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What is a Plumbing Business?
The plumbing industry is booming, with more than 38,000 plumbers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors operating in the UK, an increase of nearly 10,000 contractors in the last decade. Although there are more plumbing businesses operating than ever before, there is still a significant skills shortage in the UK.
The huge demand for plumbing services means that many plumbers are turning down jobs; in fact, surveys have shown that 44% of plumbers in the UK have had to delay or refuse work. The necessity of a plumber’s services means that plumbers are able to capitalise on the skills shortage by charging significantly higher prices.
A plumber is a skilled professional who installs, fits, repairs and maintains water systems and pipe systems in buildings.
Their services can relate to a range of water systems, including:
- Washing machines.
- Central heating systems.
- Gas boilers (additional qualifications are required).
A plumber is necessary for installing these water systems and for any repairs or maintenance that is needed. Plumbers are an essential workforce, as they install and repair the pipes and systems that supply water (and sometimes gas) to a building and carry water and waste away from the building.
There are multiple different specialities in the plumbing industry:
- Residential plumbers: Residential plumbers specialise in residential plumbing systems (in people’s homes). They usually focus on small-scale jobs and plumbing installation and issues within the home.
- Commercial plumbers: They specialise in larger commercial settings with larger and more complex water systems, such as large office buildings, hospitals, shopping centres, schools and hotels. Commercial plumbing usually requires larger plumbing equipment and experience working on larger, more complicated water systems.
- Industrial plumbers: An industrial plumber specialises in plumbing systems in industrial settings, such as warehouses and factories. They usually work with high-grade fixtures and materials and water systems that use significantly more water.
- Service and repair plumbers: This type of plumber focuses specifically on diagnosing and repairing issues with water systems. They will have experience fixing a wide range of plumbing issues and can work in both residential and commercial settings.
- Construction plumbers: This type of plumber specialises in the planning and installation of water systems, including pipes and drainage systems, for new residential or commercial buildings. They also work on building remodels where new plumbing is required.
- Sanitary plumbers: Sanitary plumbers specialise in plumbing related to sanitary systems (specifically waste disposal systems and below-ground drainage systems).
- Water supply plumbers: They specialise in water supply systems, for example, in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Their role includes installing and maintaining water supply systems and repairing pipes and water systems.
- Gas plumbers: A gas plumber specialises in natural gas lines, gas heating systems and associated appliances (such as boilers). Gas plumbers require a specific qualification.
Because the training required to become a plumber is extensive, upon completion, you will likely be qualified for all of the above plumbing roles. However, each role requires specialist knowledge and experience. By choosing which type of plumbing you want to specialise in, you can ensure you gain the necessary knowledge and skills to complete each job efficiently. Specialising in a certain type of plumbing can also help your business to gain a solid reputation in your chosen niche and can help you to acquire more work.
A plumbing business can be set up by you, with you working as the sole plumber. Alternatively, you could also hire other plumbers, either on a full-time or self-employed basis. Many plumbing businesses also choose to train apprentice plumbers, who will learn the profession of plumbing under your guidance. The more plumbers you have working for your business, the more jobs you will be able to take on at one time.
There are many different responsibilities associated with running a plumbing business, including:
- Designing plumbing systems.
- Installing, repairing and maintaining pipes, valves, fittings, drainage systems and fixtures in residential or commercial buildings.
- Collaborating with other contractors, including electricians and builders.
- Purchasing, maintaining and servicing tools and equipment.
- Surveying and analysing buildings.
- Referring to building plans and blueprints.
- Diagnosing and fixing plumbing emergencies and faults.
- Performing inspections of plumbing and drainage systems.
- Preparing cost estimates and creating budgets.
- Ordering the materials required for each job.
- Creating contracts, taking payments and providing invoices.
- Keeping accurate records of each job, including a description of the work, the time spent working, the number of workers required, and the materials used.
- Construction plumbers: This type of plumber specialises in the planning and installation of water systems, including pipes and drainage systems, for new residential or commercial buildings. They also work on building remodels where new plumbing is required.
- Installing waste removal and water systems by digging trenches and installing pipes to connect a building to the sewage system and the local water reserve.
- Ensuring plumbing systems comply with building codes and local regulations.
- Locating and repairing leaks and clearing obstructions.
- Inspecting water systems and operating test equipment.
- Advising clients on how to look after their water systems (e.g. how to prevent leaks).
- Ensuring your business complies with all health and safety regulations and legal guidelines.
- Marketing and advertising.
- Completing business and administrative tasks.
A plumber can be required to work both inside and outside, depending on the requirements of the job. It can be a physically challenging profession with a high number of legal guidelines and regulations you must ensure you comply with.
However, starting up a plumbing business can be financially rewarding, particularly because there is such as high demand for plumbers in the UK. To succeed as a plumber, you will need to have good physical skills, including physical strength, strong motor skills, good manual dexterity and coordination and good vision. You will also require good analytical and problem-solving skills and strong interpersonal communication skills, to ensure you communicate effectively with other contractors and your clients. A thorough understanding of health and safety is also necessary.
Types of Customers
Every building, whether residential or commercial, new or old, will require the services of a plumber at some point. This is because water systems always need installing, repairing, maintaining and upgrading.
However, your business may focus on a particular customer base. Defining your target market makes it easier to focus on the specific customers who are most likely to pay for your services and determine exactly where and how to market your business.
Multiple factors can influence a plumbing business’s typical customer base, including:
The type of plumbing you specialise in
You could choose to operate as a general plumber or specialise in a certain type of plumbing (e.g. commercial, residential or construction plumbing). The type of plumbing you specialise in can have a significant impact on your typical customer base. For example, a construction plumber who specialises in residential buildings can target new build houses and enter into contracts with developers who build new homes.
The location you operate in
Plumbers generally don’t want to travel long distances to complete a job, particularly as demand is usually high no matter where you are located (unless your area is oversaturated with plumbers). This means your business will likely operate close to where you live. Your typical customers are likely to be residents or businesses in your area of operation, which can give you a good indication of your typical customer base.
