Plumbing inspectors examine and test new or existing plumbing systems in buildings to make sure they are installed properly and comply with federal, state, and local code requirements. Inspectors typically work for city or county agencies, though residential inspectors can work in private industry or for themselves. These professionals are trained to report code violations and explain to building owners how to fix any problems. Inspectors may also review plans and issue permits for plumbing installations, repairs, and alterations, as well as investigating complaints.
Plumbing inspectors spend time in an office setting, writing reports and recommendations, as well as in the field. Some risk may be associated with this career; plumbing inspectors typically are required to wear protective clothing and use gear such as goggles, earplugs, and/or gloves while working. They should have strong communication skills, as well as a knowledge of plumbing systems and applicable building codes. Generally, plumbing inspectors work full-time during regular business hours, and some are self-employed.
In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that all construction and building inspectors, including plumbing inspectors, earned a median annual salary of $57,340.
|Degree Level||High school diploma or GED at minimum; certificate, associate and bachelor's degree programs available|
|Degree Fields||Building inspection technology, plumbing, construction technology, civil engineering and architecture|
|Licensure and Certification||Journey or master-level plumber's license is required. Some counties or states require registration, certification or licensure as a plumbing inspector|
|Experience||4-7 years experience as a plumber; employers may accept education as a substitute for some or all required experience|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal and written communication skills, thorough knowledge of plumbing systems and applicable building codes, mechanical aptitude for operating testing equipment, and a good eye for inspection detail|
|Salary (2015)||$57,340 (median for construction and building inspectors)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; City of Rochester and Sarasota County Government job ads (June 2012)
Before you can become a plumbing inspector, you must first learn about plumbing.
Step 1: Complete Apprenticeship
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common avenue to becoming a plumber is to participate in an apprenticeship program. These programs usually last 4-5 years and are offered through labor unions and professional organizations. In addition to hands-on training in plumbing techniques, safety practices and regulations, apprentices receive classroom training in chemistry, math and physics. To apply for an apprentice position, individuals usually require a high school diploma or GED. Some states also mandate apprentice-level licensure.
Enroll in building inspector courses or programs. Even at this stage, high school graduates can find unions and organizations that offer general building inspection courses or certificate programs that require no previous plumbing experience. However, states that regulate plumbing inspectors often require some type of experience, so simply completing these programs without gaining experience as a plumber might not be sufficient.
Step 2: Get Certificate or Degree
Although a high school diploma or GED is usually all the education that's required for a building inspector job (an occupational category that includes plumbing inspectors), employers might look for job applicants who have studied civil engineering or architecture, or who have completed certificate or associate degree programs with courses in building inspection technology, plumbing or related areas. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that some inspectors are entering the field with bachelor's degrees, which some employers might accept in lieu of meeting experience requirements.
While a certificate or college degree could provide an applicant with a competitive edge in the job market, it might be irrelevant for those who have completed plumbing apprenticeship programs or who have significant experience in the plumbing trade.
Develop strong communication skills. Since a plumbing inspector has to report code violations and discuss plumbing problems with building owners, aspiring inspectors need to possess strong verbal and written communication skills. Take advantage of any speech or writing-intensive courses (including business writing) in high school or college to develop these skills.
Step 3: Become a Licensed Plumber
Graduates of apprenticeship or acceptable academic programs usually have the necessary work hours required by states to qualify for a journey-level plumber's license. Licensed plumbers can work independently. To obtain a license, candidates typically need to pass a state-issued exam, and an additional license is commonly required for plumbers who work on gas lines.
Step 4: Train as Plumbing Inspector
The training requirements necessary to advance to a position of plumbing inspector differ among states and jurisdictions; typically inspectors get much of their training on the job, often under the supervision of an experienced inspector. However, inspection training programs can be found at schools, through unions or from private organizations. Training teaches students inspection techniques and how to keep records and report violations. Plumbing inspectors also must learn the building codes and federal, state and local laws and ordinances that apply to their work.
- Get into good physical shape. Since inspectors often have to climb ladders and scaffolding, squeeze into crawl spaces and lift heavy equipment, they need to be physically fit. Aspiring inspectors should also be prepared to work outdoors and in unheated spaces.
- Obtain a driver's license. Typically, inspectors are expected to provide their own transportation to an inspection site. For this reason, a common job requirement is a valid driver's license.
Step 5: Get State Approval
Many states require building inspectors to register, become certified or receive a license through the state. Licensing usually involves meeting a minimum educational requirement, such as having a high school diploma or GED, and passing a state-approved test. Some states also require several years of experience working as a plumber at the journey level or above.
States that don't mandate licensing might require plumbing inspectors to obtain certification through a professional association, such as the International Code Council (ICC) or the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). These organizations offer certifications for residential and commercial plumbing inspectors and plumbing plan examiners. The ICC also offers a Certified Plumbing Code Official (CPCO) designation.
According to the BLS, an inspector who is certified to perform a variety of inspections can use that versatility to have more job options. Also, while a large jurisdiction may have the budget and the need to hire inspectors who specialize in one area, such as plumbing, smaller jurisdictions often look for inspectors who can do many types of building inspections.
Again, aspiring plumbing inspectors must first learn about plumbing and become licensed plumbers, before they can gain the hands on experience or education necessary to become an inspector in the industry.