DC Plumbing License: How to Become a Plumber in Washington DC
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There’s no shortcut or easy button to becoming a plumber. You can’t rush the training it takes, but the essential skills you learn will last a lifetime. Almost every state requires plumbers to be licensed because it’s complicated work that affects everyone’s health and safety.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are 469,000 plumbers nationwide and the District of Columbia employs 1100 of them. The national number is projected to grow 2% from 2021 to 2031. In Washington, D.C., according to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, the projected growth rate is more than triple that at 7% for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters.
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Contractors are struggling to find skilled tradesmen like plumbers, electricians, and HVACR professionals. In fact, 60% of firms in the United States had unfilled hourly craft positions, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey. So, if you get the training you need you should have a variety of jobs to choose from.
Licensing requirements for plumbers vary from state to state and, in some cases, from municipality to municipality. Washington, D.C., has strict standards for working in the plumbing business, beginning at the apprentice level.
Licensing Requirements for Plumbers in Washington, D.C.
Is a license required for plumbers in Washington, D.C.? Yes, and it is mandated from the very beginning.
The District of Columbia licenses plumbers as they do electricians and HVAC professionals through the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ (DCRA) — Occupational and Professional Licensing Administration (OPLA). Specifically, these tradespeople are licensed through the DC Board of Industrial Trades, which was established “to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the District by ensuring that individuals engaged in these trades have the specialized skills and training required to perform such services for the public.”
Types of Plumbing Licenses in Washington, D.C.
The District licenses plumbers at the apprentice, journeyman, master, and contractor levels.
Each level has specific restrictions and requirements for licensing.
Apprentices are required to register with the mayor and pay the appropriate fee. Apprentices may work only under the direct personal supervision and control of a licensed master plumber/gasfitter or master gasfitter.
Journeyman Plumber: An applicant for licensure as a journeyman plumber or journeyman gasfitter must establish to the satisfaction of the Board of Industrial Trades that the applicant has:
Worked as an apprentice plumber or gasfitter for at least 8,000 hours over at least four years;
Graduated from an accredited college or university with a degree in mechanical engineering, and has at least two years of practical experience as a plumber or gasfitter as verified by a licensed master plumber or licensed master gasfitter; or
Has comparable experience or a combination of education and experience that the board deems equivalent to the above; and
Any additional evidence as the board determines is necessary for the particular specialty license sought by the applicant.
Alternatively, the board will accept in lieu of examination and the above requirements a certificate from a national certifying organization (a nationally recognized trade organization, non-union sponsor, or labor union that is registered with the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training, the United States Department of Labor, or the District of Columbia Apprenticeship Council) certifying that the applicant:
Has completed the organization’s apprenticeship program;
Has passed the organization’s required examination;
Is designated by that organization as a journeyman plumber or journeyman gasfitter; and
Has not been disciplined or otherwise disqualified by the organization.
An applicant for licensure as a master plumber/gasfitter or master gasfitter must establish to the satisfaction of the board that the applicant has a valid license as a journeyman plumber or gasfitter, or has met the alternate requirements for journeyman licensure, and has worked as a journeyman plumber or journeyman gasfitter for at least four years.
An individual who wishes to be a plumbing contractor must either hold a master license or employ at least one master plumber. The designated master plumber must supervise and be responsible for the work to be performed under the authority of the permits issued to the contractor. The contractor is also required by law to purchase and maintain a surety bond of $5,000 and, if there is a separate designated master plumber, must hold a $5,000 bond for that licensee as well.
Steps to Getting a Plumber’s License in Washington, D.C.
Typically be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
Enroll in an approved apprenticeship program that combines four years of training with classroom instruction or work for a licensed master plumber or master gasfitter as an apprentice plumber or gasfitter for at least 8,000 hours over at least four years or graduate from an accredited college or university with a degree in mechanical engineering, and work for a licensed master plumber or master gasfitter for at least two years;
Apply for permission to sit for the Washington, D.C., Journeyman examination unless you apply for a journeyman license by waiver because you’ve completed a national certifying organization’s apprenticeship and can provide documentation of completion and passing the organization’s exam.
