New Jersey is pushing continuing education for plumbers harder than ever, according to a full-time certified course instructor. The state’s Board of Master Plumbers is requiring five hours of classes to renew a plumber’s license.

The law, which went into effect January 1997, requires three hours of education on plumbing code changes and two hours on plumbing laws, according to Daniel O’Gorman, a certified continuing education instructor. If a plumber does not take the class by Dec. 31, he will not be legally able to perform plumbing work in New Jersey.

“This course came along because of common violations the board received,” said O’Gorman, a third-generation plumber. “We have a very strong consumer fraud law.” The Board of Master Plumbers has received numerous complaints that contracts were not fulfilled and contractors were overcharging for services.

According to O’Gorman, a plumber needs a contract to perform work for more than $200 in New Jersey. Within the contract, the plumber legally needs to provide the “scope of the work,” including details about callbacks, if necessary.

The law also deals strongly with overcharging for services. “Prices should be based on labor and material; novelty and difficulty; skill for performing the job; experience; and reputation of the person performing the work,” O’Gorman said. The law does not take into account whether a contractor uses T&M or flat rate pricing, he said.

O’Gorman said other professions — like medical doctors and electrical contractors — must take continuing education courses under the law. At press time, there were still more than 6,600 plumbers who needed to take the continuing education course by the end of the year. Twenty-eight courses are scheduled on nights and weekends until Dec. 31.

Continuing education courses are becoming a standard across the country, with more than a dozen other states having continuing education laws for plumbers. In September, Illinois Governor Jim Edgar signed HB 3710, which included continuing education courses for journeyman plumbers. All licensed water well drillers and water well pump installation contractors must have six hours of continuing education by Jan. 1, 2000.

The new Illinois law also requires plumbing contractors to attend continuing education seminars every two years thereafter. The sessions will increase the contractors’ knowledge and provide new industry information and updates, according to Illinois officials. Health officials will address the classes on current issues or problems.

“These courses improve the plumber’s livelihood, and the public’s safety,” O’Gorman said. “They just makes sense.”