Although plumbers can generally charge a higher price for their services, your pricing can still influence your typical customer base.
Customers can typically be separated into different pricing tiers:
- Budget: Price is the most important factor for this type of client. They will likely be happy for you to use the cheapest materials and may choose the plumber with the lowest rates, regardless of reputation and experience.
- Mid-range: This type of client is looking for a combination of quality and affordability. Although price won’t be the most important factor, it will be a significant consideration.
- High-end: This type of client is willing to pay the highest prices for the best possible service. They will likely want the highest quality materials, the longest warranties and the best possible plumbing. They are more likely to look at your qualifications, skills and experience when considering choosing your business.
Your previous experience or any specialist skills and knowledge you have
How experienced you are, the types of plumbing jobs you have worked on previously, your training and qualifications and any specialist skills and knowledge you have can all impact your typical customer base. You can list this information on your website or other forms of advertisements, or customers may request it when speaking to you about a potential job.
The size of your business
Certain types of plumbing (e.g. commercial plumbing in a large building) will be extensive work that requires multiple plumbers or will take an extended period of time to complete. The size of your business can then affect whether you are considered by certain clients. The availability and number of hours you work can also be important factors.
Your reputation and customer reviews
This is another important factor that many people will look at. They may look at your customer reviews or decide based on recommendations.
Your reputation and reviews will likely be based on multiple factors, such as:
- The quality of your work.
- How you interacted and communicated with clients.
- How long a job took and whether you adhered to the agreed-upon time frame.
- Your pricing.
Equipment You Will Need
Equipment is an essential purchase, as without it you will not be able to run your business. The types and amount of equipment you require will depend on the type of plumbing you specialise in and the size of your business (e.g. whether your business will be working on multiple jobs at the same time).
Below is a list of equipment typically required by a plumbing business.
Some of the plumbing equipment you may require includes:
A van not only allows you to travel between different jobs, but it also allows you to transport any of the equipment you will need. To help your business gain exposure, you should install adhesive door and body panels onto your van with your business name and logo, your contact information and the typical services you offer. If you have multiple plumbers working for your business and plan to work on different jobs at the same time, you may require more than one van.
Spanners have a variety of uses in plumbing, including tightening and loosening nuts and fittings on pipes. You will likely need different spanners for different tasks.
Some of the spanners you could opt for include:
- Pipe spanners, such as:
– Straight pipe spanners.
– End pipe spanners.
– Offset pipe spanners.
– Strap pipe spanners.
- Sink spanners.
- Open-end spanners.
- Adjustable spanners.
- Plumbing keys.
This is a type of saw used for cutting pipes and plastic to the correct length. It is a saw with a narrow, fine-toothed blade that is particularly adept at cutting metal. It is a hand-powered saw (meaning it is controlled by a person rather than electricity). Hacksaws can also be used for cutting through nuts, bolts and screws.
Tubing cutter and pipe cutter
These tools are used to cut through plastic tubing and metal pipes to ensure they are the desired length. They cut through in a circular motion, creating a smooth cut. Cutters give more control, compared to saws, and can create a faster, cleaner cut in a more convenient and less laborious way.
A hole saw
Hole saws create perfectly round large-diameter holes in a variety of materials, including light metals, plastics, unalloyed steel, wood and plasterboard. They generally create larger holes than a drill.
Also known as mole grips, these are a type of metal plier that can be locked in place. They are used to hold metal parts securely in place, for example, when you are using your plumber’s torch to seal copper pipe.
Pipe and tube benders
These tools are used to shape and bend a variety of different piping and tubing to create the desired angles and bends without distorting the material. There are different bending tools to choose from, depending on the degree of angle required and the diameter of the pipe or tube you are working with.
Pliers are used for stabilising, tightening and loosening pipes. Pliers are more versatile than other tools as they can be adjusted to different sizes and can allow you to create a strong grip.
There are different types of pliers you could choose including:
- Rib-joint pliers.
- Water pump pliers.
- Tongue-in-groove pliers.
- Adjustable pliers.
Screwdrivers are an essential tool for plumbers and can have a variety of uses.
You may require different types of screwdrivers for different tasks:
- Flathead screwdrivers.
- Star and plus-shaped screwdrivers.
- Allen keys.
- Stubby screwdrivers.
This is a simple piece of equipment that can be beneficial in your toolbox. Plungers can help you to relieve blockages, particularly over a sink hole, drain hole or toilet. Plungers are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.
A plumbing torch
A plumbing torch is a type of handheld propane torch that is used to solder copper water pipes. The torch applies heat to a precise area of piping, allowing you to seal new piping to use for installs and replacements. You can upgrade your torch to include a higher-quality torch head with interchangeable tips and a regulator to control the gas pressure.
A pipe reamer
This is a symmetrical tool with a straight, twisted or spiral-fluted cutting surface that is used to finish holes to an extremely precise diameter. They are used to finish holes that have been drilled and to bevel or remove burrs from the inside of pipes.
Press fittings are used to securely connect pipes without using heating-based methods (such as soldering). These fittings do not need to be welded to the pipe and are instead pressed into place using special power tools that create a solid joint between the press fitting and the pipe.
You can opt for:
- Copper press fittings.
- Iron pipe size (IPS) press fittings.
PEX pipe expanders and fittings
Cross-linked polyethene (PEX) is a type of fitting that is commonly used in residential hot and cold water supply lines, as well as in radiant heating and cooling systems, fire suppression systems and ice melting systems. PEX is less prone to freezing compared to copper pipes and usually retails at a lower cost.
An acid flux brush
This is a special type of brush that is used to apply special liquid or paste to copper pipes before they are soldered. It can be used on pipes of different sizes and diameters.
If you cut pipes, metal files can be used to smooth out any rough edges, making them smoother, reducing the chances of leaks and making them safer to handle. The files can be used on both metal and plastic piping.
A putty knife
This tool is required if you work with putty. It can also be used to apply and remove caulk and toilet wax residue.
You can’t always rely on the building you are working on having a bucket to catch any water, for example, if you are removing a piece of piping. Even if you turn the water off beforehand, there is still a possibility that water will leak from the piping you are working on. Having your own bucket is, therefore, recommended.
