Hiring a Plumber

When hiring a plumber -- especially for an expensive project for which you have time to plan -- make sure the plumber you hire is fully qualified and licensed in your state. A plumber may be an apprentice in training, a journeyman or a highly qualified master plumber depending on the level of training and experience.


Plumber training

As with other skilled trades, plumbers have different levels of expertise and training. Requirements vary by state, and there could be additional competency requirements for plumbers in your area. As a general rule, these classifications are used to denote a plumber's training:

Apprentice plumber -- Apprenticeship programs generally provide the most comprehensive training for novice plumbers. They're administered either by union locals and their affiliated companies or by nonunion contractor organizations. Apprenticeships typically consist of at least three to four years of paid, on-the-job training and some hours of related classroom instruction.

Journeyman plumber -- Once the requirements of an apprenticeship are fulfilled, plumbers can apply for a journeyman license. Many workers in the plumbing field are journeymen. Obtaining a journeyman's license requires a fee and the successful passing of an exam. Licenses vary by state, although not all areas require journeymen to be licensed. Instead, the amount of work they are able to perform is limited.

Master plumber -- To become a master plumber, a person must have a certain number of years' experience as a journeyman plumber, in addition to an associate degree or training at a vocational school. A master plumber must pass an exam that typically encompasses both written and practical knowledge. They must also complete continuing education hours every year. Oftentimes the business owner, a master plumber is subject to inspection and must make sure all journeyman plumbers working for his or her company are in compliance with plumbing regulations.

Checking Plumbing Licensing

Most states require plumbers to be licensed and on many state government websites you can search an online database of professional license holders, or at least find a number to call in order to check the status of a plumber's license.

The National Contractor License Service maintains a list of each state's professional licensing agency where you can look up your state's licensing information.

Questions to Ask Your Plumber

If you've got a major leak on Christmas Day, you may be glad just to find someone who will fix it. However, if you're planning a costly renovation, take the time to interview more than one plumber before picking one.

When interviewing candidates, don't forget to ask about:

References: An experience plumbing company should be able to give you the names of recent customers in your part of town.

Estimates: Get at least three written estimates from three different plumbers. Documentation is often the best ammunition should things go wrong.

Licensed, bonded and insured: Nearly every state in the U.S. requires plumbers to be licensed through a state professional licensing agency. Requirements vary on the need for professional licensing bonds, but all plumbers should have insurance to cover accidents that may happen while on your property.

Payment schedule: On a big job, especially a planned remodeling, the service provider may want the customer to pay 10 to 15 percent of the cost up front and 50 percent paid before the job is completed – especially if expensive materials need to be purchased for the project. Make sure you know what is expected. If you're suspicious, contact your state's professional licensing board or contracting board to ask about local standards. Many states set limits on what is allowed to be paid upfront.

Where the company is located: Be cautious of contractors who give you a post office box with no street address or use only an answering service. Never hire someone who comes unsolicited to your door and can’t provide you proof of qualifications – especially if he or she pressures you to hire fast and pay cash up front.


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