How to Get a C-36 Plumbing Contractor License

Plumbing is a highly profitable field in California, with the state having the highest number of employed plumbers in the nation. To take advantage of the opportunities in the California market, obtaining the C-36 license is essential. This license is a prerequisite for bidding on plumbing projects valued at over $500 in the state. While obtaining the license requires dedication and hard work, we are here to provide you with guidance and support to help you swiftly establish yourself as a licensed plumbing contractor.

What is a C-36 plumbing contractor?

A plumbing contractor provides a means for a supply of safe water, ample in volume and of suitable temperature for the purpose intended and the proper disposal of fluid waste from the premises in all structures and fixed works. This classification includes the following:

  • Complete removal of waste from the premises or the construction and connection of on-site waste disposal systems;
  • Piping, storage tanks and venting for a safe and adequate supply of gases and liquids for any purpose, including vacuum, compressed air and gases for medical, dental, commercial and industrial uses;
  • All gas appliances, flues and gas connections for all systems including suspended space heating units. This does not include forced warm air units;
  • Water and gas piping from the property owner's side of the utility meter to the structure or fixed works;
  • Installation of any type of equipment to heat water, or fluids, to a temperature suitable for the purposes listed in this section, including the installation of solar equipment for this purpose; and
  • The maintenance and replacement of all items described above and all health and safety devices such as, but not limited to, gas earthquake valves, gas control valves, back flow preventers, water conditioning equipment and regulating valves.


In California, every contractor, including landscaping contractors who obtain the C-37 License, must acquire a license from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). The primary objective of the CSLB is to safeguard Californians by carefully assessing and registering construction businesses that charge more than $500 for their services. This ensures the citizens get quality services and that the contractors act within their regulations and in good faith. The CSLB is responsible for overseeing the application and examination procedures and maintains a publicly accessible database that contains the license numbers of both active and inactive contractors.

To assist contractors and consumers in understanding their rights and obligations, the CSLB offers various resources and educational materials. They provide guidance on contract requirements, dispute resolution, and other pertinent subjects to encourage equitable and ethical business practices within the construction industry. Additionally, the CSLB investigates complaints lodged against licensed contractors. In cases where contractors fail to comply with state regulations or engage in unethical conduct, the CSLB takes appropriate enforcement actions, which may involve disciplinary measures, monetary penalties, or license revocation.

Why you need a C-36 plumbing license in California

Obtaining a C-36 plumbing license in California offers several compelling reasons to consider:

  • Legal Compliance: Working as a licensed plumber ensures that you are operating within the legal framework set by the state. California requires individuals and businesses engaging in plumbing activities worth over $500 to hold a valid license.
  • Market Opportunities: California has a robust construction industry and a high demand for plumbing services due to its large population and ongoing development projects. By obtaining a C-36 plumbing license, you gain access to a vast market of potential clients and projects, increasing your earning potential.
  • Ability to Bid on Larger Projects: In California, a C-36 plumbing license, specifically the C-36 license, is required to bid on plumbing projects valued at over $500. By acquiring the license, you expand your opportunities to work on larger-scale projects, which often come with higher profit margins and greater visibility in the industry.
  • Skill Enhancement and Continuing Education: The process of obtaining a plumbing license involves rigorous training, examinations, and practical experience. This journey equips you with comprehensive knowledge, skills, and a deeper understanding of plumbing systems. Additionally, license renewal often requires ongoing education, ensuring you stay updated with the latest advancements and industry best practices.
  • Protection and Insurance: A C-36 plumbing license can provide you with access to insurance coverage options tailored specifically for licensed professionals. This insurance can protect you against potential liabilities, accidents, and damages, offering peace of mind while you work on plumbing projects.
  • Professional Networking and Support: Through the licensing process, you can connect with other licensed plumbers, industry associations, and trade organizations. These connections can offer valuable networking opportunities, mentorship, and access to resources that can further enhance your career and business prospects.

