Residential vs. Commercial: The Key Plumbing Tools You Need

Not all plumbing tools are created equal. Here are things you’ll want to consider as you determine what equipment will help you best tackle the types of jobs you take on.

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When you’re new to the plumbing industry and uncertain where to focus — residential, commercial or a little of both — deciding what tools to invest in can be a challenge. Some tools are better for residential jobs, others for commercial applications. Some crossover to both categories.

Here’s a look at things you’ll want to consider as you outfit your plumbing toolbox.


Residential jobs typically have smaller-sized supply and drainlines compared to commercial jobs. In addition, the types of materials used can vary depending on age and style of the structure. Residential jobs often require cosmetic touches, ranging from drywall repair if there is water damage or laying a bead of caulk around a sink. Another aspect of residential is that the number of jobs completed in a day is normally greater than commercial, and the types of jobs can vary from job site to job site:

  • Pipe blockages in sinks, toilets and tubs
  • Hot-water tank repairs/changeouts
  • Sink and toilet repairs/changeouts
  • Burst pipe and water leak repairs
  • Sewer lateral repair and replacement
  • Root intrusion repairs

You’ll want tools that can be used on multiple types of piping or tubing, from copper to PEX. Be sure you have all you need to accommodate the typical building materials used in your service area.

Target tools that get the job done quickly and effectively. A tool designed for specific jobs you’ll encounter makes your life easier and will reduce the overall mess. Do some research or ask a seasoned veteran what tools are best for the jobs you are likely to see based on your typical customer.

Tools that can be transported without breaking your back are vital. Residential jobs may require you to go up or down stairs, fold yourself into crawl spaces or access tight mechanical closets. Make sure that the tools you select are compact enough to fit into the areas you go.

Here’s a rundown of some residential plumbing tools you might want to consider:

  • Drain cleaners designed for sinks, toilets and bathtubs. Generally, drain cleaners that can clear up to 4-inch lines are ideal for residential plumbing systems.
  • Compact press tool. A press tool for 1/2-inch to 2-inch pipe is a good initial investment. As your customer footprint expands so can the number of attachments in your toolbox.
  • Handheld inspection camera. Utilizing a handheld model will provide better portability and allow you to get into tight spaces under sinks, behind water heaters, etc.
  • Compact threading machine. In residential settings, the space you have to thread a pipe may be small, making a compact machine preferable to larger-size models.
  • Wet/dry vac, reciprocating saw, pen light. Having a good wet/dry vac helps with cleaning up your work area and gives a professional appearance to your work. With a reciprocating saw you can get through pipes, studs or anything else you may need to in order to get the job done. Finally, a pen light, or any other light, helps you see in those darker areas that you may find yourself in.


Commercial jobs are generally larger in scale than residential ones and often deal with more focused jobs day to day. The first difference is that commercial applications tend to lean toward bigger and heavier-duty tubing/piping. Due to the larger scale, commercial jobs are often completed over a longer period of time. Unlike residential, commercial jobs tend to have pipes that are more accessible or hung in open environments, requiring less cosmetic work such as drywall or caulking. Another aspect that is typically associated with commercial is the leveraging of fabrication shops to support larger scale projects.

Some job examples include:

  • HVAC repairs
  • Mainline sewer, water and gas issue repairs
  • Boiler system repairs/replacements
  • Apartment complex line snaking
  • Grease removal at restaurants
  • Large building (schools, offices, etc.) drain cleaning

When looking for commercial job site tools, power and size capacity are critical to ensure the job is completed. These larger tools sacrifice transportability for power and size.

You’ll also want longer and stiffer cables and reels. Since commercial plumbing systems tend to be larger and more complex in nature, having longer cables and reels is a necessity. Stiffer cables also allow you to navigate the longer runs you’ll find in commercial settings.

Here’s a rundown of some commercial plumbing tools you might want to consider:

  • Large drain cleaner. Larger drain cleaners, whether it be a drum or sectional machine, are required to clean the larger drains of commercial applications. Identify machines that have transport features such as built-in wheels or transport carts to aid you in getting your machine to the drain.
  • Jetter. A jetter is effective at removing grease and soft blockages from drainlines and is a particularly good initial investment if you’re working on a lot of grease-related restaurant projects. Make sure that you have a jetter designed for the areas you primarily work in. Corded jetters are designed for indoor use while gas-powered jetters are suited for the outdoors
  • Inspection camera and locator. Standard size inspection cameras give you the size and distance you need for most commercial applications.
  • Standard threading machine. Tight spaces tend to be less of an issue in commercial settings, making a standard threading machine a good investment. Additionally, you may be threading more pipe and larger machines can handle a heavier workload per day.
  • Standard press tool and attachments. Pipes in commercial settings cover a wide range of sizes and materials. Investing in a standard press tool gives you access to attachments based on the demands of your customers.

About the Author

Brendon Goede is an underground technologies product manager at RIDGID, a global manufacturer of more than 300 dependable and innovative tools, including a line of thermal imagers, trusted by professional trades in over 100 countries. Learn more at


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