Work for at least four years under direct supervision of a licensed master plumber.
Apply to the Board of Industrial Trades to take the master plumber exam and pay application fee.
Upon approval from the board, pay a testing fee and pass the exam to be awarded your master license.
If you wish to own your own plumbing contracting business, you must be licensed as a contractor and hold a master license. You must also purchase and maintain a $5,000 surety bond. This bond must be renewed every two years along with both of your licenses.
Benefits of Getting a Plumbers License in Washington, D.C.
There are many benefits you’ll see from getting your Washington, D.C., plumbing license:
Most importantly, it is required by law to be licensed to perform plumbing work in Washington, D.C.
You will earn as you learn with a potential for pay increases as you develop new skills.
A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
If you meet the high standards of completing a registered apprenticeship, you will receive industry-recognized credentials that can go with you anywhere.
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 and increases your earning potential as you acquire more experience.
You can own your own business and be your own boss.
What Is the Mean Salary for a Plumber in Washington, D.C.?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean salary for plumbers nationally as $63,350. Washington, D.C., is significantly higher at $76,660. The salary for plumbers increases as you acquire more experience, according to Indeed.com.
Apprentice: The average wage for an apprentice plumber is $23.74 per hour in Washington, D.C., and $5,500 overtime per year.
Journeyman: The average wage for a journeyman plumber is $65,643 per hour in Washington, D.C.
Salary can vary widely depending on the city and many other important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.
What Business Owners Need to Know
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How Much Does It Cost to Get a Plumbers License in Washington, DC?
It can cost very little to get started as a plumber in Washington, D.C.. You can expect college programs to cost thousands of dollars. Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Maryland and Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) both have plumbing programs. Prince George’s County residents' tuition is $107 per credit at PGCC. Maryland residents pay $202 per credit, and out-of-state students pay $304 per credit. Tuition at PVCC is $155 per credit for in-state students and $331.60 for out-of-state students.
Apprenticeships can be almost entirely sponsored by an organization, whether it’s a union, trade organization, or employer. The apprenticeship program through UA Local 5 requires a non-refundable $50 test fee when you apply. Likewise, there is a $50 non-refundable application processing fee for the apprentice program through the Steamfitters Local 602 JATC.
Each level of license application through the District of Columbia costs $65. In addition to that original application fee, an apprentice license is $110. All journeyman licenses are $110. Master and contractor licenses are $120. The journeyman or either master exam fee is $52. Renewal of any journeyman license is $155, and renewal of the master and contractor license is $180. A benefit of this career, however, is that you will be earning while you’re learning from the very first day on the job with pay increases as you gain more expertise.
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How to Get a Plumber’s License in Washington, D.C.
Becoming a plumbing professional in the District of Columbia isn’t fast, but it’s very straightforward. To enter the plumbing field in D.C., you need to learn and gain work experience. Washington, D.C., offers a few options for this but has rigid requirements before permitting applicants to test for licensing. Apprenticeship is the preferred path to working in the plumbing field in the District.
APPRENTICESHIP Apprenticeships are sometimes referred to as “The Other Four-Year Degree,” because it’s like college for the trades. If you get one of the coveted apprentice openings through your local United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, & Service Techs it’s like getting a scholarship to college. UA Local 5 offers a five-year apprentice program that covers all aspects of the plumbing and gasfitting industry, including welder certification. The apprenticeship through UA Local 602 covers all aspects of pipefitting, welding, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration, whether for construction or service and maintenance and is also five years long. These openings are very competitive.
Alternatively, you can find an apprenticeship through the District of Columbia Office of Apprenticeship Training. The website explains the benefits of apprenticeship, the application process, and allows you to search for both non-union and union sponsors. Or, you can find an entry level job and ask your employer to act as your apprentice sponsor. If your employer agrees to register you with the District’s Apprenticeship program, which meets the U.S. Department of Labor standards that are recognized nationwide, your credentials move with you. You will be required to attend classes at night or on weekends to get the requisite theoretical training, but you’ll be getting your academic instruction in tandem with your practical experience, and you probably won’t be paying for all of it.