Thread sealing tape
Also known as plumbing tape, this can be used to seal pipe threads to prevent leaks in piping or patch up an existing leak. The thread will need to be cut to a specific width and then wound tightly around the pipe threads, creating a watertight seal.
A hand auger
This is a type of tool that is used for shallow digging, for example, if you are opening a clogged drain or removing blockages, such as hair, from a plughole. Hand augers are usually operated by a crank or attached to the end of a drill to power the movement. You could also opt for a snake machine auger, which is a thin, flexible auger used to clear difficult clogs.
A hydro jetting machine
This machine is highly effective in clearing up drains and sewer lines. It comes with a variety of attachments and can blast high-speed, high-pressure water into the pipe system to clear any blockages.
This is an essential piece of equipment for a plumber as you may be required to work in dark spaces and poorly lit areas. A torch can help you to get a better view, for example, if you are looking under a sink, down a drain or are working in a room such as a basement. Opt for a high-performance LED torch to improve your visibility.
A drain inspection camera
This is a special type of camera that is small and flexible. It is attached to a cable and plumbers place them inside drains to investigate the source of the problem. The camera can be threaded down the drain or plughole to find the point of the blockage or break to quickly identify the issue and figure out how to fix it.
A flow rate calculator
This is a special type of calculator used in plumbing which can help you to calculate the average volumetric flow rate of water through piping based on the different variables (length, pressure and bore diameter).
A pipe volume calculator
This calculator is used to work out the volume of a specific pipe (based on its inner diameter and length) and the weight of the water inside the pipe. It can help you to work out the capacity of the piping.
Some other equipment you may require in your plumbing business includes:
Because you will be working with potentially dangerous equipment and could encounter many potential hazards in your job (including bacteria and chemicals), safety equipment is essential.
Some of the safety equipment you may require includes:
- Heat-insulating gloves.
- Goggles or safety glasses.
- Heat face shields.
- Hard hats or safety helmets.
- Ear protection (e.g. noise cancelling headphones).
- Reflective, high-visibility clothing.
- Steel toe-capped boots.
- Face masks.
- Long-sleeved tops and long trousers.
- Strap-on knee pads.
Plumbing business software can have a variety of uses, including:
- Scheduling plumbing jobs.
- Organising and managing daily operations.
- Creating, tracking and sending invoices.
- Managing payments.
- Accessing customer information.
- Payroll tool.
Depending on the business software you opt for, you could also have tools for increasing your revenue, including booking tools and marketing tools. Many types of business software come with a mobile application for easy access on the go.
A website is useful for advertising your business and will likely act as your primary advertising strategy. Your website should list the types of services you offer, descriptions of your previous work, the areas and locations you operate in and your contact information. You should also include your qualifications and experience. Design your website to include your business logo and to reflect your branding.
Brochures, leaflets and business cards
These items are essential to your marketing and advertising strategies. These items should look professional, be made using high-quality materials and fit the design and aesthetic of your business. Ensure all of these items feature your contact information so potential clients can get in touch with you.
A business phone
A business phone will enable you to communicate with your clients and be contacted by potential clients. Your business phone number should be advertised on your website and any leaflets or business cards you use.
A transportable fully stocked first aid kit
Accidents and injuries can easily occur in this type of environment. Some injuries will be minor and can be treated onsite. Others may require medical intervention but initial treatment using items in a first aid kit can reduce the severity of the injury. Ensure your first aid kit is stocked with items to treat cuts, burns and sprains.
When you are creating your business plan, an important consideration you will need to make is your expected start-up costs and running costs. Calculating your expected costs allows you to determine your initial investment requirements, your pricing strategy and your profit goals.
There are multiple costs associated with setting up and running a plumbing business. Some of these costs will be one-off initial costs that you will need to pay when you are setting up your business. Other costs will be ongoing costs you will need to pay regularly – usually weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.
Although the costs can vary, some of the typical costs you can expect are:
Your equipment will likely be your biggest expenditure when setting up your business. Your equipment costs can vary, depending on the type of services you offer your clients and how much equipment you require. To reduce your start-up costs, you could buy only essential equipment initially and then purchase more equipment as your business grows. You can expect to spend between £3,000 and £30,000 on equipment.
Maintaining, repairing and replacing equipment
Repairs, maintenance and replacements are ongoing costs you will need to factor into your budget. Although some of your equipment and machinery will come with warranties or guarantees, repairs and replacements are inevitable because much of your equipment will experience heavy usage and will be regularly exposed to water and chemicals. Effectively cleaning and maintaining equipment and ensuring it is used correctly can extend its life, but potential repairs and replacements should still be factored into your budget.
A van will likely be the most convenient type of vehicle for your business. The price of a van can vary significantly, depending on the make and model and whether it is new or second-hand. Keep in mind that if you work on multiple jobs at the same time, you may require multiple vehicles. The cost of a van can begin at £5,000 (for a second-hand vehicle). For a new van, expect to pay at least £30,000. You may also need to pay additional costs to apply adhesive panels to your van to advertise your business.
Vehicle running costs
Your vehicle running costs include your vehicle insurance, petrol, MOT, services and the costs of any repairs. These costs can vary significantly, depending on the age and condition of your vehicle, the level of insurance you choose and the amount of travel you need to do. Typically, you can expect to pay between £50 and £200 per month.
Materials for customers
Although these costs will be absorbed by your customers and will be included in your invoice, you may have to initially front these costs yourself (depending on whether your customers pay before or after the work is completed). Some of the equipment you may need to purchase includes radiators, pipes, boilers and nuts and bolts. Ensure you have the available finances to purchase these items or create a payment policy that involves the client covering all costs upfront.
Your business website
Your business website will act as your primary advertising and marketing tool, allowing potential customers to find your business online. Your website should be functional, easy to use, attractive and search engine optimised, to ensure it ranks highly on search engines, such as Google. Your website will need regular monitoring, updating and upgrading. You also need to make sure your website is secure, particularly if you will be collecting any customer information. You may choose to set up and run your website yourself or hire someone to do this for you. You can expect to pay between £20 and £100 per hour for someone to set up and run your website.
