Plumbing has been used by humans in some form for thousands of years, since at least 2700 B.C. As it is such an important trade, it's essential that plumbers are paid a reasonable wage for their work.
A plumber can see a steady change in pay over the course of their career progression. Certain skills and certificates, such as a Gas Safe Registration, can help increase a plumber's salary as they are able to carry out specialist work.
Salaries also depend on the number of hours that a plumber works, as well as the days that they work. For example, weekend shifts often pay better than weekday work as they are less desirable.
In this article, we'll look at how much plumbers can earn at each stage of their career, from the first year of an apprenticeship through to senior plumbers who successfully run their own business.
The National Careers Service estimate that the average plumber can earn a salary anywhere between £15,000 and £40,000. This range covers plumbers who are newly qualified through to experienced plumbers who have been working in the industry for a number of years.
Salaries vary depending on the experience that a plumber has, where they work in the country and the volume of work that they have. Areas that have a short supply of qualified plumbers will likely see customers pay more because the plumber's services will be in higher demand. However, London plumbers can earn a higher salary because London wages tend to be higher than in other areas of the country.
Other factors will also contribute to how much a plumber can earn, such as whether they are self-employed, employed and if they have any special qualifications. For example, a qualification that allows a plumber to work on gas appliances will increase their salary. Self-employed plumbers will also likely earn more than plumbers who are employed at a company because they would take home more profit from each job.
A self-employed plumber could make around £30,000 to £40,000, or even up to £60,000 per year if they are especially skilled and in demand. Sole traders set their own rates, which means that the wages can significantly vary. It's a good idea to find out what the local competition is charging to help set rates accordingly.
The average mean salary for a plumber is £31,703, which translates to £96.99 per day (after tax deductions). As most plumbers would probably work eight hours a day, this would mean that the average plumber's hourly rate is £12.12.
Some self-employed plumbers charge customers £90 per hour and can make approximately £1,000 a week. Sole traders tend to earn more than plumbers that work for a company because they are able to keep a larger portion of the profit and can decide on their own hourly rates.
Plumbers usually charge a minimum rate for each job, no matter how long it takes. This is to help cover expenses such as travel, tools and materials. However, some plumbers charge day rates instead of hourly rates if they know that they will have to spend a whole day on a single project. The day rate will likely work out less per hour than an hourly rate.
A typical day rate can cost between £450 and £550, which will work out at an average of £62.50 per hour (before tax deduction) in an eight-hour day.
Emergency call-outs will cost more because plumbers may have to work unsociable hours, such as overnight, during the weekend or over a national holiday. The rates will vary, but emergency call-outs typically cost double the rate of standard jobs.
According to Indeed, London plumbers charge an average of £20.27 per hour, which is the highest rate in the country. Glasgow has the second-highest rate with an average of £19.29 per hour, and Edinburgh plumbers charge an hourly rate of £18.88, which is the third-highest average in the country.
Newly qualified plumbers have less experience than senior plumbers, which means that they are paid less. As such, newly qualified plumbers earn around £15,000 per year on average, although this will vary based on factors such as location. The annual salary may also fall in the higher region of between £19,000 to £25,000 per year in certain areas of the country, such as London.
Apprentices are entitled to get paid the National Minimum Wage, although the pay rates will vary depending on age and the year of the apprenticeship that they are in. Companies can also set higher pay rates if they choose to.
The National Minimum Wage is applicable to apprentices that are under 19 years of age or are aged 19 years or older and in the first year of their apprenticeship. Apprentices that are over 19 years old and have passed the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to the minimum wage that is applicable to their age.
An apprentice that is under the age of 19 or aged 19 and over and in the first year of an apprenticeship is entitled to a rate of £4.81 per hour (as of April 2022). For example, a 21-year-old who is in their first year of an apprenticeship is entitled to £4.81 per hour, as is a 17-year-old (no matter their year of study).
Apprentices that are aged over 19 years old and have completed their first year of study are entitled to the National Minimum Wage rate of their age group. For example, a 21-year-old apprentice who has completed their first year of training is entitled to the Minimum Rate of £9.18 per hour. The other National Minimum Wage rates are as follows:
- 18 to 20 years - £6.83 per hour
- 21 to 22 years - £9.18 per hour
The National Living Wage for anyone aged over 23 years old is £9.50 per hour. As with the National Minimum Wage, the Living Wage is statutory and is, therefore, a legal requirement.
