Plumbing can be a lucrative job with an exciting array of opportunities. If you’ve already started doing research on the possibilities, you know that many of the opportunities fall into one of two categories — commercial or residential jobs. Choosing between commercial vs residential plumbing will shape the direction of your career, but if you don’t fully understand the differences, it’ll be hard to make a decision.
The question of whether to pursue work as a residential vs commercial plumber is thus dependent upon several key factors — job prospects, pay differences, and the type of work each job entails. Learn more about the difference between commercial and residential plumbing to see which one is best suited to your goals.
The Difference Between Commercial and Residential Plumbing
Although commercial and residential plumbing require the same foundational skill set, the two occupations are different in many ways. Understanding the details of each opportunity is the best way to choose one area of specialization over the other.
Types of Work
Perhaps the most obvious difference between commercial vs residential plumbing is the environment in which each takes place. Commercial plumbing caters to businesses and organizations. This means that you will be working in places such as offices, retail stores, and warehouses. For some plumbers, this type of work is less stressful than residential jobs. It can also be more complicated — and thus more difficult — due to the fact that commercial plumbing systems are often bigger, spread across multiple floors, and contain a greater number of fixtures.
The complexity of commercial plumbing might lead you to consider residential plumbing instead, but residential work can be challenging, too. Dealing directly with individual clients demands attuned customer service skills, and working in somebody’s home can be a stressful environment. If these factors don’t bother you, though, residential plumbing may be the simpler path to take. It can also be personally fulfilling to help families in need by resolving their plumbing issues.
Are different licenses needed for commercial vs residential plumbing? The answer depends on the state you are located in. In some states, residential work requires a journey level license and commercial work requires a specialty level license. These states often issue each type based on your level of education. In other states, licenses are issued in tiers based on your years of experience. In this case, commercial plumbing may require a higher-level license than residential work.
There are other states, too, that don’t require any license at all for residential or commercial work. These states include:
If you live in one of these states, the requirements for commercial vs residential plumbing will be determined by your clients or employer. Your qualifications will likely be assessed based on your experience and education.
Recommended: Plumbing License Requirements By State
Insurance Requirement Differences
Just as licensure requirements vary widely from state to state, so do insurance requirements for commercial vs residential plumbing. Interestingly, though, the difference isn’t necessarily determined by whether you work in a commercial or residential environment. It’s more likely to be based on whether you go to work for an already-existing company or pursue work as a self-employed business owner. If you fall into the former category, you likely won’t be required to carry your own insurance. If you fall into the latter category, you will need to invest in insurance coverage.
Working for a company means that your employer will carry the burden of insurance. Some plumbers may invest in an umbrella insurance policy to provide an additional level of protection against liabilities, but this isn’t a requirement in any state. If you choose to own your own company, though, you will likely need to obtain the following kinds of coverage:
- Business insurance
- Property insurance
- Business interruption insurance
- General liability insurance
Additionally, if your company employs other workers, you may need to invest in worker’s compensation insurance.
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Benefits and Drawbacks of Each
There are pros and cons associated with both commercial and residential plumbing. Some of the benefits of becoming a residential plumber include easier jobs that are better suited to those who are new to the field. Drawbacks, however, may include lower pay and a more stressful work environment.
Commercial plumbing has the potential to be more lucrative, which is certainly an advantage, but it also has some disadvantages that prospective plumbers should be aware of. These drawbacks include complex jobs that can be overwhelming and the potential for more liability. The latter of these is particularly concerning if you are self-employed and responsible for your own insurance.
Commercial vs Residential Plumbing Salary
For many aspiring plumbing professionals, deciding between commercial vs residential plumbing comes down to just one factor — money. Of course, you want to maximize your earning potential, so it’s important to consider whether you will earn more as a residential vs commercial plumber. See why salary is a major difference between commercial and residential plumbing.
Who Makes More?
Many commercial plumbers report earnings higher than those of residential plumbers. Commercial plumbers’ ability to earn more is largely due to the fact that commercial plumbing demands a more diverse skill set and more extensive experience. A plumber’s pay can vary widely based on a variety of different factors, though. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t differentiate between residential vs commercial plumber pay, but it reports that the median annual salary across the plumbing industry is $59,880, or $28.79 in hourly wages.
Interestingly, though, some job sites report higher salaries for residential plumbing jobs. ZipRecruiter reports that residential plumbers earn an average of $62,059, for example, while commercial plumbers’ average salary is reportedly $51,345. This disparity illustrates just how much a plumber’s pay can vary. Although you may have access to higher-paying jobs as a commercial plumber, this doesn’t guarantee that your annual earnings will outpace those of residential plumbers.
Salary and Pay Opportunity Differences
Although commercial plumbers can often expect to earn more, this isn’t always the case. A plumber’s earnings are determined by far more than their base annual or hourly wage. In fact, pay opportunities are arguably more important than pay itself.