If you hire any staff to work for your business on a permanent basis (rather than as an independent contractor or on a self-employed basis), you will need to pay them at least the national minimum wage. However, keep in mind that qualified plumbers will expect a higher wage. You will also need to account for other expenses such as holiday pay, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, National Insurance and any company pension contributions.
When creating your brand identity, consider how you want your business to be perceived by potential customers. When creating your brand, consider the type of plumbing services you offer and your typical customer base. Branding can include creating your business’s visual identity, design and aesthetic, your business name and logo and your website. You could hire a professional to help you with branding or do some or all of the work yourself. Branding can cost between £500 and £10,000, depending on the level of work required.
Marketing and advertising
To ensure your plumbing business attracts customers and creates maximum profits, you will need to spend money on advertising and marketing. It is recommended that you spend between 1%-3% of your annual turnover on marketing. For example, if your annual turnover (or your desired annual turnover) is £60,000, you should spend between £600 and £1,800 on advertising and marketing. You may need to invest more money when you initially set up your business or when you are trying to grow your business. To reduce your costs, capitalise on free marketing strategies, such as on social media or in your local community. You can also advertise on your website, on your van, and through leaflets, posters and business cards.
There are several types of coverage you could choose for your plumbing business. Prices can vary depending on your insurance provider and the level of coverage you choose.
Business insurance typically chosen by plumbers includes:
- Public Liability Insurance.
- Employers’ Liability Insurance.
- Professional Indemnity Insurance.
- Tools, Materials and Business Equipment Cover.
- Financial Loss Cover.
- Personal Accident Cover.
- Accidental Death Cover.
- Legal Expenses.
- Business Interruption Insurance.
Insurance costs can vary depending on your insurance provider and the level of coverage you require. Prices typically start at £10 per month.
Typical Pricing for Customers
Once you have calculated the expected costs associated with setting up and running your plumbing business, you can then determine your pricing.
You may choose to charge your customers per hour or per day or calculate a set fee based on the size and complexity of the job. As a self-employed business owner, you will have the flexibility to set your own rates. However, you will need to ensure your pricing is in line with the type of plumbing you do and your local competition.
When setting your prices, there are multiple factors you should consider:
- The type of plumbing work you do (e.g. commercial installations).
- The type of work (e.g. installation or repairs).
- The complexity of the job.
- How long the job will take.
- How many plumbers or apprentices are required.
- Whether any specific tools or equipment will be required.
- Your experience and skill set.
- Your business’s reputation.
- Your location.
- Your competition and the demand for your services.
The average salary for a plumber in the UK is currently £18.57 per hour, although this can vary depending on where your business is located. For example, plumbers in London earn £21.51 per hour, on average. However, more experienced plumbers can charge significantly higher prices.
Safely Running a Plumbing Business
Safe practices in your plumbing business can help to protect the health, safety and well-being of you and your employees, as well as protect the building you are working in.
Some ways you can safely run your plumbing business include:
Formal qualifications are not a legal requirement to become a plumber in the UK. However, because of the extensive health and safety requirements and the large number of potential hazards, formal qualifications are recommended to ensure you operate safely. Qualifications can also make your business more attractive to potential clients.
There are several different options for obtaining qualifications, such as:
- Level 1 Diploma in Plumbing.
- Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Plumbing and Domestic Heating.
- T Level in Building Services Engineering for Construction.
- Intermediate or Advanced Apprenticeship in Plumbing.
Complete training courses
As well as formal qualifications, health and safety training courses can help your business follow safe practices at all times.
Some training courses you could opt for include:
- Health and Safety Level 2.
- Legionella and Legionnaires’ Disease Awareness.
- Asbestos Awareness.
- COSHH Awareness.
- Workplace First Aid.
- Working at Height.
- HACCP Level 3.
- Confined Spaces.
- Assessing Risk.
- Lone Working.
Obtain a criminal record check
Because your profession could require you to enter people’s homes or buildings where children are present (such as schools) it is recommended that you apply for a criminal record check.
The type of check you require depends on the country you live in:
- England: Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Wales: Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Scotland: Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme.
- Northern Ireland: AccessNI.
Join a professional body
Joining a professional plumbing body, federation or association can help you to keep up to date with any changes in legislation, standards or codes, can keep you up to date with new technology, equipment and industry changes and can help to enhance your skills.
There are multiple professional bodies and associations, including:
- Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE).
- Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC).
- Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employer’s Federation (SNIPEF).
- Fair Trades – Plumbers’ Association.
Properly maintain and set up equipment
Any equipment you use must be properly maintained, correctly set up and safe to use. You must protect yourself and your employees from accidents or injuries caused by equipment. You should also perform regular equipment inspections to ensure your equipment’s safety and help extend the lifespan of your equipment. Maintenance includes regularly checking for faults, regular cleaning and ensuring equipment is functioning correctly.
Properly maintain and set up equipment
Any equipment you use in your business must be properly maintained, correctly set up and safe to use. You must protect yourself, your employees and your customers from accidents or injuries caused by equipment. You should also perform regular equipment inspections to ensure your equipment’s safety and help extend the lifespan of your equipment. Maintenance includes dusting, cleaning and washing equipment regularly and checking it is functioning correctly.
Carry out risk assessments
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for businesses with more than five employees. However, even if your business has fewer than five employees, risk assessments are still recommended to ensure the safety of you, your staff and your customers. Risk assessments can help you to identify any potential hazards and risks in your business and how these can be reduced or eliminated.
As part of your risk assessment, you should:
- Identify hazards.
- Determine who could be at risk.
- Evaluate any potential risks.
- Implement relevant safety measures.
- Record the results of the risk assessment.
- Review the risk assessment regularly.
Use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE can help to protect you and your employees from obtaining an injury at work. Some of the PPE you may require includes protective headwear, face shields, steel toe-capped boots, goggles and gloves.
