Commercial vs. Residential Plumbing

July 23, 2021
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The differences between commercial and residential work in any contracting field can be substantial, and Plumbing is no different. Certification, training, job scope, project management, workforce size, scheduling, safety issues, equipment, and daily operations can vary radically depending on a range of factors - namely the client and facilities involved.

At its core, the objective is the same: install and maintain a plumbing system that is dependable and free of blockage and leaks. However, once you dig into the details, you quickly find that a residential plumbing system and a commercial plumbing system can differ in their complexity and the level of commitment required to keep the systems running fluidly. Below, we explore the difference between commercial and residential plumbing. 


Plumbing certification and licensing in both residential and commercial plumbing vary by state and may be awarded based on specific training, professional experience, or scope of work. For instance:

  • Arizona offers separate licenses or dual licenses based on education and experience.
  • Mississippi grants residential licenses for jobs that exceed $10,000 and commercial licenses for jobs that exceed $50,000.
  • In the state of Ohio, you must have five years of experience, three years of business experience, and pass an exam to get a commercial license.
  • To be eligible for a journeyman plumber license in Oregon, you must complete a four-year apprenticeship program or have completed 576 hours of classroom training and have proof of 3,850 hours of residential and commercial experience.

All states require some form of formal training and certification to be a journeyman in both residential and commercial plumbing. 

Scope of Work

Residential Plumbing  

Residential plumbing often involves smaller projects that only take a few hours to complete. As a result, most plumbers have a standard eight-hour workday with the occasional emergency call. Due to the broad spectrum of plumbing products and systems, jobs may require different applications on different sections of a plumbing system. Therefore, the scope of work is rarely consistent from day to day.

Commercial Plumbing 

Commercial plumbing jobs are larger in scope because the systems are more advanced and complex. However, the jobs are more repetitive because the plumber is working on the same system each day. Since these types of plumbing jobs take place in work environments, plumbers may have to adjust the job schedule to nights and weekends when employees are not working, so that the work is less disruptive.

Customer Relations

Customer relationships in both commercial and residential plumbing are essentially built on the same foundations.

  • Consistent performance
  • Effective communication
  • Sincere concern for client needs
  • Fair estimates and pricing
  • Personalized, flexible service

These principles should be core elements in your business, regardless of whether you are servicing homeowners or business owners. However, there are a couple of key differences in each.

First, there is the setting. While you are expected to maintain a high level of professionalism in any setting, home settings are typically more relaxed than corporate settings. All this means is that you’ll need to be sensitive to the setting and operate accordingly.

Second, there is accountability. Business owners are accountable to their employees, customers, business partners, and the community. If you can’t maintain or fix a business’ plumbing system, it can have a devastating effect on the business’ reputation and public image. After all, how many times have you judged a restaurant or gas station on the quality of its bathroom?

Plumbing Contracts

No plumbing job should be performed without a written estimate or contract, which protects both you and the client should a dispute arise. While all contracts have the same function, they vary in content between residential and commercial plumbing jobs. 

Residential Contracts

Most residential plumbing contracts are on a per-job basis. You submit an estimate, the homeowner agrees and then they sign a contract before you begin the job. The contract outlines the work to be performed and the terms of the work. 

It also includes itemized materials, payment schedule, permits, licensure, cleanup agreement, warranties, and a copy of the invoice. You may have more than one type of contract that covers different types of residential work.

Commercial Contracts

Once a business owner finds a dependable plumber, they typically don’t want to waste time finding another plumber. This is especially true in businesses with larger or multiple facilities. Therefore, most contracts are designed to accommodate long-term business relationships.

For instance, a mall may contract a plumber to perform service for all the businesses on the premises. The contract may include ongoing maintenance, as well as on-call emergency repair service. Payment may be in the form of a monthly invoice or a flat fee instead of on a per-job basis. 

Business Model

When starting a plumbing business, there are several items you need to consider as you develop your business model. 

  • Goals and objectives
  • Your initial business plan
  • Training and qualifications
  • Financing
  • Startup and ongoing costs
  • Marketing and promotion

Your business plan will largely be influenced by the type of work you do. For instance, your focus may be new builds, neighborhoods, government buildings, renovations, commercial fit-outs, or damaged property. Once you determine your target area, you can then build your business model around it. 

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