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Old 02-05-2009, 12:04 PM   #1
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


after owning my house for nearly two years and having done massive electrical and plumbing renovations, and also after being sick of working relatively inflexible 40 hr weeks at a FT job, i am seriously contemplating getting licensed to be a plumber and an electrician.

after having seen crappy work my many licensed tradesmen, i am pretty sure that i have the talent and prowess to eclipse them in every way.

probably the main reason i want to do it is to be my own boss and to work when i want to and don't work when i don't want to. i currently work as a software developer making decent $, however, it gets on my nerves that i have to get PTO approvals and schedule vacation etc. i envision the rest of my life taking between 2-4 months off a year to do various fun activities + i like to take random times off during the normal work week to do outdoorsy stuff i am into. on the other side, i do not mind working late at night.

i live in washington DC and would like to be licensed in DC, MD, and VA. i was wondering if anyone can shed some light as to how difficult it is to become licensed and an INDEPENDENT tradesman w/out working for someone else as an apprentice etc.? i have heard that, in order to be a master plumber/electrician, one must be an apprentice for many years. that scares me. i would be more inclined to take classes and pass exams and do my own stuff then.

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Old 02-05-2009, 12:12 PM   #2
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I'd pick one or the other.

Also, going into business for yourself right now is a scary proposal. There are a lot of other guys that have been doing both trades for years that are out of work already. Experience will usually get them side work before you.

Being your own boss is more than a desire. Take a look around at http://www.contractortalk.com for a while. You'll see how many guys are struggling right now.

Not saying it can't be done but if you think you're going to be a licensed electrician AND plumber, start your own successful business and take months of time off each year any time soon, you're in for a long road ahead my friend.

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Old 02-05-2009, 12:26 PM   #3
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


but why just one. people like to have a one-stop shop for as many needs as possible. having one guy that does both really is a plus.
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Old 02-05-2009, 12:31 PM   #4
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


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probably the main reason i want to do it is to be my own boss and to work when i want to and don't work when i don't want to.
Being your own boss, you get to work when you want to and when you don't want to.
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Old 02-05-2009, 12:52 PM   #5
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You heard correctly. Some form of multi-year apprenticeship is required. As it should be, IMHO. You should work under a master plumber or master electrician to teach you what the books don't: how to apply your trade in the field. The books will teach you the requirements. The field teaches you how to earn a living.

Also, be warned that when you're a business owner, you're never "off". I've been my own boss for 8 years, and my boss requires me to work a lot of hours and give up a lot of time. I apply my trade during working hours, and do quotes/proposals and the business end off hours. Example: I have it calculated out what DIY stuff I should just pay for, because that DIY time could be spent earning money. I can't see myself cutting the lawn and trimming bushes when I can earn 10 times what the landscaping service costs me in that same time. It's a trade off. I also budget myself an hour or two of hobby time a week, no more, because it eats into earning time. I also budget the hours of 5pm-9pm as family time to spend with the kids and wife, and after 9pm I go back to work doing paperwork or doing a take off or drawings, etc. Plus Sunday mornings are work time for me, plus Sunday 7-10pm. Saturdays I try to take completely off, but it never happens. However, to me it's completely worth that time sacrifice to be able to leave a job site and volunteer in my kids' classrooms for an hour or two, to be a science fair judge twice a year, or go surf fishing on a slow day, or play golf every now and then. But on the flip side, I give my self 4 weeks off a year, and I never come remotely close to taking it all. Last year I took 8 days off. The rest of the time I worked.

I have my engineering license, and I put in my time. In my case I needed 5 years, before I even sat for the test, which was a grueling 8 hour long test with only 8 questions. That's right, 8 questions. I'm still considering going for my master plumber's license, because I could pass the test this afternoon (and for engineers, the time requirements are a little different). But there are no shortcuts. I wouldn't do it without the apprenticeship.

I definitely think it's worth the time. You could be your own boss after that, but the romance will end quickly, probably the first time you couldn't bring home a paycheck to your wife because such and such client is late paying or you took on a big job and cash flow is tight. Yes the money and freedom can be great, but for every peak there are two valleys.