Keep a fully stocked first aid kit
If someone has an accident or sustains a minor injury, it may not be serious enough to warrant medical intervention. Instead, you may be able to offer treatment yourself. Having a first aid kit that is checked and replenished regularly and is easily accessible is recommended.
Pay attention to noise hazards
Noise levels can sometimes be high when working on a building site or completing a plumbing job. Measure noise levels and make sure you are aware of noise levels that are too high. Have a protocol in place that all employees follow if they are being exposed to noise hazards (for example, wearing protective ear coverings or taking regular breaks).
Complying with legal requirements is essential when setting up and running a plumbing business.
Failure to comply with legal requirements could not only result in an accident or injury, but you could also face consequences such as a warning, a fine, the forced closure of your business or, in serious circumstances, prosecution.
Some of the legal guidelines you should be aware of include:
Comply with the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999
These regulations are designed to stop the waste, misuse, undue consumption, erroneous measurements and contamination of the drinking water supply. If you work on a premises that has a public water supply connection or are working on a mains water supply, you must adhere to the standard covering the specification and installation of pipes and water fittings.
Join the Gas Safe Register
If you plan to work on any gas equipment or gas appliances, including boilers and pipes that carry natural gases and liquified petroleum gas (LPG), you must ensure you are registered on the Gas Safety Register to certify that you are qualified. Once you have registered, you will be issued an ID card. To remain on the register, your competence will need to be assessed at least every five years.
Apply for a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card
If you plan to work on a construction site, you will need to apply for a CSCS card for plumbers. This card proves you have the appropriate training and qualifications to work onsite, and without it you are not legally allowed to be present on a building site. The plumbing industry is now beginning to adopt CSCS cards as standard. To obtain your card, you will need to take the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test. You will need to renew your card every five years.
Join a Competent Persons Scheme
A competent person scheme allows you to self-certify certain types of building work as a plumber.
Types of plumbing work that are covered by the scheme include:
- Plumbing, heating and water systems.
- Ventilation and air conditioning systems.
- Bathroom facilities.
- Electrical safety.
- Boilers and heating controls.
If you are not registered on a relevant scheme, you may need to have your work approved by a building inspector.
Apply for an Asbestos licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Asbestos Licensing Unit
You may need to apply for an Asbestos Licence if you intend to do any work that could potentially involve asbestos. This includes any work in old buildings or removing old insulation around piping. One-year and three-year licences are available, and you will need to ensure you renew your licence within the timeframe. If you encounter asbestos as part of your work, it is recommended that you contact a licensed asbestos specialist to handle the safe removal of the asbestos.
Comply with the Consumer Rights Act 2015
The Consumer Rights Act is designed to protect customers from substandard work and overpriced services. It refers to the selling, terms and condition and supply of services to ensure consumers are better informed and better protected.
Under this Act, your customers have the right to:
- Request that substandard work is redone or receive a price reduction.
- Challenge unfair small-print terms, conditions and costs.
- Reject work if the tradesperson (you) used their one chance to redo the service ineffectively.
Comply with legislation if employing an apprentice
If you employ an apprentice plumber, there are specific legal guidelines (England) you will need to comply with, including:
- The apprentice must be aged 16 or over.
- You must pay at least the national minimum wage for apprentices (based on their age and the year of their apprenticeship).
- The apprentice must work with experienced staff and learn job-specific skills.
- The apprentice must be given the necessary time off during the working week for their apprenticeship training.
- You must create an apprenticeship service account.
- You must sign an apprenticeship agreement with your apprentice.
- You must sign a training plan with your apprentice and the training provider.
- The apprentice must be offered the same conditions as other employees (e.g. paid holidays and sick pay).
Apply for a skip licence
If you want to put a skip on a public road, you will need to apply for a skip licence from your local council (if your business is located in England or Wales). Many skip hire companies take responsibility for obtaining the necessary licences, but it is your responsibility to check that a licence is in place before you use a skip. Remember that skips cannot be placed on pavements and that you may need to put safety lights or markings around the skip.
Apply for a waste carrier registration
If your business transports waste or arranges for someone else to dispose of waste (for example, old piping), you will need to apply for a waste carrier registration. You will need to register as a lower-tier waste carrier if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland or a professional collector or transporter of waste if you live in Scotland.
You can apply for your registration with the following governing bodies:
- England: The Environment Agency.
- Wales: Natural Resources.
- Scotland: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
- Northern Ireland: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Comply with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998
PUWER regulations apply to you and any employees you hire. You must ensure any equipment is fit for purpose and is maintained and inspected regularly. You must also ensure that health and safety risks are minimised to an acceptable level, that you have the correct knowledge and training to use the equipment, and that protective measures are put into place. You must also ensure the equipment is used under appropriate conditions. PUWER covers all equipment, including electrical and handheld equipment.
Comply with the Work at Height Regulations (2005)
The Work at Height Regulations are designed to prevent death or injury caused by a fall from height. If you are ever working above ground level, for example on a ladder, you will be classed as working at height. Plumbers sometimes work above ground level to reach piping or guttering. Working at height incorrectly can result in serious injury and even death, so you will need to ensure your business complies with the regulations at all times, for example:
- Avoid working at height where possible.
- Minimise the distance and consequences of a fall.
- Ensure any work at height is properly planned and supervised and carried out by competent people.
- Ensure you use the correct equipment when working at height.
Comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations
The COSHH regulations state that you must control any potentially hazardous substances. You must appropriately assess, control and reduce any risks or potential hazards and protect people from harm. COSHH can apply to hazards such as lead, sulphur dioxide, asbestos, silica, mould, solvents, solders and dust.
Comply with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013
RIDDOR states that you must report all injuries, diseases and dangerous events that occur in your business. Reports must be made to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) using an appropriate recording document. As injuries may be more likely in a plumbing business, because you will be working with potentially dangerous tools and hazardous items, appropriate recording can help you to recognise any mistakes or patterns and prevent future injuries.
