What is a Plumber?
The current edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that a plumber is “one who installs, repairs, and maintains piping, fittings, and fixtures involved with the distribution and use of water throughout a building.” In Texas, it is required that anyone who performs plumbing work on any residential or commercial building must hold a current, valid plumbers license. The license helps ensure that a certain level of expertise and professionalism is maintained when techs perform plumbing work in or around your home.
In addition to the licenses of the individual plumbing technicians, the company they work for must also employ someone with a master plumber’s license or MPL. Usually, this license is held by the owner of a plumbing company or its principal operating officer. It requires the licensee to have completed 8,000 hours of certifiable on-the-job experience and passed multiple state examinations.
Why Would Anyone Be a Plumber?
It looks like a dirty, thankless profession that, on its worst days, involves wading around in puddles of muddy wastewater. On its best days, it involves clearing out the overflowing toilets and bathtubs of complete strangers. It is not a career for those with a healthy fear of germs or those unwilling to get their hands dirty. Or bloody. Or both. It’s almost entirely a job that relies on the physicality of those doing it, causing many plumbing apprentices to drop out of the industry after only months or even weeks of employment.
A lot goes into the education, on-the-job training, and state certification of every licensed plumber in Texas. For those who can get past the work’s unpleasant nature and still choose to pursue plumbing as a career, the payoff can make it all worthwhile. For an experienced journeyman plumber, yearly income can easily exceed $75,000 or more. Master plumbers can look forward to drawing upwards of $100,000, especially if they are in an owner/operator position for their company.
The Path to Becoming a Plumber
Step 1 – Plumber’s Apprentice:
There is no requirement for licensing to be a plumber’s apprentice, but they must register with the state and find an employer willing to sponsor their training. Plumber’s apprentices cannot perform any unsupervised work, and any work they do perform must be with direct supervision by the company’s master plumber.
What They Can Do: Once registered as a plumber’s apprentice with the state of Texas, they can look forward to digging ditches. Lots and lots of ditches. The apprentice is being paid to learn their craft, so their primary function is to observe the more experienced techs and learn by watching. Plumber’s apprentices can perform repairs and installations, but only under direct supervision by a journeyman or master plumber. And they can also dig trenches.
Step 2 – Tradesman Plumber:
This is the first step toward becoming a plumber that requires licensing. The applicant must have at least two years of documented experience in the plumbing industry. Tradesman plumbers must complete 24 hours of classroom training and pass a written exam to receive their license.
What They Can Do: Construction, installation, repair, and service of plumbing for one- and two-family residences only while under the supervision of a journeyman or master plumber. By this phase of their career, tradesman plumbers are expected to have an excellent working knowledge of most common plumbing procedures and are permitted to supervise apprentices.
Step 3 – Journeyman Plumber:
Upon completing 8,000 hours of plumbing experience, and an additional 48 hours of classroom instruction, the plumber is eligible to take the journeyman’s exam. Most of the exam will be based on the classroom material but includes questions about general plumbing knowledge. Journeyman plumbers are expected to be familiar with residential and commercial plumbing systems and all aspects of gas line plumbing.
What They Can Do: Maintain, service, repair, install, and renovate all facets of residential plumbing systems in single and multi-family dwellings. Journeymen plumbers will often be responsible for the supervision of work performed by tradesmen or apprentice plumbers on work sites.
Step 4 – Master Plumber:
To qualify for a master plumber’s license, you must first acquire your journeyman’s license and hold it for four years in good standing. By completing a training program that has been approved by the US Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship, a journeyman can become eligible to take the master plumber’s exam after holding that license for only one year.
What They Can Do: Everything that falls under the umbrella of plumbing services, including all aspects of gas line plumbing repair and installation.
Not everyone who works in the plumbing industry is going to achieve master plumber status. Most licensed plumbers remain in the journeyman category unless they plan to own their own plumbing company or become an existing business operator.
So, All Plumbers are the Same, Right?
Not at all. Your 16-year-old has a license to drive a car. Are they good at it? No. It takes practical experience to become familiar with anything, and that includes working as a plumber. Plumbers in Texas fall into three main categories, and one plumbing company may offer one or all these services.
Licensed Residential Plumber
If you own a home, you have most likely hired a licensed residential plumber to repair some part of your plumbing system. Licensed residential plumbers are highly trained and experienced with the plumbing issues found in most single- and multi-family dwellings. Residential plumbing problems can differ from those of a commercial plumber and require specific knowledge to correct.
Licensed residential plumbers have been trained in new installations, repair, and maintenance of existing plumbing fixtures in your home. Some typical replacements and repairs can include toilets, water heaters, garbage disposals, whole house re-pipes, and more. It is recommended you only hire a licensed plumber to perform any residential plumbing you may need.
Licensed Commercial Plumber
Large buildings such as multi-level offices, schools, hospitals, and malls require a licensed commercial plumber to repair and maintain their plumbing systems. They know, and most importantly, they have experience in dealing with the unique concerns that a more complex plumbing system can have. Commercial plumbers have more to deal with than residential plumbers based on the number of pipes, fittings, and fixtures for which they are responsible. Additionally, the plumbing pipes’ range of sizes can be much more extensive and requires heavy-duty equipment to install. Multi-level buildings create even more challenges in waste removal, and a licensed commercial plumber will be the most experienced in maintaining these types of sanitation systems.
Licensed Service and Repair Plumber
This category of plumbers specializes in only “service” or “repair” calls and do not have experience with installing water heaters or re-piping a house. These plumbers most commonly perform minor repairs such as float valve replacements to fix a running toilet or a faucet replacement to fix a drip.
Make sure you research the company you’re hiring to ensure they regularly perform the service you require. You do not want an unqualified service and repair plumber to perform any significant installation or repair of plumbing systems like your home’s heating, gas, or main sewer line. We recommend you only hire a licensed plumber that has experience with jobs like that.
Unlicensed Plumber (Chuck in a Truck)
You DO NOT want to hire an unlicensed “Chuck in a Truck” instead of a plumber for any reason. Even if they can save you money, the customer has no legal recourse if an issue arises from the work they perform. Let’s say you hired them to do a simple faucet replacement and they accidentally tighten a fitting too much and create a small leak in the pipe. You may not notice this leak right away, but it could quickly become a bigger problem. At that point, you can only hope that the unlicensed plumber you hired will come out and fix the problem at their expense.
With a licensed plumber, you usually have some form of warranty that compels them to make it right. It is illegal for a “Chuck with a Truck” or other handymen to perform plumbing work in your home in Texas.
What Type of Plumber Should You Hire?
The obvious factor in determining what type of plumber you should hire is whether you need a residential plumber for your home or a commercial plumber for your business. When it’s time to hire a plumber for a small repair like a leaky faucet, you’ll have many experienced residential and service and repair plumbers to consider.
If you require significant plumbing services such as a water heater replacement or a whole house re-pipe, we suggest you only consider a licensed plumbing company with proven experience. The best way to confirm a plumber’s expertise is by researching their reviews for the plumbing service you require. You have licensed plumbing companies that are well established and will have hundreds of positive online reviews, like Nick’s Plumbing and Sewer Services.
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