Why Do Plumbers Need to Be Licensed?

Lawrence Bonk
Written by Lawrence Bonk
Updated September 22, 2021
Plumber explaining pipe repair to homeowner
Paul Bradbury/KOTO - stock.adobe.com

Hire a licensed plumber to avoid poor workmanship, fraud, and even potential health concerns

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Is it illegal to do plumbing without a license? This depends on the state and on the work being done. Most states (44 of them) require a plumbing license for big jobs, such as laying down plumbing lines, but allow unlicensed plumbers to conduct simpler tasks, like draining sewage lines and inspecting gas lines. 

So, why do plumbers need an up-to-date license? Plumbing is serious work that deals with the basic functionality of a home. If a sewage line is poorly installed, for instance, it could back up and cause flooding, waterborne illness, or foundational degradation (among other issues). A plumbing license proves a certain level of expertise and minimizes the chances of bad work.

What States Do Not Require a Plumber License?

Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming do not require licensing for plumbers. For the other 44 states, you should always check on the licensing status of a plumber before hiring them for a big job. Make a habit out of checking on the licensing status of any potential contractor no matter where you live.

Risks of Hiring an Unlicensed Plumber

Here are just some of the risks involved with hiring an unlicensed plumber.

Poor Workmanship

Plumbing is not easy. Even common tasks, such as snaking a drain, require specialized tools and years of experience. A plumber must pass tests and obtain certifications in order to keep a license. While the requirements vary state by state, most areas require plumbers to attend continuing education classes as part of their licensure agreement. Minnesota, for instance, requires 16 hours of approved education classes every two years. 

An unlicensed plumber doesn’t need to do any of that. They’ll dig into your yard or your walls without having passed any tests or taken any classes. Sounds risky, right? This is, after all, your home’s water supply we are talking about here.

Added Costs

Plumber fixing sink pipes
Kurhan - stock.adobe.com

An unlicensed plumber may save you a few pennies, but who is on the hook for the added expenses if they miss something? The homeowner. If an unlicensed plumber leaves you with broken pipes, faulty taps, or, even worse, a half-finished job, you may have no legal recourse. If a licensed plumber does a bad job, you can contact the licensing board and lodge a formal complaint. That’s a pretty big incentive to stay on the up-and-up.

No Liability Insurance

Most states require plumbing liability insurance and a surety bond as part of the licensing process. This means that if anything happens to the plumber during the job, the company pays for injuries and damages. This insurance also covers any accidental damage to your property. 

An unlicensed plumber may not have insurance of any kind, which could leave you vulnerable to some serious legal consequences. As a matter of fact, if the unlicensed plumber faces injury while performing a job on your property, they could actually sue you. 

Also, it goes without saying that you’ll pay out-of-pocket for any property damage. This could ultimately impact the status of your property insurance plan and/or your homeowner’s insurance.

Code Violations and Permits

Many major plumbing jobs require various permits to ensure safety and adherence to local rules and regulations. A licensed plumber can waltz right in and get those permits without breaking a sweat. An unlicensed plumber, however, can do no such thing. Their licensing status will prevent them from obtaining the necessary building permits. A scrupulous plumber will pass you on to a licensed competitor, but a not-so-scrupulous business will do the work anyway. Even if the work goes off without a hiccup, you could face some code violations and associated fines down the line.

Not only is it illegal for an unlicensed plumber to work in most states, but it is also illegal to hire an unlicensed plumber to complete a job. If an unlicensed plumber mucks up the (literal) waterworks for your neighborhood, you could get fined, sued, or even hauled to court. Licensing forces a plumber to stay up-to-date on local laws, regulations, and policies. In other words, if an unlicensed plumber messes up, you could face legal consequences. If a licensed plumber messes up, you won’t.

Risk of Disease

The United States has some of the safest drinking water in the world. There is still, however, room for improvement. According to the CDC, about 7.2 million Americans get sick every year from waterborne diseases. Minimize the risk of contracting a waterborne illness by hiring a reputable and licensed plumber. A qualified and licensed pro will ensure the proper placement of water-source piping, waste-source piping, and gas-line piping, eliminating the chance of any going to the wrong place. An unlicensed plumber may lack the necessary training to deal with these all-important tasks.

Plumbing Scams

Not all plumbers have your best interests at heart. Avoid common plumbing scams by making sure your contractor is fully licensed. Licensed plumbers are much less likely to attempt fraud or a scam, as you could report them and they would face a steep financial penalty or lose their license.

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