Man wearing a white hard hat fixing a toilet

C-36 Plumbing Contractor License

Plumbing Contractors provide one of the most in-demand services in the construction industry.

Plumbing is a basic requirement within virtually all residential and commercial construction projects. 

With every boom in the construction industry an increase in the demand of highly skilled plumbing services inevitably follows. 

Plumbing Contractors who are professional, highly skilled and deliver excellent customer service can build a highly profitable business that services a basic human need.

This article will give you everything you need to know about the plumbing license, requirements, the California plumbing license test, study guides, and even how to fill out the C-36 License application.

What is a Plumbing Contractor?

The C-36 license is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid over $500 on projects that involve:

  • Plumbing Installation
  • Repair
  • Inspection and Maintenace
  • Design

Duties associated with the Plumbing License

Plumbing Contractors generally engage in wide variety of duties including: 

  • Installation, repair and maintenance of gas, sewer and water lines
  • Installation, repair and maintenance of water heaters and in some cases solar equipment
  • Removal of on-site waste
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    Estimation, bidding, accounting, and book-keeping
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    Repairing sinks and toilets
  • Water Conservation
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    Fuel gas piping and re-piping of buildings
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    Maintaining a safe Job site
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    Blueprint reading 
a plumbing pipe hook up being installed into a house that is in the process of framing

Plumbing Contractors Engage in a Range of Duties

  • To obtain the C-36 plumbing license you will be tested on all areas of the trade so it will be essential to your success to make sure you are familiar and up to speed

Plumbing Subcontractor

Plumbing Contractors that hold the C-36 license can work in a variety of settings. They could be hired by a homeowner to do a simple repair.

They may also be subcontracted by a General Contractor who has placed a bid on a project that includes a full plumbing installation. 

Check out this article for an in-depth look at the General Contractor License.

The CSLB

Logo of the contractors state license board. logo contains an illustration of a paint brush, saw and cement truck

Contractors State License Board

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California. Their responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for plumbing services is qualified and registered with the state of California. 

The C-36 License is issued to plumbing contractors by the CSLB. 

The State Board:

  • Administers Exams
  • Processes Applications
  • Maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers 
  • Sets up Sting Operations targeting unlicensed contractors

How to get a Plumbing License in California

To get a C-36 license in California, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
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    Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journeyman Plumber?

A plumber using a yellow wrench to tighten a pipe

A journeyman can perform all aspects of their trade

A Journeyman plumber is someone who has gained experience working unsupervised full time for:

  • Plumbing Company
  • General Contractor
  • Union 
  • Someone that holds the C-36 License
  • Some Journeyman plumbers have also completed apprenticeship programs. 
  • A Journeyman plumber can perform all the duties associated with his or her trade. The state will want to see 4 full-time years experience within the last 10 years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be 4 years in total.

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-36 plumbing license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-36 Plumbing License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
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    Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
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    Business Associate
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    Fellow Journeyman
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    Union Representative

Filling out the C-36 License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset. The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example:

Writing: “Bob is a great guy, he fixed our toilet” will not be enough.

 The CSLB will want to see something like: "Bob has repaired plumbing problems, installed gas lines, sewer lines, installed bathroom fixtures, water lines, and re-piped buildings"

Work Experience for the C-36 Plumbing License

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

a man using a wrench to tighten a pipe

The CSLB may request to see proof of your plumbing experience

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

C-36 License Application Processing, Fees and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year. Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and some where they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

Application Costs for the C-36 License

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-36 License. I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses. The key is to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case by case basis.

Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public.

In my experience, they primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with: Fraud, Embezzlement or Forgery

A picture of a fingerprint

Be 100% Honest On Your C-36 License Application

California Plumbing License Test

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions of Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions of Plumbing
  • 3 hours to complete each portion
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    Multiple choice exam done on a computer
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    Closed Book

For more information on what will be on the Contractor LAW exam click here.

The Plumbing License (C-36 ) Examination is divided into five key sections:

1.    Planning and Estimation (21%)

  • Plan reading
  • Bidding
  • Pipe sizing
  • Water conservation

2.    Rough-in and Top-out Plumbing Systems (27%)

  • Underground installations
  • Piping layout
  • Piping installation
  • Fuel gas piping
  • Residential fire sprinklers

3.    Finish Plumbing Installations (14%)

  • Plumbing fixtures
  • Water heaters
  • Shut-off valves
  • Specialty installations
  • Industrial piping

4.    Service, Repair, and Remodel Plumbing Systems (20%)

  • Troubleshooting plumbing
  • Isolating leaks and damage
  • Repairing plumbing
  • Retrofitting plumbing

5.    Safety (18%)

  • Job site safety
  • Personnel safety
  • Public safety

CSLB Test Locations

Currently, there are CSLB testing locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego
  • The CSLB assigns you a testing location based on where you live when you apply for your license. 
  • You get 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.
  • You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ($60 per retake)

Learn more about Contractor License LAW

C-36 license Study Guides and Exam Prep

Some things to remember:

  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade
a large plumbing installation on the floor going into the wall

Understanding residential and commercial plumbing line installations will be critical info for the state exam

I have helped plumbers from all over the country get licensed in California. Many are startled by how strange the questions on the exam are.

Be as prepared as you possibly can.

Studying just 10 mintues a day consistently can dramatically increase your chances of passing the test on your first try.

Focus on and study ONLY the information that you need to pass the C-36 License.

Plumbing Apprenticeships

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level plumbing experience to get a C-36 license, your journey begins here.

Generally, someone looking to get into this trade would begin by finding a union or plumbing apprenticeship program.

a plumber holding wires and a wrench preparing to work on a sink. apprenticeships are a great way to give yourself the foundation needed to get the plumbing license

An apprenticeship is an excellent way to learn your trade and set yourself for a lucrative career as a plumber

For a detailed explanation on this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman.

Blueprint Reading Course

Plumbing contractors looking to get the C-36 license should know how to read construction blueprints at least at a basic level

Blueprint Reading is an important skill for plumbing contractors

  • It is critical for plumbing contractors to be able to read blueprints or at least be able to recognize lines and symbols.
  • Construction blueprints communicate important information about how a structure must be built as well as what materials are necessary for its construction.

Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesman but is especially important for those looking to get the C-36 license. See our Free Blueprint Reading Course.

EPA Certification

Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency. The most profitable plumbing contractors are ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgable and helpful to their clients. 

Becoming EPA Certified can help you expand your business and can be completed in a one day 8 hour course. Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also the safety of your customers.  Learn how to get an EPA Certification, in 8 hours!

Plumbing contractors may encounter lead based paint when working in a residential setting. The environmental protection agency has set guidelines for how lead paint must be contained. Plumbing contractors looking to get the C-36 license should get epa certified

Environmental Protection Agency

Conclusion

Getting the C-36 License can be a huge step up in your career if you are looking to start your own plumbing company or become an RMO! The key is to take action and follow these steps from beginning to end. 

If you have found this article helpful feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to check back for updates!

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