How to Become a Plumber in California


Plumbing is a professional trade that deals with installing and repairing various types of pipes and fittings. Some of these pipes carry gas and some carry water for different structures like homes, offices and factories.

So, one needs to be skilled at the job to be able to practice it. You also need to know about the local structures and the building codes according to the law.

That’s why you need a license to be able to do the job so that you meet all the standards required for the job. So, there are a few qualifications to obtain before getting to the exam itself. Here’s all you need to know about being a licensed plumber in California.

Required Qualifications to Be a Plumber in California

The state requires you to have a diploma. For that, you need to finish high school or have its equivalent, which is a GED certificate. And then, you will need some training, which is referred to as “the journeyman training” in the trade.

This will require you to work with an experienced plumber in the field and then be on your way to getting a license. But even to be a trainee, you need to spend some time in the classroom and get some on-the-job training in California.

In this state, the license is categorized as a Class C Specialty Contractor License called the C-36 Plumbing Contractor license under the Original Contractors License.

To get the license, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or a GED certificate
  • Have a taxpayer ID number or a Social Security Number
  • Have at least four years of experience under an experienced and licensed journeyman whose jobs are valued at a maximum of $500
  • Apply for the C-36 license
  • Have documentation of your training program and experience in the field
  • Pass the licensing exams
  • Pay the exam fees
  • Pass a criminal background check (this includes fingerprinting)
  • Have evidence that you can provide workers compensation insurance
  • Surety bond as a contractor

You must be eligible to apply for a license for the California Contractor State Licensing Board. This means you must meet the above-mentioned criteria and pay the fee when you submit the application, which is $330.

Application Form

You can fill out the application form on the internet and mail it to the board along with the fee, which is $330, or print out a PDF of the form, fill it and then mail it. You can also order the form via mail, fill it out and send it along with the application fee. The application must be sent to the board’s headquarters, which is in Sacramento, along with the documents.

Background Check

You must also apply for a background check and get your fingerprinting done before you start the process. Because you will need these documents while submitting the application. And you will have to pay for these yourself.

Before the background check, you must disclose whether you have any pending criminal pleas and/or convictions. If you have a conviction like a DUI, the board will be made aware of it and it will then review your case and make a decision on your eligibility.

The nature of the crime, its severity and the time since the conviction will be assessed. If you have any evidence of rehabilitation efforts, you must submit those too. So, it’s not the end of the road if you have one of these.

The fingerprinting process must also be done according to the state’s laws.

Work Experience

You also need to get your apprentice and job experience certificates before you apply. Not every candidate is asked for the documentation because the choice of verifying them is random.

Now, you will need to have four years of work experience in the field with a journeyman. This can be three years in the classroom and one year on the job or entirely in the field. A journeyman in this context is defined as someone who can do the job without supervision.

Both the California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association and the California’s Department of Industrial Relations can help you find apprenticeships through the union. Once you have these documents in order, you can apply for a contractor’s license.

Your claims about employment should be verified by a qualified person like your contractor, supervisor, colleague or union representative who are all considered responsible.

They must have first-hand experience working with you and be able to testify to your abilities because they will have to complete that part of your application.

Written Exam

You will be able to schedule your exam, which is in two segments—plumbing and business & law. They are both written exams and you will need to pay $200 before you get your license.

As mentioned before, the written exam will have both trade and business & law aspects to it. After this, you will also need to give an asbestos open-book exam if you are applying for the first time.

The idea here is to make sure that the candidates know about the risks of handling asbestos. This is basic knowledge when it comes to responding to jobs in structures that are still under construction and contain asbestos. Once you finish the exam, you must complete a verification form and submit it to the board.

Proof of Insurance and Contractor Bond

Since this is a contractor’s license, you must file evidence that you can provide compensation insurance for any employees you might hire in the future. If you have an exemption for some reason, you must file those documents too.

For the same reason, you must also provide a contractor’s bond worth $15,000. This is required for both issuing the license and its renewal. This is to make sure that your future customers are safe from any damage caused by a violation of the terms of your license or due to bad construction. The bond is also to make sure that the employees get the wages that they have earned.

The bond should be on a form that has been approved by the board in advance. This must come from a surety company that is authorized to write such bonds and is approved by the California Department of Insurance.

Good Plumbing Programs in California

Now, a lot of this requires some legwork in terms of finding a program that will train you both for the exam and the job ahead. To save you the trouble, we have a list of some of the best plumbing schools in the state. These programs have both classroom lessons and on-the-job training sessions. Take a look.

  1. Bakersfield College
  2. City College of San Francisco
  3. Foothill College
  4. Los Angeles Trade Technical College
  5. PHCC Vocational School

From reading blueprints to selecting various plumbing tools and solving issues, these courses cover a lot of ground to help you years after you pass the exam.

Salary Expectations in the State

Expectantly, the salary of a plumber in California goes up as you gain more experience. Now, you don’t get a different license as a journeyman plumber and a master plumber in this state.

That is why experience and expertise levels will define how much you make. Apart from experience, the salary also depends on the city, education level, additional skills and certifications.

In this state, the average salary for:

  • An apprentice is $18.44 per hour and $6,500 per year
  • A journeyman is $30.05 per hour and $11,250 per year
  • A licensed plumber makes anywhere from $56,300 to $74,000 per year on average

Organizations to Know

It’s always good to know who to go to when you need some professional help. In California, these are your options.

For Education and Advocacy

  • American Backflow Prevention Association
  • American Supply Association
  • American Society of Sanitary Engineering
  • Copper Development Association, Inc.
  • American Water Works Association

Trade Associations

  • American Society of Plumbing Engineers
  • Bristol County Plumbing & Gas Inspectors Association
  • Association of Independent Manufacturers/Representatives
  • Florida Association of PHCC
  • Cape Cod Plumbing and Gasfitting Association


Q: Can a General Contractor Be a Plumber in California?

A: Yes, they can do a range of plumbing jobs from foundation work to roofing fittings.

Q: Do Unlicensed Plumbers Get Any Jobs in California?

A: Yes, it is a possibility but you will be hired only for projects that value at $500 or less. This includes materials and labor which, in the big picture, is not a lot.

The Bottom Line

If you want to get a plumbing license in California, it is highly recommended you take the exam. But the process of going from unlicensed to a professional who makes money from the trade will take at least four years.

But you can work as an apprentice during this time period. So, there is a way to make some money before you get the license after all. This is probably why many candidates choose to take classroom lessons for a year and go for three years of field experience.

Either way, it is a good move to get a license because it improves your prospects. Good luck with that.

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