I would try to find a small outfit that will give you more one on one with the master plumber, and more responsibility, instead of being a gopher. And as far as trying to get your electrician's and plumber's license, I guess it's feasible, but why? You'd be buying two completely different sets of tools and equipment to do your trade, and still work the same hours. It's not worth it, in my opinion. If you want to be a one stop shop, hire an electrician if you think you can keep him busy 100% of the time, or sub it out. I design-build a lot of work, and I always sub out the electrical.

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Old 02-05-2009, 12:55 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Aggie67 View Post
And as far as trying to get your electrician's and plumber's license, I guess it's feasible, but why? You'd be buying two completely different sets of tools and equipment to do your trade, and still work the same hours. It's not worth it, in my opinion. If you want to be one stop shop, hire an electrician if you think you can keep him busy 100% of the time, or sub it out. I design-build a lot of work, and I always sub out the electrical.
Exactly what Aggie said. It takes years to get to where you want to be and you want to do it twice, simultaneously.

Go for one and get really good at it. You can always add the other later.

I'd rather have a great plumber and a great electrician rather than one guy who is good at both.
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Old 02-06-2009, 04:28 PM   #7
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


Sorry dude, I just gotta laugh.

I've been an electrician for over 35 years. Today I'm a licensed master electrician. In the thousand of tradesman I've met only a very select few would I consider "double trades" and I've never seen the plumbing/electrician combo (maybe the HVAC guys but master electricians...hmm? not sure.

Personally I think doing some of that easy residential wiring has gone to your head (not to be insulting, just honest). Being in a trade means dedication and it takes a lifetime. I got my AA and it took me AT LEAST 8 years before I really had the bases covered.

What do you know about commercial and industrial construction?

last thought, funny you think you can skip apprenticeship but you can judge existing electricians as not being up to par...What makes you so good? (really, I'd like to hear it)
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Old 02-06-2009, 05:28 PM   #8
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


Pete has a great point. Pulling Romex in someone's attic isn't the same thing as walking up to a smoking, humming 600 volt Westinghouse circuit breaker that was installed in 1956. And then knowing where to call in North America to find a replacement, because they haven't made them in 40 years, and the owner doesn't want to spend $200,000 to change his switch gear out to something modern.

You still need to know how to do both if you're going to be a professional.
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Old 02-06-2009, 05:53 PM   #9
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


I've been doing simple residential wiring since I was a teenager.
With 2 houses & 12 years I doubt if I have even touched on 5% of what I would encounter as an electrician
Its really not that easy
Being able to do the residential wiring & actually knowing the codes & having experience are 2 different things
I've worked in the computer field for over 15 years
I've seen more then one person who had studied & passed test but couldn't do the actual work

The apprentice ship is to make sure you know what you are doing & won't burn someones house down
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Old 02-06-2009, 08:52 PM   #10
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


Why stop at plumbing and and electrical? How about framing, slabs, or total house construction? Seeing certain jobs done and understanding the process does not make one a pro in that profession. I was a great student and could pass most tests on any given subject, given a text to puruse prior to the exam, but that surely made me no expert on any subject nor qualified me to perform any task, especially in something that could involve people's lives.
Agreed, there are many jobs that some homeowners can do themselves, hence this site. But there are some aspects that will be unforseen; that given experience, are easily overcome. Be it installing a door, plumbing, electrical, framing etc..
Starting your own business is a great propostion, but be sure that it is not as easy as declaring "I am a plumber/electrician". There are licsensing laws, apprenticeships, insurance concerns... If this is really your desire, maybe consider hiring qualified subs and managing them under your company and learning as you go.
Think about it from your own aspect. Would YOU want to hire someone with NO experience? As an insurer, would you want to insure someone who had only read a book?
I could go on, but I really think you need to consider what it is that you would want, as well as your potential customers.
Again, JMTCW,
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Old 02-06-2009, 08:56 PM   #11
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Sitting for a masters test takes years of preparation. I have been studying the electrical and plumbing codes for several years, and I assure you that I would not feel even close to comfortable sitting for either exam. That's probably because I have a healthy respect for what these guys do based on looking at it and inspecting it on a daily basis.

