What Are the Differences Between a Plumber and a Master Plumber?

Updated June 24, 2022

If becoming a plumber is something you're interested in, you may want to consider the different levels of expertise for these professionals. While master plumbers often perform similar job duties as regular plumbers, they tend to have higher earning potential. Understanding how the role of a plumber and a master plumber vary can help you determine which one is right for you. In this article, we explore what a licensed plumber is, discuss master plumbers and look at some of the differences between a plumber and a master plumber.

What is a licensed plumber?

A licensed plumber, or journeyman plumber, is a tradesperson who has an official permit in their state to install and repair fittings and pipes for water supply and heating systems. These individuals plan, install and maintain plumbing systems in commercial and residential settings. Licensed plumbers also select the materials needed and provide clients with estimates for their work. When installing systems, they cut pipes and test for leakage. Licensed plumbers work under the supervision of master plumbers and may work closely with architects in the construction of buildings.

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What is a master plumber?

A master plumber, or plumbing contractor, is a professional tradesperson at the highest level in plumbing. They're journeyman plumbers who pass their state-level exam after working for a set amount of time. Like regular plumbers, master plumbers install and maintain pipes. In addition to working on water systems, master plumbers can draw up blueprints and lead a team of journeymen. Because of their additional experience, master plumbers have skills and knowledge that exceed regular plumbers. These individuals are in charge of the design and installation of plumbing systems.

Related: 5 Types of Plumbers and Their Duties and Salary

What is the difference between a plumber and a master plumber?

Here are some ways plumber and master plumber positions vary:


One major difference between licensed plumbers and master plumbers is the amount of training and education they complete before working professionally. In order to become a licensed plumber, individuals first obtain a high school diploma, followed by learning about plumbing in a vocational school or community college for two years. Courses cover installation methodologies, plumbing math, design of water systems and reading blueprints. In addition to schooling, plumbers also complete an apprenticeship program, which typically takes between four to six years and includes a mixture of on-the-job training and classroom learning.

The process to become a master plumber can take an additional two to five years of advanced training. Like licensed plumbers, master plumbers complete schooling and an apprenticeship program. After becoming a journeyman, they further their training by learning skills specific to their job. This includes more in-depth skills such as how to renovate a bathroom and install an entire plumbing system in a house. After earning their title, master plumbers continue their education through courses to maintain their licenses.

Related: How To Become a Plumber

Experience level

Master plumbers have more experience than licensed plumbers. They're in the top tier of the plumbing stages, followed by journeymen and apprentices. To become a licensed plumber, an individual first gains experience during their time as an apprentice and then begins practicing without supervision.

A master plumber is someone further along in the plumbing hierarchy stages. Having this title means that they already completed an internship and at least four years of experience in the field. After working as a journeyman for a few years, an individual can take the exam to become a master plumber. Some clients prefer hiring a master plumber since it means they've been working in the industry longer than a general plumber. These individuals also have experience in the business side of plumbing.

Related: FAQ: What Are Apprenticeships?

Licensing and certification

Both licensed plumbers and master plumbers complete licensing requirements in order to practice professionally. All plumbers must earn a license in the state where they plan to practice by passing an examination on plumbing codes. Common requirements for a general plumbing license include:

  • Liability insurance

  • Proof of worker's compensation and bonding

  • At least two years of experience

Each state has its own specifications for earning a master plumber license. Typically, this involves completing two years of vocational training and four years as a journeyman plumber. Licensing exams test individuals on building codes and business law to determine their ability to draft contracts. It also assesses whether they're able to handle complex projects. Master plumbers working in specialized areas, such as gas lines, may also need to complete specific certifications. To earn these, they must gain a set amount of experience and complete exams.


Plumbers work specifically on repairing and installing pipes. Skills that help them succeed in their role involve technical expertise, such as how to use hand tools, as well as soft skills, such as critical thinking. Some skills both plumbers and master plumbers use include:

  • Knowledge of water systems

  • Manual dexterity

  • Precision

  • Problem-solving

  • Effective communication

  • Basic math

  • Physical fitness

  • Customer service

Since master plumbers have more experience than regular plumbers, their skill levels are more advanced. In addition to technical skills, a master plumber has business management skills, such as communication and leadership, to help them operate their own company. They also have the ability to draw up plans and help with challenges that may arise when installing plumbing.

Related: A Complete Guide to Plumbing Skills


Generally, a master plumber makes more money than a plumber since they have a larger amount of experience. On average, a plumber working in the United States makes $52,465 per year. They also receive an additional $6,750 a year for overtime hours.

Master plumbers often own their own businesses and earn an even higher salary than licensed plumbers. This is due to their additional responsibilities and job duties. Salaries for master plumbers vary based on their location and number of years of experience.


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