Step 1: Gain working experience as a plumber

To qualify for the exam, applicants must have 4 years of experience as a journeyman. A "journeyman" is an experienced worker who is fully qualified (as opposed to a trainee) and is able to perform the trade without supervision or a person who has completed an apprenticeship program. Like other permits, the C–36 license requires apprenticeship training or qualification by a Joint Examination Board. Here are a few reasons why this requirement exists:

  • Skill Development: Plumbing is a skilled trade that requires a thorough understanding of various systems, codes, regulations, and safety practices. By working as a journeyman for four years, individuals have the opportunity to develop their skills, gain hands-on experience, and become familiar with different aspects of the trade.
  • Industry Knowledge: Plumbing contractors are responsible for overseeing plumbing projects, managing teams, coordinating with clients, and ensuring compliance with building codes and regulations. The four-year journeyman experience requirement ensures that applicants have sufficient exposure to the industry, including different types of projects, materials, and techniques.
  • Safety Considerations: Plumbing work involves potentially hazardous tasks, such as working with pressurized systems, handling chemicals, and dealing with potentially harmful substances. By requiring four years of experience as a journeyman, California aims to prioritize safety by ensuring that licensed contractors have enough practical experience to mitigate risks and handle such situations effectively.
  • Quality Assurance: Requiring a minimum experience level helps maintain a certain level of quality and professionalism within the plumbing industry. It ensures that licensed contractors have a solid foundation of knowledge and skills, leading to better workmanship, reduced errors, and increased customer satisfaction.
  • Legal and Business Knowledge: Being a plumbing contractor involves not only technical expertise but also understanding legal and business aspects, such as licensing requirements, permits, contracts, insurance, and managing a business. The journeyman experience provides individuals with exposure to these aspects and prepares them for the additional responsibilities that come with being a licensed contractor.

Once you have acquired the necessary training, fill out the Certification of Work Experience and include it in your application packet.

Step 2: Get credible witnesses to testify to your background

To verify your experience claims, they must be endorsed by a trustworthy individual who has firsthand knowledge of your work. This could be an employer, contractor, foreman/supervisor, fellow employee, other journeyman, union representative, building inspector, architect, engineer, or homeowner. The person certifying your experience should have observed the tasks you have performed and is required to complete the experience certification section of the application.

Here is a list of Acceptable Supporting Experience Documentation that you can use to determine what documents to submit in order to provide proof of your experience.

Step 3: Fill in the original contractor license application

The next step will be completing the Application for Original Contractor’s License. Make sure you read through the instructions carefully because an incomplete application will lead to delays or even your application getting rejected. Once submitted, the CSLB will send a letter of acknowledgment with an application fee number and four-digit PIN, both required to check the application status. ​​

Step 4: Submit your application and pay the required fees

Once you have confirmed you have completed your application and included all the requirements, you are now ready to submit it. Submit the application, the $450 application processing fee, and all required documents to:

CSLB Headquarters
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026

Payments at CSLB's Sacramento office may be made by cash (exact change only), check, or money order.

Step 5: Submit your fingerprints

Upon acceptance of your application, you will be provided with a fingerprinting live scan packet. This step is necessary for the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) to conduct a criminal background check. Your fingerprints will be compared to the records of the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine if any criminal history exists.

All applicants for a license, as well as officers, partners, owners, responsible managing employees, and home improvement salesperson applicants, must undergo fingerprinting. However, individuals who are currently licensed by CSLB and are not making any changes to their license, as well as joint venture license applicants, are exempt from this requirement.

Once CSLB deems your application complete, each individual listed on the application will receive instructions on the process for obtaining and submitting fingerprints, along with a "Request for Live Scan Service" form (BCII 8016)

You need to fill out all the required fields in the third section (applicant information) of the form and bring three copies of the completed form to a Live Scan station. The Live Scan station will process your fingerprints and submit them to the DOJ and the FBI. You can find Live Scan fingerprinting services at local police and sheriff departments, as well as other public Live Scan sites.

A listing of Live Scan locations is available here.

Step 6: Take the CSLB examination

If your application is accepted, you will receive a Notice to Appear for Examination. You should receive your examination notice at least three weeks prior to the examination date. Studying for the CSLB exam is important!

You should bring picture identification with you to the testing center. No personal calculators, cell phones, pagers or other electronic devices are permitted in the testing area. The exam itself lasts three and a half hours.