No offense intended, but doing residential work is as basic as it gets. Having done work around your home or others' homes I assure you that you've only seen a small sliver of the trades that you feel so comfortable and confident in. Doing residential wiring and plumbing does not even scratch the surface of what's needed to be a competent master tradesman.

To get that license, you not only need to understand basic residential stuff. You need to be able to plumb a high rise building and understand the system design. You need to be able to size conductors for electrical services so complicated you wouldn't believe it. You need to be able to do electrical load calcs. It truly is mindblowing.

When I know that someone is a master plumber or electrician, they have my respect. Most plumbers and electricians are not...Someone in the company they work for is.

That being said, perhaps you have a good foundation to build your knowledge and experience on. My suggestion would be to try to get involved in an apprenticeship program with the local union or merit shop organization. Start as an apprentice, work up to journeyman, and in a decade or so perhaps you'll be ready for a masters exam.

With true exposure to the trades, you may quickly know how much you don't know.
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Old 02-06-2009, 09:46 PM   #12
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Keep your day job. I have never met any contractor that could take 2-4 months off, on purpose anyways. At least now you know when you have to work, imagine waiting on job approvals while your bank account is diminishing, which is just as much a part of the trades as the skill needed to complete the jobs.

The crappy work you have seen is probably a result of the crappy pay that is being given. You get what you pay for, you cant eat steak with a hamburger budget.
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Old 09-26-2010, 07:28 AM   #13
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Hey lets not bash the guy. He was making an inquiry because he didn't understand what it really takes to be a professional tradesperson. People who have worked for any amount of time knows the general public has no idea. I used to get offended but I realize they just don't know. What he really want to do is become a very competent handyman. You don't become a physician so you can pull out splinters when needed. People get upset when you charge them for a service call because they call you out and they need a new light bulb and it use to bother me. I realized if they could do it themselves they wouldn't have called me. So I don't get upset because people don't understand. Give the guy a break and good advice. He needs to take a handyman course at a community college.
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Old 09-26-2010, 09:23 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by amakarevic View Post
after owning my house for nearly two years and having done massive electrical and plumbing renovations, and also after being sick of working relatively inflexible 40 hr weeks at a FT job, i am seriously contemplating getting licensed to be a plumber and an electrician.

after having seen crappy work my many licensed tradesmen, i am pretty sure that i have the talent and prowess to eclipse them in every way.

probably the main reason i want to do it is to be my own boss and to work when i want to and don't work when i don't want to. i currently work as a software developer making decent $, however, it gets on my nerves that i have to get PTO approvals and schedule vacation etc. i envision the rest of my life taking between 2-4 months off a year to do various fun activities + i like to take random times off during the normal work week to do outdoorsy stuff i am into. on the other side, i do not mind working late at night.

i live in washington DC and would like to be licensed in DC, MD, and VA. i was wondering if anyone can shed some light as to how difficult it is to become licensed and an INDEPENDENT tradesman w/out working for someone else as an apprentice etc.? i have heard that, in order to be a master plumber/electrician, one must be an apprentice for many years. that scares me. i would be more inclined to take classes and pass exams and do my own stuff then.
This is a, "the grass is greener" post. Going from a salaried condition to an independent requires a significant change in your life. Work is not handed to you, you need to get it. You pay for health insurance unless you have a wife who has it. You pay for all your Social Security, not just half. You need to get business insurance. If you have employees, you need workman's comp and unemployment insurance.
It will take time to generate a customer base, whether you advertise or go through just referrals.
There are no paid holidays. There are no paid vacations. There are no sick days. Well, there are, you just don't get paid for them.
There are other caveats I'm sure were't mentioned. But others can chime in.
I made the transition in the late '70's as the only person employed in the family, with 2 kids. I'm sure it was easier then ,then now.
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Old 09-26-2010, 10:58 AM   #15
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Becoming a licensed plumber/electrician


Best bet IMHO would be for the OP to get his CONTRACTOR's license, then sub-contract the plumbing and electric!

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