APPLY FOR EXAMINATION/LICENSE: You can receive your Washington, D.C., Journeyman by Waiver license without taking the journeyman exam if you complete an apprenticeship and receive a certificate from a national certifying organization, including a nationally recognized trade organization, non-union sponsor, or labor union that is registered with the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training, the United States Department of Labor, or the District of Columbia Apprenticeship Council. Alternatively, you can apply for your journeyman license by examination by submitting an Employment Verification Letter signed by a licensed master plumber.
After meeting the four-year and 8,000-hour experience requirements verified by a licensed master plumber or completing a registered apprenticeship or earning a degree in mechanical engineering and working for at least two years for a licensed master plumber or licensed master gasfitter, you may apply to the board for approval to take the journeyman plumber exam. The application fee is $65, and the initial license fee is $110. You’ll use the DCRA online application portal and will need to submit the following:
One 2”x2” passport-style photo (.jpeg format)
Government-issued identification card (e.g., driver’s license)
Debit or credit card to pay application, exam or license fees
Certificate of completion
Employment Verification Letter
Once you pass the exam, which is detailed below, you will receive your journeyman license.
WORK EXPERIENCE/APPLY FOR MASTER LICENSE: No matter what path you took to get to journeyman status, you will need to work as a licensed journeyman plumber or journeyman gasfitter for at least four years before being eligible to test for a master license. Again, you will need to apply to the board for approval to take the master plumber exam. The application fee is $65, and the initial license fee is $155. You’ll use the DCRA online application portal and will need to submit the same documents as above, but the Employment Verification Letter will be to provide proof of your four years of journeyman work.
Once you pass the master level exam, which is described later, you will receive your master license.
CONSIDER BECOMING AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: If you wish to own your own plumbing business in Washington, D.C., then you will also need to get your plumbing contractor license. To get this type of contractor license, you must hold the master plumber license or employ someone who does. Contractors also need to purchase and maintain a $5,000 surety bond and, if there’s a separate designated master mechanic, for that licensee as well.
RENEW: You must renew any of these licenses every two years. They expire on March 31 of even numbered years.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Plumbers License in Washington, D.C.?
It takes at least eight years of experience to get a master plumbers license in Washington, D.C. No matter how you go about it, you will be working to get the hands-on experience you need, so you will be making money from day one on-the-job. Earning while learning is a catchphrase often used about apprenticeships. The shortest path to a master plumber’s license in D.C. is either through an approved apprentice program or working for a licensed master to get the four years/8,000 hours of experience you need to earn your journeyman license. Then you will need to work as a licensed journeyman under the direct supervision of a licensed master plumber for another four years before you can apply to the board to take the master licensing examination. If you choose to get a four-year college degree in mechanical engineering first, you then must get two years of work experience before testing for your journeyman license, so six years total before being allowed to get the journeyman license and then another four to get the master license.
Washington, D.C., 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 not only the mechanics of the job, they must know plumbing code. Most plumbing professionals begin their career journey in the District as a registered apprentice of a union or trade organization or an employer sponsor. For this reason, most will not choose to get a post-secondary degree, but rather will take classes as part of an approved apprenticeship. Typically you will find an employer first and then register for classes through a vocational-technical school. However, if you have trouble finding an entry-level plumbing job, you can take a pre-apprenticeship or introduction to plumbing course to make you a more attractive job candidate. Additionally, vocational-technical schools may have career services departments to assist you with employment with a sponsor.
