Disclaimer: This guide is a WORK IN PROGRESS and I will be adding things as I have time. Please feel free to also add things that I’ve missed or your own experiences.
I’ve decided to make this guide because I see countless posts asking how to get into plumbing and I thought it would be a good idea to have one place where people can get information.
Why would you want to be a Plumber? Well for me and many others it can be a rewarding career that leaves you feeling accomplished at the end of most days and every day can be different. Technology is always advancing, and new methods come along that make things easier and simpler. You’re always learning something new as a Plumber because codes change and every job is a little different. This keeps the job interesting. Many people view Plumbers and tradesmen in general as people who were too dumb to go to college and couldn’t get any other job. That is far from the truth though as being a successful Plumber requires continuous education and training. Plumbing is a career that will always be in demand everywhere in the world, can’t be outsourced and will likely never be (completely) taken over by robots in any of our lifetimes. There’s also the fact that you won’t have to deal with crippling debt from student loans, and you can make good money quickly.
I’m doing this to help people everywhere, but codes/licensing/etc… can be different in many states so you should do your research before getting too far ahead of yourself. I live in the Northeast US so that’s where my experiences apply.
Some frequently asked questions:
Am I too old to get into Plumbing?
Probably not! Obviously the younger you start the better, but there’s no age requirement to being a Plumber. Just know that Plumbing, like most construction trades, is a very physical job and can be hard on your body.
How much money do Plumbers make? Salaries vary from state to state, so it’s best to research your local area. Here is a list of Plumber salaries updated in 2016.
Do I need to be “in shape” to be a Plumber?
Well, technically no, but it helps. It is a very physical job and the healthier you are, the easier things will be for you, and the people you’re working with. As an apprentice you’ll likely be tasked with digging, carrying and lifting, so the more fit you are the better.
I’m a girl, can I be a Plumber?
Do I have to touch poop?
Well, maybe… But in all reality it depends on the type of plumbing you’re doing. If you’re doing new construction the chances of touching poop are very low as you’ll be installing brand new piping systems. Service calls are much more likely to involve human waste because often times you’re freeing blockages and repairing faulty plumbing systems. Personally I very rarely have to deal with doodoo as I do a lot of new construction and remodel work. But your mileage will vary. Ask what type of jobs your prospective company takes on and go from there.
I come from I.T. and have no experience working with my hands, does that matter?
No. There’s several guys at my shop that were hired with zero plumbing experience and are being trained and put through school to get their license. Does it help to have some experience, of course, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary. A lot of jobs can help you being a Plumber because it involves a little bit of everything. The most important thing is that you like to learn, and learn from your mistakes.
Okay, I want to pursue this, where do I start?
Well there is a lot of variables, age, location, experience etc… First you need to decide whether you’ll join a union shop or an “open” shop. I have no experience with unions so maybe someone else can chime in on this one. From what i hear, unions are difficult to get into and subject to nepotism. Once you’re in they have good benefits and pay very well. Union shops tend to work on larger projects which can last months/years which can have you doing the same task over and over again. You can find more information about unions and locate one close to your area here.
A family run shop is the method I’ve personally had success with. Your best bet to find one of these jobs is by going to craigslist and looking in your area for shops looking for apprentices. Many will say experience preferred but will train the right candidate. These types of shops tend to focus on smaller projects, custom homes and service calls. The job your doing can be different every day.
Another type of company that is always looking for “plumbers” is the RotoRooter type companies. My suggestion would be to avoid these types of companies. It’s usually very dirty jobs and they work on commission. There’s a lot of pressure to make sales, and a lot of the time they’ll lie to customers about things that need to be replaced just to get a bigger check. That’s no way to do business.
There’s a college that offers an accelerated plumbing class, should I take that?
No, I wouldn’t suggest it. These courses charge thousands more than a traditional trade school class and teach you the same material. They also may require you to take additional non plumbing related classes which is a waste of time. The few guys I know that have taken these types of classes are well…not the best plumbers. Not to say that you’re dumb if that’s the path you did take, just sharing my personal experience. Don’t waste your money on online courses either. The best education you can get is from working hands on, in the field. If you want additional education before you start at a company it would be beneficial to study up on the different types of fittings/materials/tools that are used for Plumbing.
What should I expect on an interview?
Don’t wear a suit and tie. Some people will tell you different things. Personally I think the safest option is to make sure your clothes are clean and presentable. Your fashion sense isn’t high on the list of qualifications so don’t sweat it. Some interviews can be very informal, some might be more professional. It depends on the company. They may ask you to take a drug test/physical. Don’t do drugs. No one will want to work with you if you’re always high. Be ready to start working ASAP.
My first day is tomorrow, what should i do to prepare?
BRING BASIC HAND TOOLS. Here is a list in order of importance that you’ll want to have on your first day:
- Tape measure
- PPE (Gloves, Safety Glasses, Boots, Knee pad)
This should get you through your first day. Plumbers use a ridiculous amount of tools, there’s a tool for everything. Most companies will supply power tools but require you to buy basic hand tools. Start out buying the basics. Everyone’s needs will be different but here’s a list of basic tools that I keep in my tool bag/pockets that I take on every job. Tape measure, sharpie, pencil, torpedo level, knive(s), hammer, two pairs of pump pliers, adjustable wrenches of varying sizes, philips screwdriver, flathead screwdriver, beater flathead, 6 in 1 screwdriver, flashlight, torque wrench, speed square, tubing cutter, mini cutter, pipe dope, teflon tape, electrical tape, pex cutter. Again everyone is different and you will eventually need to have a lot more tools, this is just a general list.
Ultimately I am just some guy on the internet, and if you are actually serious about plumbing as a career you should do research on your own because things could be different where you live!