Want to get into the plumbing business? California is a great place to launch your career. For small jobs (under $500), you can get started today. For larger jobs though, you’ll need a California plumbing contractor license. 

The good news is, you can make six figures without a college degree in this trade. Plumbers in California earn $62,681 on average, which is 15% higher than the national average — and there are plenty of jobs to fill

Unlike other states, California doesn’t provide the standard licensing for journeyman and master plumbers. Instead, you use your apprenticeship for on-site experience to obtain an Original Contractors License C-36 specialty license.

Sound confusing? We’ll cover everything you need to know to become a licensed plumber in California:

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Do you need a license to be a plumber in California?

Yes, you need a license to be a plumber in California for projects that cost $500 or more to complete, including labor and materials. However, the state operates licensing a bit differently. You won’t find Journeyman or Master Licenses as you do in nearby Oregon, Washington, Texas, or Utah. 

Instead, the California Department of Consumer Affairs Contractor State License Board (CSLB) requires plumbers to obtain a C-36 – Plumbing Contractor License to legally perform plumbing work on any project valuing $500 or more. And plumbing contractors in the state operate under the 2022 California Plumbing Code.

In most states, a journeyman-level plumber requires specific training, experience, and classroom hours, but that’s not the case in California. California defines journeyman-level experience as having completed an apprenticeship program or obtained work experience (not as a trainee), and demonstrating an ability to perform without supervision. At this stage, the person isn’t yet licensed.

Getting a license permits plumbers in the state to legally work on projects valued at $500 or more. It also permits plumbers to perform the following services:

  • Drain cleaning and complete removal of waste, as well as constructing on-site waste disposal systems
  • Piping and venting for storage tanks to contain and move gasses and liquids (for medical, dental, commercial, and industrial uses)
  • Install, repair, and maintain gas appliances, flues, and gas connections for systems
  • Construct water and gas piping from the property’s utility meter to the fixed works or structures
  • Install any equipment to heat fluids to a suitable temperature
  • Maintain and replace health and safety devices (including gas earthquake valves, gas control valves, water conditioning equipment, regulating valves, and backflow preventers)

READ MORE: 6 types of plumbers and the services they provide

How do I get a plumber license in California?

Anyone can start working as a plumber in California as long as they have direct supervision from a registered contractor. 

  • Step 1: Gain work experience under direct supervision of a registered contractor
  • Step 2: Take the contractor’s examination
  • Step 3: Apply for your California plumber’s license

The work experience can be obtained directly from working with a plumbing firm, starting an apprenticeship, or joining a college or vocational training program.

Working directly for a plumbing firm will give you plenty of hands-on experience working with veteran plumbers. However, you likely won’t get the classroom education you need to help you pass the contractor’s examination. It’ll be up to you to study the California Plumbing Code and prepare for the contractor’s examination.

Apprenticeship programs provide a nice balance of in-the-field work experience and classroom credits. They help apprentices transition smoothly into a full-time career with a plumbing contractor or firm.

Most California colleges and vocational training programs offer 2-year programs that include on-the-job training and class work. While these learning opportunities provide top-notch education and experience for aspiring plumbers, they can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $23,000.

Once you’ve accrued the required experience, you’re ready to take the contractor’s examination and apply for your California plumber’s license. Complete the Application for Original Contractor’s License and submit it online or send the documents to

CSLB Headquarters
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA
95826-0026

After you’ve submitted your application, the CSLB will contact you to schedule your examination. Once you take and pass this exam, they will issue you your California plumbing license.

California plumbing license requirements

You’ll have to meet the CSLB’s examination requirements to qualify for a C-36 license. You must:

Applicants can split the journeyman-level experience to spend 3 years in an approved vocational training program or college and 1 year in the field.

Remember, the journeyman-level experience starts accumulating once you have completed an apprenticeship program or can prove yourself to be a competent worker that doesn’t require supervision. That means it could take you 5-6 years (instead of 4) to qualify for the contractor’s exam.

California’s plumbing license reciprocity agreements with other states

California has reciprocity agreements with 3 states:

  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • Lousiana

Reciprocity agreements don’t mean that you can operate in different states—and they don’t mean your plumbing license from Arizona can be used in California. Instead, you can use your licensing and experience from any of the 4 states to bypass the examination and accelerate your license application process.

However, the CSLB retains the right to require an exam regardless of the reciprocity agreements. Contact the Licensing Information Center at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752) if you want to learn more about California’s reciprocity program and determine if you qualify.

READ MORE: Learn about plumbing certification in every state

How much does it cost to get a plumbing license in California?

Here are some of the costs you can expect when getting your C-36 Plumbing Contractor License:

Don’t forget about your $15,000 contractor license bond. This bond protects customers and the public in case something goes wrong. For example, if you install a faulty pipe that floods a customer’s residence, your bond will help cover the costs.

You don’t necessarily need to bring this cash to the table, but you have to find a surety agency to cover your bond. They’ll investigate any claims and pay the bills, but you’ll be responsible for reimbursing the agency in full.

See below for more detailed information about bond requirements for doing business as a plumber in California.

Educational costs

In addition to the direct costs mentioned above, your total cost for obtaining a plumbing license in California will vary depending on your educational path. Choose an apprenticeship program, and you’ll get paid on the job (while also covering your program fees). 