Comply with the Manual Handling Regulations (1992)
Manual handling is an inevitable part of a plumber’s responsibilities. You will be handling heavy equipment, large, heavy materials (such as pipes), bending down and reaching high and using repetitive movements (such as cutting or sawing), all of which could result in pain or injury. Following manual handling regulations can help to protect you and your employees from sustaining an injury or illness as a result of manual handling tasks.
Comply with invoice or receipt guidelines
You may make it standard that you send all of your customers an e-receipt or invoice once they make a payment to your business. Even if you don’t make it standard, many customers will request receipts or invoices.
You must include certain information in any invoices you create, such as:
- The word ‘invoice’ and a unique invoice number.
- Your business name and address.
- The customer’s name and address.
- A brief description of your work.
- The total you are charging the customer and when the payment is due.
- The payment method.
Prepare a health and safety policy
The law states that every business in the UK must have a specific policy for managing health and safety. Your policy should state exactly how you will manage health and safety in your business, who is responsible for specific tasks and how and when these tasks are completed.
Appoint a competent person
A competent person should be appointed to help your business meet your health and safety legal duties. You can act in this role yourself or appoint another person to fulfil this role. The competent person should have the skills, knowledge and experience to identify any hazards in your business and put controls in place to protect people from harm.
Comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act (DPA)
You must comply with both pieces of legislation when storing or sharing personal information, such as your customers’ personal information, contact details and banking information. You must also apply for a Notification to Process Personal Data Licence. If you process or store personal information such as personal details and banking information, you will need to apply for a licence with the Information Commissioner’s Office and renew your registration every year.
Comply with employment legislation
You must ensure you follow employment legislation, including the Employment Rights Act (1996) and the National Minimum Wage Act (1998). You must also comply with legislation relating to recruitment, working hours, sickness, discrimination, dismissals, and maternity or paternity pay.
Ensure your website complies with the guidelines
If you set up a business website, there are several guidelines you need to comply with, including:
- Privacy policies.
- Cookie legislation.
- Service descriptions.
Under the Equality Act (2010) you must also make reasonable adjustments to your website to ensure it is accessible to people with disabilities.
Comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (1992)
Under these regulations, if your business has five or more employees you must ensure you conduct appropriate risk assessments, minimise any risks and maintain all equipment. You must also make sure high levels of cleanliness are maintained.
Appoint a first-aider
All workplaces in the UK must have an appointed first-aider. In the event of an accident or injury, you will then be able to administer the necessary first aid. Although a first aid qualification or certificate is not legally required, it is the easiest way to demonstrate your first aid training.
Register your business
You must register your business with HMRC before you begin operating. You can register as a sole trader or as a limited company. You will need to register your business name and any other relevant information.
Register for self-assessment tax
This allows you to calculate and pay your own taxes each year. You will need to track your finances every month and submit any expenses as part of your tax assessment.
As part of your tax responsibilities, you must:
- Record all forms of income and expenses.
- Complete an annual self-assessment tax return.
- Register for VAT if you earn above the threshold (currently £85,000).
- Pay National Insurance contributions.
- Keep a record of your business accounts for the previous five years.
Positives of Owning a Plumbing Business
Owning a plumbing business can be rewarding in many ways.
Some of the main pros associated with this type of business are:
Helping your customers
Plumbing emergencies can be highly stressful for many people. Knowing that your work can help people when they are in need and help to protect their homes and livelihoods can be extremely rewarding. Your business can have a positive effect on the lives of your customers and this can be very gratifying.
Plumbers are constantly in high demand. A significant shortage of plumbers in the UK means that there will be a constant demand for your services. You will be able to pick and choose the jobs you accept and charge a higher rate. Being a skilled tradesperson with high job security allows you to focus on growing your business and maximising your profits.
Specialise in your field
You will have the option to specialise in a particular type of plumbing (such as industrial plumbing or residential installations). This allows you to become an expert in your field and develop a strong reputation. Being considered an expert or a specialist plumber will make your business more attractive to potential customers and allow you to charge higher prices.
Every day is different
Every day you will be working on different jobs and carrying out different tasks, from installations to repairs to responding to emergencies. You will also spend time meeting with your customers, planning your jobs, investigating issues and working with other contractors. Varied work keeps your profession interesting and stops you from getting bored with your work.
Connect with other people
Some people think of plumbing as being a lonely trade, particularly if you work by yourself. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You will be working with other plumbers, apprentices and different contractors and tradespeople. You will also spend time communicating with your customers. You will have the opportunity to create beneficial business relationships and personal connections with people from all different walks of life.
High wages with no student debt
Plumbers earn a good hourly and annual wage with lower educational requirements compared to other high-paying jobs. You do not need to go to university and can learn the trade as an apprentice while still getting paid. Starting your career with no debt can help you to begin building your personal finances early.
As a plumber, you will have plenty of opportunities to advance your career and your skills. Using the expertise and skills you have learned, you can utilise career advancement opportunities to help you grow your business. For example, you can apply for your Gas Safe Registration, pursue further studies and apply for self-certification.
You will be physically active
Plumbers are very physically active. You will be on your feet for a lot of the day, carrying heavy loads and exercising as you go. Plumbers typically have good upper body strength and maintain good physical fitness without even needing to go to the gym.
Pride in what you do
Plumbers are an essential workforce that is necessary for the health, safety and comfort of people all over the country. Your work helps to bring clean water into homes and businesses and remove wastewater safely so that people are not exposed to diseases or infections. You will also be involved in helping people set up new homes or make improvements to their homes. Being involved in making people safe and happy can be a great source of pride.
Control your own workload
You can choose how many jobs to accept at one time and set your own working hours and take holidays whenever you want. You can choose whether to work weekdays or weekends and run your business around your personal life. As your business grows and you hire more plumbers and apprentices, you could also choose to take a step back and hand over a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities.
Customer retention and customer recommendations
People tend to use the same plumber every time and will recommend that plumber to their friends, family and neighbours. This represents an easy way for you to gain clients and grow your business. Customer recommendations can help you to grow your business and maximise your profits.
Opportunities for growth
A plumbing business has high scalability, meaning that it has the opportunity and capacity to expand and grow easily. Once your original business plan succeeds, you can grow your business, for example, by hiring more plumbers, training apprentices and expanding your customer reach. You will already have positive relationships with contractors and suppliers and can utilise these relationships to help you grow your business with minimal stress.
