How to Become a Master Plumber
Master plumbers are the most experienced and knowledgeable plumbers in the trade. It takes many years of hard work to become a master plumber, but doing so comes with the perks of newfound freedom and increased income.
Whether you have just started considering a plumbing career, or have worked in the field for a while and want to advance, this page has the information you need to help you begin your journey to becoming a master plumber.
The Path to Becoming a Master Plumber
Plumbers need to progress through several levels of experience before they become qualified to work as a master plumber. The first phase is the training phase or apprenticeship. Once an apprenticeship is completed, plumbers typically spend a few years working as a journeyman plumber prior to becoming a master.
Apprentice plumbers begin their careers either through attendance at a trade school or through working directly with a mentor. Apprentices need to learn the basics of the trade while assisting a master or journeyman plumber in their work. An apprenticeship usually lasts four to five years.
Journeyman plumbers are able to work mostly unsupervised. However, most places in the United States do not allow journeymen to work with complete independence, as they must be overseen by a master plumber. There are also specific restrictions on the work a journeyman can perform. For instance, journeymen cannot design plumbing systems, prepare schematics or consult with permit officials. The journeyman should be proficient in most aspects of the plumbing trade while still receiving instruction from the master. Most states require at least two years at the journeyman level prior to applying for a master plumber license.
Master plumbers are at the pinnacle of the trade. Masters are the only plumbers who can run a business or work with complete independence. Although becoming a master plumber comes with increased freedom, there is also a corresponding increase in responsibility. Master plumbers should have a thorough grasp of all aspects of the trade and the know-how to handle even the most complicated installations and repairs. They are ultimately responsible for every part of a project, including the work performed by the journeyman and apprentice plumbers who work under their supervision.
Licensing for Master Plumbers
Licensing regulations vary significantly by state and locality. Although most states require licensing for plumbers, there are a few that do not. However, plumbers who work in those particular states often need to seek a license in each city or locality in which they work.
In general, licensing requirements define who can call themselves a master plumber, meaning the term “master plumber” can have different legal definitions in various locations. For the most part, though, the descriptions are reasonably similar and include the following skills, of which a plumber will often need to prove mastery by passing an examination:
- Master plumbers must have worked in the trade for a period of seven to 10 years, including four to five years as an apprentice and at least two years as a journeyman.
- Master plumbers are capable of designing plumbing systems and drawing schematics for others to use as a blueprint for the build.
- Master plumbers must have in-depth knowledge of the building codes in their areas, as they pertain to plumbing.
- Master plumbers must be able to provide supervision for a crew of workers.
- Master plumbers have a great deal of knowledge about the tools and equipment plumbers use while on the job.
Once you have become licensed as a master plumber, you will be free to take your career in whatever direction you choose. Master plumbers can qualify for supervisory positions, obtain specialized certifications or begin a business of their own. Many plumbers even decide to go into an independent freelance practice, allowing them to choose how and when they work.
Expected Salaries for Master Plumbers
According to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plumbers made annual salaries in the range of $32,690 to $97,190 in 2019, with master plumbers at the top end of the scale. This wide range in salaries shows a promising progression for those in the field, meaning your income can grow considerably on your journey from apprentice to journeyman to master.
More specific to master plumbers, data from payscale.com shows an average hourly pay of $27.82 for master plumbers. There is also good potential to earn an additional $11,000 annually in bonuses, profit sharing and commissions. For comparison, the average hourly pay for journeyman plumbers is $24.61 and falls to $15.14 for apprentice plumbers.
Transitioning From Journeyman to Master
Reaching the end of your apprenticeship is an exciting time. You have finally met the requirements to work as a fully qualified plumber and have earned the confidence of your immediate superiors. You might even be assigned a new apprentice to supervise and train in the trade. In the excitement of this new stage in your career, it would be easy to forget that you are still learning the trade, although on a much more subtle level.
If you have reached this stage in your career and are planning to continue to become a master plumber, it would be helpful to keep your eventual goals in mind. The good news is that, during this period, you will continue to have the oversight of the master plumber, who has been through all of the transitions you are now experiencing. Taking the time and initiative to learn the necessary skills while still under your mentor’s tutelage will prepare you to pass your exam as soon as you have the required amount of experience.
Becoming a Master Plumber
At some point, you will be ready to sit for your examination and complete the long journey to becoming a master plumber. Once you have achieved this milestone, you will be prepared to begin your career on a new level. Wherever you choose to take your credentials, your future as a master plumber has the potential to support your lifestyle with steady, ongoing and possibly lucrative work.