The examination consists of two sections: the first section focuses on contractor law and consists of 115 multiple-choice questions, while the second section concentrates on plumbing and also consists of 115 multiple-choice questions. Both parts of the exam are taken on a computer at the designated location. The test is administered in English, but if you arrange it beforehand, you are permitted to bring a translator.

The plumbing section is divided into 5 parts:

  1. Planning and Estimating (21%)
  2. Rough-in and Top Out Plumbing Systems (26%)
  3. Finish Plumbing Installations (15%)
  4. Service, Repair, and Remodel Plumbing Systems (20%)
  5. Safety (18%)

You can use the California Contractor License Law & Reference Book as a study guide in preparation for your exam. 

Step 7: Get a California Contractor License Bond

After successfully passing the exam, you will receive a bond and fee notification form at the testing site. This form will outline the requirements you must fulfill to obtain your license.

One of the requirements is obtaining a California contractor bond with a value of $25,000. This specific type of surety bond is intended for contractors and serves as a financial safeguard for clients and the public. It ensures that contractors fulfill their contractual obligations, comply with relevant laws and regulations, and conduct their business in an ethical and responsible manner.

To obtain a contractor bond, you typically need to provide basic information such as your business name, owner's name, address, and undergo a soft credit check by providing your social security number.

Once your dealer bond application is approved, you can proceed with making the payment for the bond. Subsequently, you can expect to receive the hard copy of the bond via mail within 3-5 business days. It is important to have the physical copy of the bond for your license application.

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Step 8: Receive your C-36 plumbing license!

Congratulations on passing your examination. Going through all these steps is no easy feat. What’s left is getting your application and starting work as a contractor. 

You will receive a wall certificate showing the following information:

  • Name of the person or company the license has been issued to
  • License number
  • Classification held 
  • Date of issue

You will also receive a plastic pocket card showing the following:

  • License number
  • Business name
  • Classification
  • License expiration date

According to the legal requirement, you must prominently display your wall certificate in your primary office or main place of business. Additionally, it is advisable to carry your pocket card with you regularly, especially in situations where you anticipate engaging in business solicitation or interacting with potential customers.


How often should I renew my contractor license?

California requires renewal every two years. If you happen to change any general business information, this must be reflected on the renewal application.

What are the fees involved in getting a contractor license?

  • Original Application (exam or waiver for one classification: $500
  • Initial License Fee: $200 for sole owner, $350 for multiple owners
  • Re-Examination Fee: $100
  • Fingerprinting Fee: $32
  • Department of Justice processing fee: $17
  • Total: $849 for sole owner, $999 for multiple owners

Specific details are available on the Contractor’s State Licensing Board fee page.

Where can I take the CSLB test?

Currently, the CSLB has testing locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramental
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

You can find a comprehensive list of testing locations on the PSI website.

You will be assigned a testing location based on the city you live in. The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.

How long is my license valid?

A contractor license initially is issued for a two-year period. It will expire two years from the last day of the month in which it was issued. Licenses may be renewed for two years at a time if renewed on active status, or for four years if renewed on inactive status.

What do I do if my original contractor application is returned to me?

Your application will be returned to you if it is insufficient or incomplete. Don’t lose hope though! The CSLB gives you 90 days from the day you application was returned to provide any missing information, make corrections, and resubmit your application. If you do not resubmit your application to CSLB within 90 days though, it becomes void. 

You will not be able to reinstate it, and you must submit a new application and processing fee if you wish to pursue a license.

What if I don’t live in California and can’t access a live scan facility?

If you do not live in California and do not plan to come to California during the application process, or if you do not have access to a Live Scan site, you will be fingerprinted using hard copy fingerprint cards. For out-of-state residents, the hard copy cards automatically will be generated and sent after your application has been posted. 

What if I fail to appear for an examination?

If you fail to appear for an examination, you must pay a $100 rescheduling fee. If you have a preference of when you would like to be rescheduled, please email or call (916) 255-3498 with your requested date.

Where can I get a contractor bond?

You can buy a Contractor Bond at any major surety agency that is licensed in the state of California. SuretyNow is a reputable surety agency that is appointed with 10+ insurance carriers so it can find you the most affordable rate.