Go the route of a vocational school or associate’s degree, and you will need to pay thousands for tuition and books. CostHelper estimates the following for plumbing training:

  • Online training: $800-$1,000
  • Certificate in plumbing (vocational program): $1,250-$3,000
  • Associates degree in plumbing (2-year college): $3,000-$23,000

Regardless of your financial situation, it’s a good idea to have a savings cushion before you start operating as a plumbing contractor.

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Do I need to renew my plumbing license? 

Yes, you need to renew your active plumber license every 2 years. If your license is inactive, you must renew it every 4 years.

Use the CSLB’s tool to check the status of your license and verify the expiration date. The CSLB will send you a renewal application approximately 60 days before your license expires. Use the Online License Renewal to renew an active or inactive plumbing license. 

Here are the renewal fees for sole owners:

  • Timely Active Renewal Fee: $450
  • Timely Inactive Renewal Fee: $300
  • Delinquent Active Renewal Fee: $675
  • Delinquent Inactive Renewal Fee: $450

Here are the renewal fees for non-sole owners:

  • Timely Active Renewal Fee: $700
  • Timely Inactive Renewal Fee: $500
  • Delinquent Active Renewal Fee: $1,050
  • Delinquent Inactive Renewal Fee: $750

Note, unlike most states, California does not require continuing education for license renewals. You just need to complete the required renewal application and provide the fee to renew your license.

What happens if my plumbing license expires?

Your plumber’s license is considered delinquent if the CSLB has not received your renewal application and fee on or before the expiration date. Once your license expires, you can’t legally bid on or perform plumbing work on projects exceeding $500.

However, under these circumstances, you can petition for a retroactive renewal of the license. This is helpful if you wait too late to renew your license or forget a key element of your application (such as the fee) and must wait longer to receive your renewed license.

To qualify for a retroactive renewal of your license, you must provide a written petition to the CSLB within 90 days of the expiration date and prove that “the delay was due to circumstances beyond your control.”

See above for the fees associated with delinquent renewals for sole owners and non-sole owners.

If your license (active or inactive) has expired by 5 years, you will have to reapply by completing an Application for Original Contractor’s License to reinstate your license.

Additional bonds and requirements for doing business

Plumbers in California must have a $15,000 contractor’s bond in order to be licensed. There are additional bonds, Bond of Qualifying Individual and Disciplinary Bond, that may also be required.

Contractor’s bond

All plumbers in California need to have a contractor’s bond to be issued a license or to renew their licenses. The bond is required to protect consumers from financial harm.

The bond must meet the following requirements:

  • Written by a surety company that’s licensed through the California Department of Insurance
  • Total the amount of $15,000
  • Include the business name and license number that’s stated in CSLB’s records
  • Include the surety’s attorney-in-fact’s signature
  • Be written on an Attorney General’s Office approved form
  • Be received by CSLB’s Headquarters within 90 days of the bond’s effective date

Bond of Qualifying Individual

Do you need a license, but you’re missing the minimum experience that is required for any of the classifications listed? Then you’ll receive a license that is qualified by a Responsible Managing Employee (RME) or by a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO) who doesn’t own a minimum of 10% of the corporation’s voting stock. 

If this is the situation you’re in, you’ll also need a Bond of Qualifying Individual in addition to the Contractor’s Bond. The bond acts as a legal promise that you’ll comply with the California Business and Professions Code and California’s Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board. 

The bond must meet the following requirements:

  • Written by a surety company that’s licensed through the California Department of Insurance
  • Total the amount of $12,500
  • Include the business name, license number, and qualifier’s name that’s stated in CSLB’s records
  • Include the surety’s attorney-in-fact’s signature
  • Be written on an Attorney General’s Office approved form
  • Be received by CSLB’s Headquarters within 90 days of the bond’s effective date

Disciplinary Bond

To reinstate or reissure revoked licenses, companies need a disciplinary bond. The bond must meet the following requirements:

  • Filed along with any other required bonds
  • Total at least $15,000, up to 10 times the amount of the contractor’s bond, spending on the seriousness of the violation
  • Remain current and on file with the Registrar for a minimum of 2 years (more might be required), and have an active company’s license during this time
  • Written by a surety company that’s licensed through the California Department of Insurance
  • Include the business name and license number that’s stated in CSLB’s records
  • Include the surety’s attorney-in-fact’s signature
  • Be written on an Attorney General’s Office approved form
  • Be received by CSLB’s Headquarters within 90 days of the bond’s effective date

Does plumbing certification in California increase your earning potential?

You bet it does. While California doesn’t provide typical Journeyman and Master plumber licensing, the experience associated with these titles correlates with average earnings. For example, plumbers in California make the following average salaries based on experience:

  • < 3 years: $45,920
  • 3-6 years: $57,128
  • 7-10 years: $63,963
  • 11-18 years: $69,703
  • 19+ years: $76,691

Stick with plumbing, and you’re set for a lucrative career—regardless if you stay in California or not. Curious about what you should be making based on your plumbing experience? Want to know how much you could be making in another state?

Check out our Essential Plumber Salary Guide to find answers to all your questions. We’ve collected up-to-date data regarding salary information based on national averages, years of experience, job titles, and geographic location and bundled it into easy-to-filter salary guides.

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