Plumbers can take different courses and apprenticeships to qualify, which means that the training time varies. A full-time plumbing apprenticeship usually takes between two and four years to complete and involves on-the-job training and vocational training. Most apprentice schemes are offered by companies that partner with local training colleges and schools.
Companies usually sponsor their apprentices, which means that trainees don't have to pay for their training course. However, traditional apprenticeships are hard to come by and the ones on offer are competitive to get.
Each year of the program will usually increase the practical training of the student until they are knowledgeable enough to complete tasks by themselves and qualify as a plumber.
Some education providers offer fast-track plumbing courses that can take students anywhere from four to 16 weeks to complete. They teach students both practical and theoretical skills and the main components of the plumbing trade. As can be expected, a fast-track course won't cover topics in the same depth as a traditional plumbing apprenticeship does.
Most plumbers study for a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), which is a nationally recognised qualification that verifies the skills and competence of an individual in their trade. The qualification acknowledges and credits students for practical skills that they can demonstrate on a daily basis, rather than just in examinations.
Individuals don't need any prior qualifications before they begin studying for an NVQ. The courses can be based in a workplace, training centre or a combination of the two. Once the first NVQ has been passed, students can apply to study for a higher level NVQ or additional certificates.
Some older plumbers may have no qualifications as they left school at a young age and started learning straight on the job. However, a lack of qualifications doesn't mean that the plumber isn't as knowledgeable as someone who completed a four-year training course.
Most individuals will gain a whole wealth of skills and experience over the years of their trade, which is why homeowners will often prefer to have an older and more experienced plumber in their house than a newly qualified plumber who has recently passed their apprenticeship.
What skills do plumbers need?
Plumbers maintain and fit water systems in buildings, including toilets, sinks and washing machines. Some plumbers can also install and repair central heating systems, but they need to be Gas Safe Registered to do so. To properly maintain and fix these systems, plumbers must be able to use certain tools and have the knowledge to diagnose and fix any issues.
It's important that plumbers understand the type of buildings that they work in — whether they are domestic or commercial — so that they can properly maintain the water systems in place. They must also pay attention to detail as even tiny errors can have a major impact on a system.
Other useful skills for plumbers include the ability to work with others and deal with members of the public, as well as using initiative and having a basic knowledge of maths.
What is the career progression for plumbers?
Most plumbers have a base knowledge of a number of systems but will start to specialise in certain areas. This could be anything from sanitation, air conditioning or ventilation. A plumber could also earn a Higher National Diploma (HND) or study for a degree to become an engineer.
Larger companies could offer roles with the team such as team leader or senior manager. The time that it takes to progress to a senior role will vary, depending on the experience that the plumber gains and how they are able to prove themselves. Alternatively, a plumber may decide that they want to leave a company and become self-employed. Self-employed plumbers have the chance to earn a higher wage as they can set their own rates and keep more of the profit after paying overheads.
Some plumbers decide that they want to teach the next generation of plumbers and became tutors and instructors at a local college or training centre. Trade schools like to employ individuals who have worked in the profession for a number of years because they will have real-life experience and skills that they have gained that they can pass on.
The average plumber salary in the UK for newly qualified tradesmen is £15,000, although plumbers who are more experienced could earn up to £40,000 per year. Experienced self-employed plumbers can earn around four times this amount as customers are more willing to pay for their skills and experience. A self-employed plumber can charge more per hour and can keep a larger portion of the pay than they would if they were employed at a company.
The average hourly wage for most plumbers is £12.12, which is based on eight working hours per day. However, this will vary depending on geographic location and the local demand for plumbing services. A senior plumber who owns their own business could charge as high as £90 per hour. Emergency call-outs typically cost customers double the usual hourly rate as they tend to fall outside of the usual work hours.
An apprentice plumber must be paid a minimum of £4.81 per hour if they are under the age of 19 or in their first year of the apprenticeship. Individuals who have passed the first year of their apprenticeship and are over the age of 19 should receive the National Minimum Wage for their age group. Anyone over the age of 23 years has the statutory right to be paid the National Living Wage.