax Laws

  • Labor Laws

  • Project Management and Lien Law

  • Contracts

  • Risk Management

  • Environmental and Safety

The CMC – Full Mechanical Contractor Exam requires pre-approval from the Licensing Board. It consists of 120 questions and you are allowed a maximum of 325 minutes. It covers:

  • Electrical Knowledge, Motors, and Controls

  • Piping -Refrigeration, Hydronic, Steam, and Process

  • Heating and Cooling Principles and Theory

  • Heating and Cooling Equipment and Components

  • Refrigerants and Refrigeration

  • Fuel and LP Gas

  • Combustion Air, Chimneys, Flues, and Vents

  • Ducts, Ventilation, and Exhaust

  • Plumbing

  • Load Calculation

  • Safety, Fire and Smoke Protection

  • Fire Sprinkler

The CMC-A – Mechanical Plumbing Contractor Exam requires pre-approval from the Licensing Board. It consists of 110 questions and you are allowed a maximum of 295 minutes. It covers:

  • General Knowledge and Math

  • General Requirements (not including Gas) -Administrative, Structural, Backflow, Materials and Supports, Joints and Connections, Storm Drains, Testing

  • Water Supply and Distribution

  • Fixtures, including Water Heaters

  • Drain, Waste, and Vent Systems, including Indirect and Special Waste

  • Traps, Cleanouts, and Interceptors

  • Isometric Analysis

  • Gas Appliances and Piping

  • OSHA Safety

The LLP — Limited Licensed Plumber Exam does not require pre-approval from the Licensing Board. You do NOT need to take the Law and Business exam for this license. The Candidate Information Bulletin for this exam explains that the test consists of 40 questions and you are allowed a maximum of 135 minutes. It covers:

  • General Knowledge and Math

  • General Requirements (not including Gas) -Administrative, Structural, Backflow, Materials and Supports, Joints and Connections, Storm Drains, Testing

  • Water Supply and Distribution

  • Fixtures, including Water Heaters

  • Drain, Waste, and Vent Systems, including Indirect and Special Waste

  • Traps, Cleanouts, and Interceptors

  • Isometric Analysis

  • Gas Appliances and Piping

  • OSHA Safety

All exams are open book, using the reference materials listed in the Candidate Bulletin. Only those items listed may be used and there are specific rules about how you can mark them using permanent tabs, highlighters, and pen only—not pencil. Be sure to read all the information carefully and follow it closely. 

The cost of each exam is $57, so for the contractor license to take both the trade exam and the Law and Business exam will cost $114.

They are administered in PSI examination centers in Chattanooga, Jackson, Johnson City, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville.

All questions and requests for information pertaining to the examination should be directed to PSI.

PSI3210 E Tropicana Las Vegas, NV 89121 855-746-8173 www.psiexams.com

All questions and requests for information pertaining to licensure should be directed to the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors.

Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors 500 James Robertson Parkway Nashville, TN 37243-1150 615-741-8307 https://www.tn.gov/commerce/regboards/contractors.html

Who Issues Plumbers Licenses in Tennessee?

Plumbers licenses are issued by cities and counties throughout Tennessee. Statewide Contractor Licenses are issued by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance through the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors for projects that are $25,000 or more. Also, in certain municipalities even on jobs valued at less than $25,000, plumbers may be required to hold an LLP at the state level.

Does My Tennessee Plumbers License Work in Any Other State?

Tennessee does have reciprocal agreements with several other states to waive the trade exam but still requires that out-of-state contractors take the Business and Law Management exam before practicing in Tennessee. The process to obtain a Tennessee license without retaking the trade exam can be found here.

The states with this limited exam waiver reciprocity are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Plumbing Certifications

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 Tennessee

To keep your state-issued contractor license current, Tennessee requires you to renew it every two years. The renewal fee is $200.

The LLP also needs to be renewed every two years but only costs $50.

Continuing Education

There is no continuing education requirement for licensed Plumbing Contractors in Tennessee at this time.

Resources

You can stay up to date on all Plumbing industry news in several ways:

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