In other words, how much work is available to a residential vs commercial plumber will play a big role in the sum of their earnings. If a plumber happens to live in an area where there is more residential work than commercial work, it will be more lucrative to specialize in residential plumbing — even if commercial plumbing nets a higher wage than residential work. This may account for the aforementioned salary disparity seen on some job sites.
Self-Employment vs. Traditional Jobs
Another factor that will impact a plumber’s earning potential — for residential and commercial plumbers alike — is whether you choose to pursue work as a self-employed professional or apply for jobs with other companies. In many cases, self-employed plumbers enjoy a higher earning potential because they don’t have to share their earnings with an employer. If you choose this route, you will also be able to set your own prices rather than be restricted to the salary your employer will pay you.
Despite these advantages, there are plenty of valid reasons why you may choose to pursue work as an employee or contractor for another company. There’s typically less red tape involved, you don’t have to worry about insurance, and plumbers who are just starting out can benefit from on-the-job training that many companies provide. The trade-off, though, is that you will typically earn less.
Competitiveness for Jobs
How competitive is the market for commercial vs residential plumbing jobs? Competition is determined by a variety of unique factors, including the local market in your area and how many other plumbers are nearby. If you’re a self-employed commercial plumber in an area with lots of businesses, for example, you may be able to expect a steady stream of work. If there are big plumbing companies serving your market that regularly run ads and specials, though, you may struggle to attract clients and compete against them.
What Is Residential Plumbing
Residential plumbing is any plumbing job that takes place in a person’s home. Pay rates and job opportunities aren’t the only factors to consider when choosing between commercial vs residential plumbing. Your decision may come down to the fact that you simply enjoy one more than the other. Indeed, a major difference between commercial and residential plumbing is the day-to-day tasks that make each career path unique — so what is residential plumbing?
Residential Plumbing Clients
One of the biggest differences between the work of a residential vs commercial plumber is the clients that they deal with on a daily basis. Residential plumbers most commonly interact with homeowners and renters who need to have small-scale plumbing issues fixed within their residences. A residential plumber may also interact with landlords and property managers in order to resolve problems.
Residential Plumbing Tasks
The tasks associated with residential plumbing are relatively simple compared to those of many commercial plumbing jobs. Because residential properties are generally smaller than commercial properties — and their plumbing systems are less complex — it’s typically easier to pinpoint the exact cause of a plumbing problem.
When a problem is easier to diagnose, it’s easier to fix, too. Some of the most common residential plumbing problems include the following:
- Dripping faucets and fixtures
- Pipes that are broken or leaking
- Toilets that run continuously
- Too high or too low water pressure
- Water heater that’s malfunctioning
Issues like these are well-suited to novice plumbers because they don’t require extensive research or work to remedy. Residential plumbers can also take pride in the opportunity to improve their customers’ quality of life. Nothing is worse than a failing water heater or a leak that could damage a home.
What Is Commercial Plumbing
Commercial plumbing is work that’s completed on a non-residential job site. Residential plumbing is appealing to many, but you might also be interested in jobs that are more challenging. If so, commercial work is likely the better option for you. Commercial jobs can range in scale from fixing a leak at a small business to installing industrial washing machines in a hotel. No matter how big or small the job is, though, it’s likely to demand advanced skills to tackle effectively.
Commercial Plumbing Clients
Another major difference between commercial and residential plumbing jobs is the clients that you deal with. Commercial plumbers usually deal directly with managers, business owners, and other professionals. You may interact with homeowners or renters if you’re working onsite at a leased property, but this is less common. If you think you may prefer not to work directly with residential customers, commercial jobs will likely be a better fit.
Commercial Plumbing Tasks
In some cases, commercial jobs entail the same tasks as residential jobs — fixing leaks or repairing fixtures — but in most cases, commercial work will focus on servicing bigger equipment. As a commercial plumber, for example, you may construct an extensive wastewater drainage system for a facility that’s thousands of square feet. Commercial plumbers are often subject to more stringent inspections and permitting requirements, too. This means that additional time must be spent ensuring that the job is satisfactory after it has been completed.
Deciding the Best Plumber Path for You
Contemplating the opportunities associated with commercial vs residential plumbing will quickly reveal the differences between these paths. It’s true that they share a common set of skills, but that’s where the similarities end. Commercial and residential plumbers deal with different clients, complete different work, and earn different salaries. For some prospective plumbers, their preference is immediately clear. If you’re still struggling to decide, though, think about what your top priorities are.
If you are most concerned with your potential salary, for example, this may be the difference between commercial and residential plumbing that determines your decision. If the idea of challenging projects and big jobs is the most appealing part of this career, then a commercial path is likely the best option. The most important factor is being well-informed so that you are confident in your choice.