As stated above, both Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Maryland and Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) have plumbing programs. The PVCC program begins with an Introduction to Construction course. This entry-level course is the recommended first course for all trades students and a prerequisite to most specialty courses. Topics include basic safety, construction math, introduction to hand and power tools, construction drawings, basic rigging, communication skills, employability skills and material handling. Upon successful completion of this course, students are eligible to sit for the Introduction to Construction credential exam offered by the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER). The remainder of the program is Plumbing Level 1, 2,3, and 4. Each is followed by the appropriate NCCER credential exam. The plumbing program at Prince George’s Community College is structured very similarly.
Apprenticeship: UA Local 5 offers a five-year union apprenticeship in cooperation with the Washington, D.C., Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC). Steamfitters Local 602 offers an apprenticeship through the JATC too. There are also non-union plumbing apprenticeships offered through Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington. The District of Columbia also maintains an apprenticeship website that offers information to job seekers as well as employers to help apprentices find openings and help employers find apprentices. The site includes a list of current registered apprenticeship programs. Many employers will also sponsor you in an apprenticeship. You can seek them out through job boards like Glassdoor and Indeed.
Tuition: Most apprenticeship costs are absorbed by the union, trade organization or the sponsoring employer. College tuition varies from school to school. Prince George’s County residents' tuition is $107 per credit at PGCC. Maryland residents pay $202 per credit, and out-of-state students pay $304 per credit. Tuition at PVCC is $155 per credit for in-state students and $331.60 for out-of-state students.
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 good customer service skills, be detail-oriented, have some mechanical capability, and be physically fit because the job can include some heavy lifting and hours of walking, standing and working in tight spaces.
Washington, D.C., Plumber Licensing Exam Details
The District of Columbia has contracted with PSI Exams, a third-party testing service, to conduct its licensing examinations. Applicants for any of the plumbing licenses must first apply for approval to take the examination from the Board of Industrial Trades. You will need to submit a completed application with a Certificate of Completion from your registered apprenticeship or Employment Verification Letter signed by a licensed master and the $65 application fee. Upon approval, you will receive a notice of eligibility to take the examination. Registration for the examination can be completed online or by calling (855) 557-0616. The eligibility period will be for 30 days, and you will be able to test one time during that 30-day period. Examination fees must be paid by credit/debit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover) at the time the reservation is made, NOT at the test center.
Detailed instructions as well as information about the exam and the reference materials you should study are all in the Candidate Information Bulletin.
The Master Plumber, Master Plumber with Gas, and Journeyman Plumber exam are all open-book and based on the International Plumbing Code and International Fuel Gas Code.
The Master Plumber and Master Plumber with Gas exam are made up of 100 multiple choice questions with a time limit of four hours. The Journeyman Plumber exam has 70 questions and you are given three hours to complete it. All three exams contain questions about the following content areas:
Plumbing Fixtures and Terminology
Traps, Cleanouts, and Interceptors
Master Plumber with Gas also includes:
Plan and Analysis
Computer-testing is administered frequently at the following address:
District of Columbia
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street SW
Suite E 500
Washington, D.C. 20024
You will be told if you’ve passed immediately following completion of the examination.
Who Issues Plumbers’ Licenses in Washington, D.C.?
District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades licenses plumbers, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, electricians, asbestos workers, steam and operating engineers and those in the elevator trades. The board falls under the purview of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
Does My Washington, D.C., Plumbers’ License Work in Any Other State?
Washington, D.C., appears to offer licensing by reciprocity agreement only for Master and Journeyman Electricians in Virginia and Master Electricians in Maryland. However, a Journeyman by Waiver Plumbing License may be obtained in the District if you have completed a registered apprenticeship and passed the organization’s required examination and have the documentation to prove it.
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.
There is no continuing education requirement in Washington, D.C., but you will need to maintain your license through renewal. To keep your journeyman, master or contractor license current, you will need to renew it every two years by the expiration date of March 31 of even-numbered years. Renewal for an Apprentice or a Journeyman license is $110. Renewal for a Master License is $155, and $180 for a Contractor license. Contractors also need to maintain a $5,000 surety bond and, if they have a separate designated master plumber, a $5,000 bond for the designated master too.
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