Securing a California Plumbing License Easily in 2024

April 11, 2024

The Nitty Gritty

  • Plumbing is a thriving trade with plenty of career opportunities
  • A California plumbing license is a big stepping stone in your professional career
  • Learn the steps, strategies and tips to obtain a plumbing contractor’s license in CA
Plumber giving thumbs-up

Plumbing is an essential trade in every community; where would we be without modern plumbing and the professionals that install, repair and maintain our water and waste systems? It’s vital for everyday health, hygiene and convenience.

Plumbing professionals are always in demand, and in an increasingly unstable job market, it can be the kind of career that sets you up for life. Those in California who have experienced prolonged droughts, wildfires and heavy rains know how vital proper water management is, and plumbing professionals are a key part of that system.

So, how can you secure a California plumbing license and join such a vital trade? In this article, we’ll cover the licenses and training required to work as a plumber in the state.

Variety of Plumbing Licenses Available in California

All states in the US have their requirements and processes for their trade licenses, and while some are very similar, obtaining a California plumbing license is quite different from other states.

California doesn’t require journeyman-level plumbers to acquire licenses to work; no license is required until the contractor level.

Apprentice Plumber Registration

This is the level of student or trainee. Apprentice plumbers typically complete an approved trade school program or work under a licensed supervisor to gain knowledge and practical hands-on experience.

Journey-Level Plumber Requirements

As stated above, there is no California plumbing license specifically for journeymen.

Journeymen must complete an apprenticeship program or obtain enough work experience to work without supervision.

Plumbers at the journeyperson level are only permitted to work on projects with a value of less than $500 (including labor and materials).

C-36 Plumbing Contractor License

The only California plumbing license available is a classification of an Original Contractors' License. It’s recognized as a Class C Specialty Contractor License, classified as C-36 Plumbing Contractor License. This license is awarded by the Contractor State Licence Board (CSLB),

Now that you’re familiar with the basic levels of plumbing requirements, let's get into how you can start your journey toward obtaining your California plumbing license.

How to Secure a C-36 Plumbing Contractor License in CA

Having no required license to work as a journeyperson in California may seem like an easy way to get into the industry.

While it reduces the entry barrier and allows more people to work/train in plumbing, the differing requirements for apprentices and journeypeople result in strict requirements for those hoping to acquire a California plumbing contractor license.

To think of it in a different way, in other states, the paperwork, exams, and fees are sprinkled over varying levels of formal licensing. In CA, it’s all on the C-36.

But not to worry, as getting your California plumbing license is 100% possible with preparation and determination! So, we’ll cover each step, from training to becoming a fully licensed plumbing contractor in CA.

Initiate as a Plumbing Trainee

The first step to obtaining a California plumbing license is to become a plumbing trainee. This can be done by either joining an approved apprenticeship program at a technical school or by applying for apprenticeships directly.

Both have their benefits and downsides.

Direct apprenticeships mean you can begin work right away and get plenty of practical experience. You can work with a plumbing firm and build a network of fellow professionals. However, apprenticeship programs might not prepare you for the knowledge needed to pass exams. Your study in that area will need to be self-directed.

Technical schools give you a foundation in the practical requirements and theoretical and academic knowledge to become a plumbing professional. They typically also place students in apprenticeship programs, but this depends on the course.

All programs require you to have a high school diploma or GED.

Complete Required Plumbing Education

During your time as an apprentice, you’ll be required to pass tests and exams to prove your proficiency in both practical plumbing and the standards/procedures of the industry.

These are designed to prove that you are able to work without supervision as a journeyperson plumber. Some technical colleges also offer associate’s degrees or teach simultaneous courses that complement plumbing, such as gas fitting or HVAC.

Accumulate Required Experience as a Journeyman

In order to obtain a California plumbing license, you’ll need plenty of experience working as a journeyperson plumber.

The CSLB requires applicants to have four years of work as a journeyperson plumber or four years in a relevant role such as foreman or supervisor. Documentation and verification to prove this is important as well.

Verification can come from various qualified people, such as foremen, employers, contractors, supervisors, union reps, building inspectors, and more.

Licensing Application: Documentation and Fee Submission

Once you have completed your apprenticeship and have worked for at least four years as a journeyman plumber, you are ready to apply for a California plumbing license!

There’s lots of documentation to submit, and it’s important to review and prepare before submitting an application.

To apply for an Original Contractor License, you must complete and submit several documents to the CSLB along with a non-refundable application fee of $450. These documents are as follows:

  • Application for Original Contractor’s License: for new classification applications, like the C-36 application.
  • Certification of Work Experience form 13A-11: to verify your work experience. Ensure that all relevant experience is included, as new additions will not be accepted once this form is submitted.