Work in your local community
Many plumbers work in their local area as it is more convenient and reduces their travel time and travel costs. You can create positive connections with people and businesses in your local area and become an important part of your community that people respect and rely on.
Use your skills at home
Having plumbing skills can be extremely beneficial for fixing any issue or dealing with emergencies at home. You can also install your own water systems and kitchen and bathroom appliances. You can also use your skills and knowledge to help your friends and family, which can be very rewarding.
Unlimited income potential
The more experience and exposure you gain, the more successful your business will be. As your business grows and you develop a good reputation, you will see your profits grow. You can even charge higher prices and hire more staff and expand your business to increase your profits. A plumbing business can have a high income and your profit margins are likely to be high. With a good business plan and strategy for growth, your business could have unlimited income potential.
Be your own boss
There are multiple ways you can run your business and maximise your profits. As the business owner you decide the type of plumbing business you set up. You can choose the employees you hire, choose the customers and jobs you accept, choose whether to expand your business and decide exactly how to run your business. You can make the best decisions for you and your business.
Negatives of Owning a Plumbing Business
Although working as a plumber can be rewarding in many ways, there are some potential cons to running this type of business:
No matter how careful you are, there is a multitude of potential hazards and dangers when working as a plumber. From potentially dangerous equipment and working conditions to the potential exposure to asbestos, legionella, hazardous chemicals and biohazards such as sewage. There are also other hazards associated with working in confined spaces, working at height and working in wet conditions. Working as a plumber could result in injuries, illness or even death. The rate of injury in the plumbing profession is significantly higher than in other industries.
Plumbing can be extremely physically demanding and can take a toll on your body. Your job involves high levels of manual handling, you will be on your feet for a lot of the day, handling bulky or heavy machinery and materials, handling dangerous equipment and working in cramped spaces. This can be physically demanding on your body and result in pain, strain or injury.
The high level of concentration needed for your job can also result in fatigue and lapses in concentration, which can make it more likely that mistakes will happen. You will also need to ensure you are hyperaware of any potential hazards or health and safety risks, which can be both exhausting and stressful.
Long, irregular hours
Many plumbers don’t work a typical 9-5, Monday to Friday. Instead, they may have to be available to work evenings and weekends, when their customers are home, or be available to respond to out-of-hours emergencies. A plumber’s working hours can also be long, which can be physically and emotionally demanding. Long, irregular hours can have a negative impact on your health and your personal life.
High labour costs
Plumbing jobs can be labour-intensive, particularly if you are working on a large building or the job is complex. This could mean you have to hire several workers, which can increase your costs, or partner with independent contractors, which can reduce your profits. If you hire staff, you will also be responsible for training them, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
Complying with legislation
This industry is highly regulated, with a large number of laws and regulations you must be aware of. You need to ensure you follow all policies and procedures, particularly those relating to health and safety. Not only can it be time-consuming to ensure compliance, but failure to comply, even unintentionally, could have serious consequences. A plumbing business can have high liability which can be a lot of stress and pressure for the business owner.
Unpleasant sights and smells
As part of your job, you may need to assess issues and blockages that have been caused by human waste, hair, dirt and food. You may also be exposed to sewage and other health hazards. Exposure to negative sights and smells is a major, but unavoidable, downfall of working as a plumber.
Training can take several years
Even though you don’t have to go to university, training can take several years. A plumbing apprenticeship takes between 3 and 4 years and requires you to complete assessments and take examinations. During this time, you will only be on an apprenticeship wage, which is significantly lower than the normal minimum wage – even though you will effectively be working full-time.
A male-dominated profession
In the UK, 99% of tradespeople (including plumbers) are men. Although female tradespeople are on the rise, working in such as male-dominated industry can be difficult for non-male workers. It can feel like it is difficult to prove yourself. Some people think non-male plumbers do not have the physical strength or skills to succeed in this profession and this can be stressful and disheartening.
It can be unpredictable
You’ll never know what to expect from one day to the next and although some people enjoy this, it can also be stressful. Emergencies can happen at any time of the day or night and things can very quickly go wrong on a job you are working on. Things out of your control can have a huge impact on your work, such as the weather or previously shoddy work, and this can affect your time frame and result in delays. Handling the unpredictable can be stressful and can affect your business, particularly if you are working with demanding clients.
Working under pressure
Working in high-pressure situations can be extremely stressful for everyone involved. As the business owner, you are responsible for staying calm and collected, which can be difficult when customers or other contractors become impatient, demanding or difficult.
If there is an issue during a job you are working on, even if it is something out of your control, you may be held liable. If a pipe bursts and the water damage destroys a building or if an employee, client or another visitor to a site becomes injured (particularly if the injury occurs during a high-risk task, when using potentially dangerous equipment or because of the ongoing work your business is doing), your business may be held liable.
It can be difficult to build a reputation
A good reputation is key in this industry, as many customers look at your reviews or ask for recommendations from others when searching for a plumber. This can make it difficult for you to establish your business and grow your customer base. Difficulties in growing your client base will result in a reduced income and could affect your ability to continue pursuing your business.
A lot of skill, knowledge and experience is required
To help your business succeed, you will need to be highly proficient in a variety of skills and will need to have a lot of experience working in the plumbing industry. You will also need a high level of knowledge about different plumbing jobs and a strong understanding of health and safety legislation. It can be time-consuming to gain the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to make your business succeed.
It can be demanding
Not only can running a plumbing business be mentally and physically demanding but as the business owner you will have a lot of additional responsibilities, such as advertising, complying with health and safety requirements, maintaining equipment, liaising with clients and admin tasks. You will also be solely responsible for ensuring your business succeeds.
Some clients can be difficult and demanding and have unrealistic expectations of you. For example, they may have an unrealistic time frame or unrealistic budget that you cannot adhere to. They may then complain and you may feel like you have to try and appease them to avoid a negative review, even if it affects your profits. Trying to deal with this type of client can be stressful and time-consuming and can have a negative effect on your business.
