As a plumber in California, obtaining your plumbing license is a crucial step in establishing your business. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps and requirements to establish eligibility, apply for your plumbing license, and renew your license in California. It will also outline license bond requirements and insurance needs for plumbers in the state.

Who Needs a Plumbing License in California?

In California, a plumbing contractor provides a means for a safe water supply and the proper disposal of fluid waste from premises in all structures and fixed works.

This includes:

  • Complete removal of waste from the premises or the construction and connection of on-site waste disposal systems
  • Piping, storage tanks, and venting for a safe and adequate supply of gases and liquids for any purpose, including vacuum, compressed air, and gases for medical, dental, commercial, and industrial uses
  • All gas appliances, flues, and gas connections for all systems including suspended space heating units
  • Water and gas piping from the property owner’s side of the utility meter to the structure or fixed works
  • Installation of any type of equipment to heat water, or fluids, to a temperature suitable for the purposes listed in this section, including the installation of solar equipment for this purpose
  • The maintenance and replacement of all items described above and all health and safety devices such as, but not limited to, gas earthquake valves, gas control valves, backflow preventers, water conditioning equipment, and regulating valves.

In essence, if you’re involved in any of the above activities and the project values more than $500 in labor and materials, you need a plumbing license in California. This requirement ensures that all plumbing work in the state meets the necessary safety and quality standards.

Types of Plumbing Licenses in California

The primary type of plumbing license available in California is the C-36 Plumbing Contractor license. This license is a classification of an Original Contractors License in California. It is a Class C Specialty Contractor License, specifically C-36 – Plumbing Contractor.

The C-36 license allows plumbers to work on various types of plumbing systems and tasks, including gas systems, water supply, and waste disposal. If you’re planning to start a plumbing business in California, this is the license you’ll need.

Steps to Get a Plumbing Contractor License in California

1. Meet the Requirements

Before you can apply for a C-36 Plumbing Contractor license, you must meet several requirements:

  • Age and Identification: You must be at least 18 years old and have a Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number.
  • Education: You should have a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
  • Experience: You need to have at least four years of experience performing or supervising plumbing work. This experience can be under the supervision of a licensed contractor or as a journeyman on jobs valuing $500 or less.

2. Submit an Application

Once you meet the requirements, you can submit an application for licensure. The application process involves several steps:

  • Complete the Application: Fill out the application form for the Original Contractors License C-36 specialty. You can fill out the form online, print it, and mail it to the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) with the required fee.
  • Provide Documentation: You need to provide documentation of your four years of journeyman-level experience or equivalent college or vocational training program. This documentation must be verified by a qualified and responsible person, such as an employer, contractor, foreman/supervisor, fellow employee, other journeyman, union representative, building inspector, architect, engineer, or homeowner.

3. Pass the Exams

After submitting your application, you’ll need to take and pass two examinations: the Law & Business exam and the Trade exam. The Law & Business exam covers topics like business organization, business finances, employment requirements, bonds, insurance, and liens, contract requirements and execution, licensing requirements, safety, and public works. The Trade exam focuses on planning and estimating, rough-in and top-out plumbing systems, finish plumbing installations, service, repair, and remodel plumbing systems, and safety.

4. Pay the Fees

The primary fees include the Original Application (including exam or waiver) fee of $330, the Initial License fee of $200, and the Re-Examination fee of $60. These fees cover the cost of processing your application and administering the exams.

Renewing Your Plumbing License

Active licenses must be renewed every two years, and inactive licenses must be renewed every four years. Approximately 60 days before your license is due to expire, the CSLB will send you a renewal application. The timely renewal fee is $450, and the delinquent renewal fee is $675.

Renewing your license ensures that you can continue to legally perform plumbing work in California. It also shows potential clients that you’re committed to maintaining your professional qualifications.

Plumbing License Reciprocity in California

In the world of plumbing, license reciprocity refers to the agreement between states that allows a licensed plumber from one state to practice in another without having to go through the entire licensing process again. However, it’s essential to note that not all states have reciprocity agreements, and the ones that do may not have agreements with all other states.

In California, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) does not have reciprocity agreements with other states for the C-36 Plumbing License. This means that if you hold a plumbing license in another state, you will still need to go through the full licensing process in California. This includes passing the trade and law examinations and meeting all other eligibility requirements.

License Bond Requirements in California

In California, all contractors, including plumbers, are required to have a contractor’s license bond. This bond is a form of insurance that protects your clients. If you fail to complete a job as agreed or violate other terms of your license, a client can make a claim against your bond.

The CSLB requires a contractor’s license bond of $15,000. This bond must be in place for your license to be active. It’s important to note that the bond is not a one-time requirement. It must be renewed and kept active for as long as you hold your license.

Insurance Needs for Plumbers in California

As a plumber in California, you will need various types of insurance to protect yourself, your business, and your clients. Here are the key types of insurance you should consider:

  • General Liability Insurance: This is essential for all plumbers. It protects you against third-party claims for bodily injury, property damage, and personal and advertising injury.
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance: If you have employees, California law requires you to have workers’ compensation insurance. This covers medical expenses and lost wages if an employee gets injured or sick on the job.
  • Commercial Auto Insurance: If you use vehicles for your business, such as driving to job sites, you need commercial auto insurance. This covers accident-related expenses resulting from injuries, death, or property damage.
  • Tools and Equipment Insurance: This covers the cost to repair or replace equipment that is damaged or stolen. It can sometimes be added to your general liability insurance.
  • Professional Liability Insurance: This covers claims of professional negligence, error, breach of contract, or failure to deliver a service on time.

Remember, the specific insurance needs for your plumbing business can vary depending on factors like the size of your business, the type of work you do, and the risks you face. It’s always a good idea to work with an experienced insurance agent to ensure you have the right coverage for your needs. To better understand the intricacies of your business expenses, consider reading our article on California plumbing insurance cost for a comprehensive overview.


Obtaining your plumbing license in California involves meeting specific requirements, passing exams, and paying associated fees. Once you have your license, you can legally perform plumbing work in the state, opening up a wealth of opportunities for your business. Whether you’re just starting your journey as a plumber or looking to expand your existing business, this guide provides the information you need to navigate the licensing process in California.