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Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Plumber in San Francisco

To conserve water for the good of all citizens, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission encourages the residents of the city to carry outroutine maintenance and repairs of their plumbing fixtures. Simple leaks from faucets, toilets, and underground pipes do not only waste thousands of gallons of water per year, but they will also spike your monthly water bill and may damage property too. While a good plumber will help save you this unnecessary increase in your bill, they would also be able to help optimize your water usage. Before you finalize on hiring a plumber in San Francisco, ask the following questions to be sure you are contracting the best available hand:

Are You Licensed to Practice as a Plumber in San Francisco?

The licensing of plumbers in San Francisco is handled at the state level by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB). Per this board's requirements, any plumber who wishes to offer services worth more than $500 to San Franciscans, cost of labor and materials inclusive, must obtain an appropriate license before doing so. Failure to do this can result in several penalties, such as administrative fines of between $200 and $15,000, jail time of up to six months, and statutory-imposed fines of up to $5,000. These penalties are typically more severe for repeat offenders.

The CSLB offers several plumbing-related license options to interested parties, including the C-36 plumbing contractor license and the C-4 boiler, hot water heating, and steam fitting contractor license. Individuals who wish to obtain any of these licenses must meet certain criteria, which include:

Once the application form has been submitted, reviewed, and accepted, eligible applicants will be provided a date and location for licensing examinations. Applicants who successfully pass these examinations are then issued appropriate plumbing licenses. Note that applicants who submit incorrect or incomplete applications are typically given a 90-day grace period to effect any necessary corrections or forfeit the application. If this happens, these individuals will be required to submit a new application and pay a new application fee if they are still interested in obtaining plumbing licenses from the CSLB.

Also, the CSLB may waive the trade portion of its licensing examinations for applicants who have obtained certain types of plumbing licenses from the States of Arizona and Nevada. You can contact the CSLB at (800) 321-2752 to get information on its license reciprocity program or to make any other license-related inquiries. You can also verify that your preferred plumber has been duly licensed via this board's online license check portal.

How Much Do You Charge Compared to Plumbers in San Francisco?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, plumbers in San Francisco earn a mean hourly wage of $51.01. The amount of money that these plumbers charge for their services is usually dependent on factors like the type of service, the cost of materials and permits that may be required, and the labor intensity of the project. It is advisable to get bids from no less than three plumbers before hiring one to help you ensure that you are not being charged way above market price for the required plumbing service.

A plumber in San Francisco earns an annual average wage of $106,100. Below is a breakdown of the average hourly wages for plumbers in San Francisco compared with plumbers in other parts of California and other major cities in the country:

San Francisco Plumber Hourly Average Wage
California Plumber Hourly Average Wage
Los Angeles Plumber Hourly Average Wage
New York City Plumber Hourly Average Wage
Houston Plumber Hourly Average Wage
St. Louis Plumber Hourly Average Wage
Miami Plumber Hourly Average Wage
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Do You Comply with the San Francisco Building Code for Plumbing?

While it is important to ensure that the plumber you intend to hire has been duly licensed by the CSLB, it is equally important to ensure that this plumber is conversant with the requirements of the San Francisco Plumbing Code. This code incorporates elements of the California Plumbing Code and local amendments to provide a set of rules and requirements that regulate the installation, use, alteration, maintenance, and repair of plumbing systems in San Francisco. Note that these plumbing systems include plumbing appliances, plumbing appurtenances, and plumbing fixtures.

Willfully disobeying, refusing to comply with, neglecting, or even omitting any provisions of the city's plumbing code when carrying out plumbing work can result in severe penalties. These can range from misdemeanor charges that carry a penalty of up to $500 in fines and six months in jail per violation to civil penalties of up to $500 for each day that these violations continue.

As such, hiring a plumber who is familiar with this code not only ensures that your plumbing job is done safely and properly but also protects you from the penalties associated with code violations. You can contact the Technical Services Division of the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection at (628) 652-3720 or via email to direct any code-related questions that you may have.

Will You Get the Plumbing Permits as Required by the San Francisco Code?

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (SFDBI) is responsible for issuing plumbing permits in the city. Per Section 104.2 of the San Francisco Plumbing Code, only the following types of plumbing work can be done without a permit:

  • The repair of leaks and the replacement, repair, or maintenance of faucets, angle stops, roof drains, and hose bibbs that do not require cutting into or removing piping
  • The replacement of water conservation devices and the unstopping of traps, vents, sewers, or waste pipes that do not require cutting into or removing traps or piping
  • The replacement of toilets provided that this is not in a structure with alternate water piping.
  • The replacement of furnace filters
  • Work that involves setting up plumbing fixtures or appliances for display in a sales establishment, as long as these items are not connected to supply or drainage lines
  • The removal of drainage, water, or gas piping from buildings when the supply or drainage lines have been disconnected in an approved manner under a permit
  • Plumbing work is done in buildings or structures that are owned and occupied by state and federal governments.

Plumbing permits are typically issued to either duly licensed plumbers or owner-occupants of single-family dwellings who intend to perform the plumbing work by themselves and can demonstrate proper knowledge of the city's plumbing code. Applicants will be required to contact the city's Planning Counter at (628) 652-7300 to get specific permitting requirements for the intended project. This information can also be gotten by contacting the SFDBI at (628) 652-4900, (628) 652-3200, or in person at:

San Francisco Permit Center
49 South Van Ness Avenue,
2nd/ 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

Once this information has been obtained, these applicants will then be required to complete the appropriate permit forms, pay any applicable fees, and submit any required project plans. Once these steps have been properly completed and the application has been reviewed, the requested permits are approved and issued. Note that once these permits have been issued and work commences, inspections must be scheduled with the SFDBI's Plumbing Inspection Division before any of the work is covered and also when the project is completed. Queries related to inspection scheduling can be directed to this division at (628) 652-3450.