Additional Forms, depending on circumstances, also include:

  • Project List form 13A-64, which is only for owner-builders wishing to submit for a license. Must be submitted with the above forms.
  • Special Accommodation Request for Examination form 13E-77: in line with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for any examinees that require special testing accommodations.

These forms are available in several formats, such as Easy-Fill, PDF and mail order. All require a physical copy to be printed and sent to the CSLB Headquarters once completed.

Ensure that all information is accurate, as forms can be sent back in case of mistakes. Thankfully, this doesn’t invalidate your application, but it will delay the application process.

Pass Required Examinations

In addition to the required documentation proving proficiency and experience, the CSLB requires that applicants pass two exams in order to operate with a contractor’s license.

These exams are:

  • C-36 Trade Exam
  • Law and Business Exam

As the California plumbing license is a type of contractor’s license, it’s recognized for the industry credentials and knowledge of the law surrounding running a business in CA. Study guides for these exams are available here.

Once you’ve passed the exam, you’ll need to pay an initial license fee of either $200 (sole owner) or $350 (non-sole owner).

Background Check, Licensure Insurance and Bonding Prerequisites

Congratulations, you’ve passed the exam! Now, for the final steps to obtain your California plumbing license, you need insurance, fingerprinting, and bonding to cover yourself and your customers.

Background Check

All applicants must pass a criminal background check, and it is required in California to submit their fingerprints.

A previous conviction will not automatically exclude you from a successful application, but it will be under additional review by the CSLB to ensure the safety of consumers.

Required Funds

You’ll need to prove to the CSLB that you have at least $2,500 to your name, usually submitted in the form of a bank statement or document to verify you have funds equalling or exceeding this.

Proof of Insurance

All applicants must provide proof of worker’s compensation insurance. This is to ensure all contractors have the appropriate protection and cover in the event of injury or damage.

Proof of Bond

Every contractor must have a contractor bond issued by a surety company licensed through the California Department of Insurance. These bonds must have a value of $15,000 and be written on a form approved by the CSLB.

This is to protect customers and workers from defective construction and unpaid wages.

Process for Plumbing License Renewal in California

Once you’ve obtained your California plumbing license, you can run your own independent plumbing business, bid on projects, and hire other plumbers for your field service team.

Of course, keeping up with the requirements and license renewal is vital to staying in business and on the level with the state.

Continuing Plumbing Education

The state of California doesn’t require any specific education per year to retain a plumbing contractor’s license. However, certain trade organizations will. If you want an additional classification of a contractor’s license, you must undergo the training necessary for it.

Your continued education in the industry is up to you; do you want to add specializations to your repertoire or find your niche?

Updating Knowledge on CA Plumbing Code Changes

Codes and laws change over time, so keeping up with these changes is necessary. This is important not only to meet license requirements but also to protect yourself and your business legally.

Renewal Application and Fee Processing for Plumbing License

A California plumbing license needs to be renewed every two years. There are different fees depending on the license type, as well as an additional $225-$350 fee for late renewal.

Active fees are those for an active license, and inactive licenses can be renewed every four years.

The standard fees for sole owners are:

  • Timely Active Renewal Fee: $450
  • Timely Inactive Renewal Fee: $300

The standard fees for non-sole owners are:

  • Timely Active Renewal Fee: $700
  • Timely Inactive Renewal Fee: $500


Does California have reciprocity agreements with any other states?

Yes, California has reciprocity agreements with several states. This means once you’ve obtained a California plumbing license, the following states will recognize it for qualification purposes:

  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada

What Are the Distinct Challenges of Plumbing in California's Diverse Geographical Regions, and How Does Licensing Address These?

California has a variety of regions and weather challenges. Harsh heat, extreme cold and rough terrain can make it difficult to install and maintain plumbing systems effectively. Licensing addresses these issues by ensuring all plumbing contractors in the state have years of experience, knowledge of laws and the latest procedures.

How Does California's Commitment to Environmental Sustainability Impact the Requirements for a Plumbing License?

It’s no secret that California has struggled with environmental changes and harsh weather. California has been proactive in responding to these needs and pushing for sustainability by updating standards for water systems, setting stricter requirements, updating safety protocols and considering the environmental landscape.

Plumbing professionals are essential to the continuing improvement of these systems.

Propelling Your Career in California's Plumbing Industry

Getting your California plumbing license isn’t easy. It requires hard work, study, and determination. But a career in plumbing is a career you can count on, and with a plumbing contractor’s license, you can even start your own independent plumbing business. Everything from the types of projects to the team and pricing will be up to you!

This can open up many opportunities for you, and with the right know-how, you can grow a thriving field service business.

Interested in starting a plumbing business? Simpro has got you covered with our plumbing software, designed for industry professionals to streamline their business processes.

Try Simpro today!