How to Become a Licensed Plumber in Washington State

Becoming a licensed plumber in Washington involves meeting experience requirements, passing licensing exams, obtaining state certification, acquiring insurance, and potentially securing contractor bonds depending on your scope of work. This comprehensive guide outlines all the key steps and requirements in detail for plumbers to establish eligibility, apply for licenses, renew licenses, and meet bonding and insurance needs in Washington.

Eligibility Requirements

The first step to becoming a licensed plumber in Washington is meeting the state’s eligibility requirements. All plumbers must obtain relevant work experience under the supervision of a certified plumber before applying for licensure. The specific experience requirements vary based on the type of plumbing license you wish to obtain:

Plumber Trainee

  • No prior plumbing experience required
  • Minimum age of 16 years old
  • Once certified as a plumber trainee, you can begin gaining supervised on-the-job experience

Journey Level Plumber

  • Minimum of 8,000 hours (about 4 years) of supervised plumbing work experience
  • At least 4,000 hours must be in commercial or industrial plumbing installations
  • This is the highest level of plumbing certification in Washington

Residential Plumber

  • Minimum of 6,000 hours of experience in residential or commercial plumbing
  • Allows work on single family and multi-family residential properties up to 3 stories

Residential Service Plumber

  • Minimum of 4,000 hours experience as a plumber trainee
  • First 2,000 hours must be under direct supervision of a journey level or residential plumber
  • Limited to maintenance and repairs of existing plumbing in residential buildings

Specialty Licenses

  • Require 2,000 – 4,000 hours of experience in the specialty area
  • Includes backflow, medical gas, irrigation, and pump plumbing specialties

As you gain practical experience as a plumbing trainee or apprentice, you must document your hours by submitting affidavits of experience to the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). The affidavits should detail your specific work activities, hours completed, and identify your supervising plumber. You will need to renew your plumber trainee certificate annually and complete mandatory continuing education courses to maintain eligibility.

Many plumbers obtain their experience through formal apprenticeship programs offered by unions, technical colleges, or employers. These programs provide structured on-the-job training combined with classroom education over 2-5 years. Alternatively, you can seek employment with a licensed plumbing contractor and have your work experience approved toward certification. Ensure your supervisor is signing off on your training hours.

Thoroughly documenting your plumbing work experience is crucial to meet the hourly requirements for licensure in Washington. Keep detailed records and have your supervising plumber review and sign off on your affidavits. Submit these to L&I as you progress through your apprenticeship or on-the-job training.

Applying for a Plumbing License

Once you have completed the required hours of documented plumbing work experience for the license type you are seeking, the next step is to apply for your plumbing license through the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries. Follow these steps:

  1. Submit your exam application
    • Print and complete the plumber certification exam application.
    • Submit the application along with the $189.80 application fee to L&I.
    • Include all required documentation such as your affidavits of experience.
    • Applications can be submitted online, by mail, or in person.
  2. Get approved to take the exam
    • L&I will review your application and verify you meet the experience requirements for the license type.
    • Once approved, you’ll receive an exam authorization letter in the mail.
    • This letter will explain how to schedule your exam with the testing agency PSI Exams.
  3. Schedule and take your exam
    • Use your exam authorization to register for your test date online or by phone with PSI Exams.
    • Journey level and residential plumbers must take 3 exam sections; other licenses take 1 section.
    • Exam fees are $80 for 3 sections or $50 for 1 section. Exams have a 90 minute time limit.
    • Approved reference manuals can be used for some open-book specialty exams only.
    • There are 16 PSI testing centers located throughout Washington state.
    • Take your exam(s) and pass with a minimum score of 70%.
  4. Apply for your license
    • Within 90 days of passing the exam, pay your certification fee to L&I to receive your license.
    • Journey level and residential plumbers pay $227.90. Other licenses range from $156.70 to $228.
    • Once certified, you will receive your plumbing license and can begin work.

You must pass the required exam(s) for the plumbing license type you are seeking in order to receive your certification. If you fail, you can retest unlimited times within one year but must wait 14 days between retakes.

Renewing Your Plumbing License

Plumbing licenses must be renewed every 3 years on your birthday in Washington. To renew your license, you must:

  • Complete 24 hours of approved continuing education courses:
    • Minimum 12 hours plumbing code education
    • Minimum 4 hours industry-related electrical
    • Remaining 8 hours plumbing/electrical related
  • Pay the renewal fee:
    • $227.90 for journey level and residential plumbers
    • $156.70 to $228 for other license types
  • Submit your renewal application to L&I:
    • Can be completed online, by mail, or in person
    • Includes verifying your continuing education credits
  • Hold an active plumbing license that is not suspended/canceled

Important notes about license renewal:

  • You cannot renew online if you have unpaid infractions or suspensions
  • Late renewals will incur penalty fees
  • Continuing education gives 3 extra months after expiration to renew
  • most education providers submit credits directly to L&I
  • Keep copies of your class completion certificates just in case

Plan ahead to complete your continuing education requirements and submit your renewal application on time. Allow 2-6 weeks processing time for paper applications. Renewing online is fastest if you have no pending issues.

Bonding and Insurance Requirements

In addition to obtaining state plumbing licensure, plumbers may need to secure liability insurance and a contractor’s bond to legally perform plumbing work in Washington. Requirements vary based on your scope of work.

Plumbing Contractor Bond

  • All plumbing contractors require a $6,000 bond from a surety company.
  • Bond is underwritten based on your credit/financial history and valid for one year.
  • Plumbing contractors must also carry liability insurance and have a designated certified plumber.

Contractor Bond

  • General contractors need a $12,000 bond, specialty contractors $6,000.
  • One-year term but can be prorated if less than a full year.
  • General liability insurance is also required.

Liability Insurance

  • Most plumbing contractors must carry at least $100k per person and $200k per incident coverage.
  • Higher policy limits may be required by some municipalities.
  • Name applicable state/local agencies as certificate holders.

Your insurance agent can help determine the appropriate contractor’s bonds and liability insurance required for your specific plumbing business and location. Maintain active insurance coverage at all times to avoid sanctions. Understanding the intricacies of Washington plumbing insurance cost is crucial for every professional plumber in the area.

Reciprocity with Other States

Washington state currently has direct reciprocity for journey level plumbers with Idaho. Licensed plumbers with current out-of-state licenses can apply to waive the Washington trade portion of the exam by providing proof of equivalent experience and licensing exams.

There is also an apprenticeship reciprocity agreement between Washington, Oregon, and Montana. This allows registered apprentices to work in any of these three states without needing duplicate registrations. However, full plumbing licensure requirements must still be met before individuals can work independently.

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