It can be stressful
Not only will you have a lot of day-to-day responsibility, but you will also be responsible for ensuring each job is completed to perfection and that your clients are completely happy. You will also be responsible for managing your employees and ordering materials. Running a plumbing business and ensuring your business succeeds can be very stressful.
As you are self-employed, you won’t receive benefits such as pension contributions. You will also be responsible for doing your own taxes and organising your National Insurance contributions. You will also have a lack of job security.
Your business could fail
Starting up your own business can be risky. Many new businesses fail which could result in you losing money or getting into debt. Your business could fail for several reasons, such as high local competition, an ineffective business plan or if there is another recession or a period of financial difficulty.
Planning Your Plumbing Business
If you are considering starting up a plumbing business, an effective and well-designed business plan is essential. A business plan can help you to focus on the specific steps that will help your business succeed, plan your short-term and long-term goals, determine your financial needs and help your business to grow.
Your business plan should contain information such as:
- Your company information.
- Your company description.
- The services you will provide.
- Your branding, marketing and advertising plan.
- The structure of your business.
- The operational plan for your business.
- The financial plan for your business.
When creating your business plan, some factors you will need to take into consideration include:
The type of plumbing you will specialise in
This is the first consideration you will need to make when planning your business. You may choose not to specialise and offer general plumbing services, or you may choose to focus on a certain speciality, such as construction or service and repair. Consider your own skills, training and experience and the demand for different plumbing services when deciding what type of plumbing you will specialise in.
Hiring plumbers and apprentices and partnering with independent contractors
Your staffing is an important consideration you will need to make. Will you hire permanent employees to work for your business or hire plumbers on a self-employed basis? Will you train apprentice plumbers in your business? Your employee requirements could change as your business evolves and grows.
Your target market
Determining your target market is a key step in helping your business succeed. Different types of plumbing services will attract different customers. Some other factors that can influence your target market are the plumbing jobs you specialise in, your reputation, your skills and your pricing strategy. Once you have identified your target market, you can then focus on how to attract them to your business.
Your local competition
Being aware of your competition is an important step to ensuring the success of your business. Analysing your competition allows you to look at what they do well and what you think can be improved upon. Look at the plumbing services your competition offers, their pricing, their target market and the number of employees they have. Analysing your competition also identifies whether there is space in the market for your business, for example, if there is already a successful emergency plumber operating in your area, you can focus your business on a different target market.
Your brand and your unique selling point (USP)
Creating your brand is a key way to ensure you stand out from your local competition. Branding can help you to focus your target audience, attract clients and concentrate your marketing and advertising strategies. Some ways you can create your brand are by focusing on your business’s visual identity (e.g. your business name and logo and your website) and creating a brand story. Your USP can also be part of your brand and can help your business stand out from your competitors. Consider what makes your business special and how this fits into what defines your business.
Your advertising and marketing strategies
There are many ways you can choose to advertise your business. This can include partnering with other businesses in your area, advertising in your local community, advertising on social media and using paid online ads. Your marketing and advertising plan should detail what your brand is and how you plan to promote your business. As part of your marketing strategy, consider the most effective ways to reach your target audience and attract potential customers. Create an advertising plan that is specific to the type of plumbing business you are going to run and how you plan to operate.
Your equipment requirements
Consult the list above to determine your equipment requirements. The equipment you require will depend on the type of plumbing business you set up and the size of your business. Once you have determined your equipment requirements, you can then calculate the initial costs of purchasing the equipment. Remember, you can purchase less equipment initially and expand your equipment as your business grows.
Your start-up costs and running costs
Consult the list above to calculate your approximate start-up costs and running costs. Determining your approximate costs allows you to calculate your initial investment and what your monthly or yearly running costs will be. You can then calculate whether you can finance your business yourself. Being aware of your expected costs also allows you to create a budget, which is a key part of your business plan. Once you have calculated your approximate costs, you can then calculate your pricing policy and determine your profit forecast.
Financing your business
Consult the list of start-up costs and running costs above to determine what capital you will require. Can you finance the business yourself or will you need to source outside investment? You will also need to calculate when you are likely to begin turning a profit. If you require outside investment, you could consider a bank or other financial institution, a business loan or an investment partner.
Your pricing policy
How will you price your services (e.g. per hour, per day or per job)? If you are pricing per job, what factors will influence your price (e.g. time frame, number of plumbers required)? Consider the pricing of your competitors when setting your own prices. When creating your policy, you will also need to decide when payment will be due. For example, will your clients make full payment before work begins on the project, will you accept split payments, or will payment be made once the project is complete?
Your sales forecast
How many jobs can you take on at one time? Are there certain times of the year that are likely to be busier than others? What are your weekly, monthly and annual sales forecasts? You can also analyse the sales forecasts of similar businesses and look at how sales vary throughout the year to estimate demand. As your business grows, your sales forecast is likely to change.
Your strategy for growth
Your strategy for growth is the actions you will take to realise your goals for expansion and any potential challenges your business could face and how you will avoid or overcome them. This can help to make your business more successful.
Potential challenges could include:
- Difficulties developing your reputation.
- Delays in obtaining materials.
Some potential strategies for growth include:
- Hire more plumbers.
- Work on multiple jobs at one time.
- Take on larger projects.
Your business summary
Your business plan should include a detailed overview of your business, including the type of plumbing business you are setting up, the services you will offer, your typical customer base, your staffing and equipment requirements and your business goals.
Your business goals
Your business goals or objectives are an essential part of creating your business plan. Your business objectives highlight the targets and goals of your plumbing business and help you to create a one-year, three-year and five-year business plan.
Your business objectives should be SMART:
- S = Specific
- M = Measurable
- A = Achievable
- R = Realistic
- T = Time-bound
Check you have complied with all legal requirements
Consult the list of legal requirements above to check you have complied with all requirements and regulations and that all your paperwork is accurate. Failure to comply with legal requirements could have a detrimental effect on your business or could result in a fine, the forced closure of your business or, in serious cases, prosecution.