Close up of plumbing contractor wrench on water pipes

As record-breaking cold temperatures continue to sweep Texas, power outages and frigid temperatures are causing plumbing pipes to break across the state. In response, Governor Abbott announced a relaxing of licensing requirements for plumbing contractors, as well as an expansion of provisional licensing in an effort to draw out-of-state plumbing contractors.

On Wednesday, February 17th, Governor Abbot said he planned to ease licensing regulations for out-of-state plumbers. This plan comes as an effort to meet an expected spike in demand for capable plumbers to fix broken pipes. In fact, Governor Abbott suggested property owners should start lining up plumbers as soon as possible.

Governor Abbott’s office is expecting an extended shortage of plumbers, with each booking out several projects at a time. Some plumbers are stating they’re seeing ten times their normal call volume due to a spate of broken pipes. With insurance companies requiring the repair work to be completed by a licensed plumber, waiting for an already-established Texas contractor could take weeks.

With so many residents without water, Governor Abbott believes the answer is drawing out-of-state contractors to Texas.

“Texas law already authorized the plumbing board to give provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers,” Governor Abbott said, according to KTSM-9 TV. “With regard to that authorization, the state is also working on issuing a waiver for plumbers. If they are previously licensed as a plumber but haven’t completed continuing education in the last two years, they will be allowed to apply for Texas state plumbers license to assist those who have been affected by the winter storm.”

According to Steve Davis, the Director of Enforcement for the State Board of Plumbing Examiners, while the Governor’s office and the Executive Director of TSBPE have yet to provide details of the licensing easement, the Board has implemented short-term policy changes in response to past emergencies. 

“We’ve done provisional licensing in the past for disaster relief, Hurricane Harvey, things like that.” Mr. Davis said. “We’ve done this before, so it just depends on how detailed this will be. We’re talking about the whole state of Texas now. There may be less restrictions than we had with Harvey.”

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners issued provisional licenses to contractors holding licenses in other states. At that time, the Board required out-of-state contractors to provide proof of two years of work experience, proof of at least an apprentice’s license on state letterhead, and registering as an apprentice through the Board’s website. The Board would then expedite the process, issuing provisional licenses to speed up repairs. 

In 2017, TSBPE also relaxed some laws for current plumbing license holders. License holders nearing their expiration dates saw a 60-day extension, and contractors that had failed to meet the continuing education requirements also saw an extension on their deadlines. Plumbers holding expired licenses were provided an expedited renewal process that allowed them to get back to work to help with the relief. 

“I believe they were six-month provisionals,” Mr. Davis said in regards to licensing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. “They would still have to get in line to test if they want to stay longer than that.” 

Essentially, the provisional license holder must take and pass the applicable examination for their license level within their provisional window. At that point, they could apply for renewal when the window closed. 

These rules were in contrast to the typical licensing requirements in Texas. In normal circumstances, TSBPE requires out-of-state contractors to bring at least four years of experience at the license level for which they are applying. They also need to pass the appropriate examination before they receive their license. And, to take projects and repair contracts on their own, they are typically required to carry a master plumber license.

In the wake of a natural disaster, support from out-of-state contractors is common, but the role of insurance companies in the recovery can complicate payment for contractor services and materials. Homeowners are not always aware of the coverage for specific types of repairs. Burst water pipes and resulting damage are not always covered by a homeowner insurance policy

Texas does give plumbing contractors strong mechanics lien protection if they have trouble getting paid, but the state also has some of the most complex requirements in the country. In one advantage of the rules, compared to some other states, Texas does not require contractors to be licensed in order to file a lien for work or materials provided.

Governor Abbott’s plan to relax plumbing contractor licensing is still in the planning stage. When asked during a press conference on Wednesday which areas could expect to return to normal, and when, Abbott stated, “That is information that has not yet been provided to me.”

While residents await a flood of out-of-state plumbing contractors to fix their pipes, 300 warming centers are operating across Texas. Most of these sites are run by small local governments, but with 7 million Texans under boil-water advisories, there is a strong push to open more.