Alternatively, duly licensed plumbers who have completed a voluntary registration process with San Francisco can apply for permits and schedule inspections online via the SFDBI's plumbing permits and scheduling portal. Interested parties that require assistance in utilizing this portal can contact the SFDBI at (628) 652-3320.

What Kind of Plumbing Services Do You Offer?

San Francisco plumbers typically offer a wide range of services, such as new construction piping installations, plumbing system repairs and maintenance, and even fire protection system installation services. Before hiring any plumber in the city, you should make sure that this individual is knowledgeable enough to provide the particular type of plumbing service that you require.

When hiring plumbers in the city, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $130 per hour for their services, depending on the type of service you need and the cost of any parts or materials for this service. Listed below are some common San Francisco plumbing services cost estimates:

Bathtub installation (acrylic tub)
$2,400 - $3,000
Clearing drain clog or blockage
$155 - $195
Drain line video inspection
$330 - $380
Gas line installation (per linear foot)
$35 - $55
Septic system installation (for conventional 3-bedroom house)
$9,400 - $11,000
Septic tank cleaning or pumping (1,000-gallon tank)
$340 - $415
Sewer line cleaning
$220 - $340
Sewer line installation and repair (per linear foot)
$75 - $100
Sump pump installation (submersible pump)
$1,000 - $1,600
Toilet installation or replacement (with pre-purchased toilet)
$195 - $215
Water main installation or repair (per linear foot)
$40 - $70

Do You Offer Emergency Plumbing Services in San Francisco?

While every plumbing issue should generally be treated as an emergency and fixed without any delays, some problems are more serious than others and, if left unattended, can affect the habitability of your home. Examples of these problems include overflowing toilets, burst pipes, clogged drains, water heater malfunctions, leaky fixtures, and backed-up sewers. With leakages costing San Franciscans thousands of gallons in wasted water, high water bills, and potential property damage, handling an emergency plumbing situation as quickly as possible is of utmost importance.

However, it is equally important to make sure that the plumber you contact to handle these emergencies is experienced enough to tackle the situation and mitigate further damage to your home. To this end, it is advisable to utilize reputable sources to get referrals to plumbers near you when you find yourself in the middle of an emergency plumbing situation. Examples of these sources include CSLB's Find My Licensed Contractor online platform and third-party websites like Google Review, Yelp, and Better Business Bureau. It is important to note that you should always confirm the licensing status of plumbers that you contact through these or any other sources.

Do You Carry the Necessary Insurance Policy for Plumbers in San Francisco?

Insurance is an important qualification to look out for when you want to hire a plumber in San Francisco. In 2019, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a total of 37,800 nonfatal work-related injuries among plumbers in the country. A total of four fatal work-related injuries were also recorded in California alone by the state's Department of Industrial Relations during this period. Hiring a plumber who is licensed and insured protects you from financial liabilities if an on-the-job injury or accident occurs during your project.

As such, even though plumbers in San Francisco are not mandatorily required to carry commercial general liability insurance, the CSLB strongly recommends that they do so. However, licensed plumbers in the city are required to post a surety bond of $15,000 to maintain their licenses, and any plumber that has at least one employee is also required to carry worker's compensation insurance. You should always confirm that any plumber you wish to hire meets these requirements before finalizing any hiring agreements.

How to File a Complaint Against a Bad Plumber in San Francisco

It is important to look out for fraudulent and unscrupulous individuals when you require the services of a plumber in San Francisco. Research by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies suggests that the average American homeowner spends approximately $2,600 annually on home repair and improvement. Unfortunately, this attracts fraudulent contractors, who utilize several methods to try to scam unsuspecting San Franciscans who need home repair and improvement services.

These methods include offering unsolicited plumbing inspections and repairs, using cheap materials for repairs and charging premium prices for these repairs, or collecting upfront payment for their services and not doing any work or leaving the job incomplete. In March 2021, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office announced that it would be filing felony charges against a local contractor for several offenses, including using a contractor's license with the intent to defraud.

You can protect yourself against potential plumbing and home repair scams by taking the following actions:

  • Always confirm the licensing status of plumbers with the CSLB by calling (800) 321-2752 or via its online license check portal
  • Looking up the plumber to make sure that they are not included in the CSLB's most wanted list of contractors implicated in home repair and improvement scams
  • Resisting high-pressure or scare tactics, especially from unsolicited plumbers
  • Make sure that any plumber you hire is insured and bonded
  • Request a written contract that includes details of the job and make sure that you understand it before signing. You can consider hiring an attorney to help you review this contract
  • Never pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less, as an advance payment for the project
  • Avoiding cash payments
  • Keeping records of all documents related to your project

You can report suspected or confirmed plumbing scams by contacting the San Francisco District Attorney's Office at:

350 Rhode Island Street
North Building
Suite 400N
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (628) 652-4000
Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays


You can also report these scams by completing and submitting an online consumer complaint form to this office or filing a construction complaint with the CSLB. Finally, you can take private legal action against an allegedly fraudulent plumber by filing a lawsuit with the San Francisco Small Claims Court if the amount in contention is not more than $10,000.