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Commercial Plumbing Services vs. Residential Plumbing Services

Commercial Plumbing Services vs. Residential Plumbing Services

Raina Becker // May 6, 2024

Commercial Plumbing Services vs. Residential Plumbing Services

In the commercial plumbing vs. residential plumbing debate, the difference is night and day.

One deals with large buildings containing complex plumbing infrastructure. The other? Family homes with basic fixtures.

If you’re trying to decide on an area of focus, the differences between the two can significantly impact your choice.

In this article, we'll dive into what each specification means. We'll pinpoint the key differences. Then, we will offer practical tips on deciding which suits you best.

Let's start by defining each specialty.

What is Commercial Plumbing?

Commercial plumbing involves working on big buildings like malls, schools, and offices. Even some large apartment buildings could fall under the commercial plumbing umbrella.

Large, multi-purpose locations need different plumbing systems than those of single-family homes.

Here are four key points that define commercial plumbing jobs:

1. Larger Scale

In commercial buildings, plumbing systems are more complex. They have more pipes and need more industrial-level components, like water heaters. They also deal with more waste because daily usage is much higher. 

2. Varied Needs

Different types of commercial locations need different plumbing solutions. For example, a restaurant needs to handle a lot of kitchen waste. A hospital needs water purification systems to help prevent waterborne pathogens.

3. Complex Systems

Commercial plumbing systems have many components to contend with. They include things like backflow preventers, industrial-grade pipes and fixtures, large water heaters, and high-volume wastewater management.

These systems also need regular maintenance checks due to extra wear and tear. Since a failure in a commercial system can cause major damage, you need to ensure they stay in good working condition.

4. Legal Rules

There are strict laws regarding plumbing in commercial buildings. Depending on your area, you may need any combination of licensing and permits to bid for commercial jobs. 

Regulations are there to ensure water supply safety and system reliability. Failure to comply can result in legal penalties. It can also ruin your business’s reputation.

Commercial Plumbing Market Snapshot

Looking ahead, it's relatively good news for commercial plumbing. While spending was down during and immediately following the pandemic, spending on commercial building projects actually rose by almost 20% in 2023. 

There are many opportunities for commercial plumbers to get involved in long-term projects.

As companies grow and build new premises, they'll need plumbers to set up new plumbing systems. They'll then need help maintaining them. 

Building owners may want to install more environmentally friendly systems or retrofit older systems to make them “greener.”

But don't expect quick money. These big projects take time to finish. Over time, though, more work will flow through.

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What is Residential Plumbing?

Residential plumbing is concerned with installing and repairing the pipes and water systems in homes. Locations could include single-family homes, multi-unit dwellings like townhomes, or smaller apartment buildings. 

Here are four main focal points of working with residential plumbing:

1. Simpler Systems

Homes have simpler plumbing than big buildings. They usually have one system for clean water coming in and another for wastewater going out.

Fixtures are basic and similar throughout most homes. Licensing to work on these systems is less intensive, and fewer permits are required.

2. Daily Needs

Residential plumbing focuses on the everyday needs of the occupants. This includes things like sinks, toilets, and showers. It also covers plumbing for appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.

3. Fewer Components

Houses have fewer pipes than commercial buildings. Fixtures needn’t be as durable. Installation is also on a much smaller scale. 

Customers typically know what they want. They provide the fixtures themselves rather than depending on the plumber to do it.

More contained systems also make it easier to fix problems when they happen.

4. Personal Service

Residential plumbers often work directly with homeowners. They help fix leaks, unclog drains, and install new fixtures.

When dealing with customers directly, it’s important to provide a high level of customer service.

Residential Plumbing Market Snapshot

During tough times, like the COVID-19 pandemic, homes kept the plumbing industry going. Why? Because household plumbing is an essential service.

That makes it easier to get established in this sector. You’ll also stay more recession-proof. The other side of that coin is that there are a lot of plumbers in the marketplace doing this kind of work.

While competition is higher, there are always opportunities to win clients. People always need help with their plumbing.

And, because there are so many kinds of homes, there's a lot of different work to do.

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Commercial Plumbing vs. Residential Plumbing

Let's dive into the key differences that divide commercial and residential plumbing.


The scope of commercial plumbing is vast.

You'll be dealing with large-scale systems. These are housed in buildings like hotels, schools, or shopping centers. Projects can include multiple floors and complex pipe networks.

In residential plumbing, the scope is much smaller.

You focus on homes. You deal with single-family residences or small apartment buildings. The systems are simpler, often just involving the kitchen, bathroom, and heating.

Job Type

Commercial jobs can vary widely. You might install massive water heating systems. Or you might set up sanitary and storm drainage systems.

You could work on specialized systems for medical gases in hospitals. Large-scale waste removal is another option.

Residential jobs usually involve maintenance and repair within a home's plumbing system. They often include unclogging drains, installing toilets, or setting up home water heaters. 

As a residential plumber, you might also partner with a builder in new home construction. That would mean a larger installation project, but still much less complex than commercial jobs.

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Commercial clients are often businesses or corporations. They might be building owners, property managers, or contractors overseeing construction projects. You would most likely be dealing with a corporate representative.

Residential clients are typically homeowners, residential property managers, or builders. You're more likely to deal directly with the person living in the home you're servicing.


Commercial projects have longer timelines. They can take months to years due to the project's scale and complexity. Planning and continuous coordination are key.

Residential jobs are shorter. Roughing in the basic plumbing in a bathroom takes an expert about three to five days to finish.

Some installations or repairs can even be done within a few hours.

Skills Required

You need a broad skill set for commercial plumbing.

They might include:

  • Understanding complex systems
  • Reading blueprints
  • Coordinating with other construction trades

Residential plumbing skills are more focused on problem-solving within standard home plumbing systems.

You'll need a solid understanding of home water systems. Communicating effectively with homeowners is key as well.

Materials and Tools

In commercial plumbing, the materials and tools are often industrial-grade. They’re made to withstand heavy use.

You'll use larger pipes and commercial water heaters. Some jobs may require specialized equipment like heavy-duty welders and pipe cutters.

Tools and materials are usually standard and easier to handle in residential plumbing.

You'll work with common household PVC piping, residential-grade plumbing fixtures, and basic hand tools.

RELATED ARTICLE: Choosing the Right Plumbing Tools: A Comprehensive Guide

Take Action Now

Choosing a specialty between commercial and residential plumbing services can shape your business's future.

Here are three actionable steps to guide you in making an informed decision:

1. Check Your Resources

Consider the tools, equipment, and team you currently have. What are you most prepared to do right now? Where would you have to invest more upfront to get started?

Residential plumbing requires less heavy-duty machinery. It can be more straightforward and can get by with a smaller team.

Commercial plumbing may demand more advanced equipment and a larger, more specialized workforce.

2. Consider Your Skills

Think about areas where you and your team excel. Which specialty best matches your skill set?

When you work in homes, clear communication and problem-solving are key.

In commercial jobs, you might need more technically specialized skills. This includes reading detailed plans and blueprints. You should also thoroughly understand complex plumbing systems.

3. Understand Market Demand

Perhaps the most important step is to research your local market. Is there a higher demand for residential plumbers in your area? Or are there more opportunities in commercial projects?

Identifying where the need is greater can help you succeed. Align your plumbing services with market demands. This ensures steady work and growth opportunities.

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