A Look at ASPE’s Professional Engineer Working Group

The ultimate goal of the Society’s initiative is the establishment of a verifiable measure of competency for the discipline of plumbing.

by Ronald K. Bartley, PE, CPD, CPI/CPE, FASPE, and David D. Dexter, PE, F.NSPE, FASPE,  CPD, CPI, CPE, Master Plumber

The American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) has established the Professional Engineer Working Group (PEWG) to develop a program for the placement of a Plumbing option within the framework of the Mechanical Engineering Principles and Practice (MEPP) examination as developed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and administered by the various State and Territorial Boards of Registration for Engineers and Surveyors.

What Is ASPE’s PEWG Trying to Accomplish?

As mentioned above, ASPE’s PEWG is proposing that a plumbing/piping option be placed within the MEPP exam. This option would stand alongside the current options of HVAC and Refrigeration, Mechanical Systems and Materials, and Thermal and Fluids Systems.

Note that the PEWG is only attempting to place a plumbing/piping option within the MEPP exam as developed by NCEES and administered by the various state boards. This would be placed alongside the existing MEPP options as listed above. The PEWG is not trying to create a separate branch/standalone designation of plumbing engineering within the NCEES or any registration board.

Some have asked, “Did the PEWG consider establishing a specialty qualification certification—similar to ASHRAE’s certifications for energy, commissioning, etc.—or a NICET program?” ASPE already has the Certified in Plumbing Design (CPD) and Certified Plumbing Design Technician (CPDT) credential programs, which measure the competency of a plumbing engineer or designer, but keep in mind that these are certifications and not licenses as recognized in state laws.

Based solely on the possession of these certifications, CPD and CPDT holders are not in any way empowered to present themselves as engineers, are not permitted to perform any act or right as governed by the licensing laws, rules, and regulations of any state or province, and are not making any professional commitment of legal and ethical conduct.

On the other hand, registration would allow those engineers who have obtained a qualifying degree from an ABET-accredited course of study and the requisite experience under the responsible charge of a Registered Engineer to ultimately sit for the Mechanical Engineering PP exam and take this exam under the option of plumbing/piping.

Why Is This Necessary?

By providing a path to professional registration (which currently does not exist in our discipline), those who choose to practice plumbing engineering will have a viable career path to licensure, which can only make a career in plumbing much more attractive. (This is important as older practitioners within our discipline are retiring, and the need for new blood is becoming more and more acute.) A measurable level of competency will be established, and, most importantly, the health, safety, and welfare of the public at large will be addressed.

Also note that “mechanical” does not solely mean HVAC. Plumbing and HVAC are just two of many disciplines under the overall category of mechanical engineering. However, the current options—HVAC and Refrigeration, Mechanical Systems and Materials, and Thermal and Fluids Systems—are vastly different, and while Thermal and Fluids Systems does touch on some of the basics of our discipline, neither it nor HVAC fully address the growing complexity we are seeing within plumbing engineering.

What unique knowledge and skills that are important for safeguarding the public’s health, safety, and welfare are not covered in the Mechanical PE exam? Note that the underlying principles of codes and/or technical documents come from the engineering principles that are the foundation of any engineering discipline. So if one uses the standard definition of “plumbing” as the apparatus (as in piping, fixtures, and equipment) concerned in the distribution of water in a building and the transportation of sanitary and waste fluids, unique knowledge and skills encompass a simple understanding of the code.

However, the design of plumbing systems, beyond the standard definition, requires a deep understanding of the interaction of such systems within the environment in which they are being applied. The more technical plumbing systems require greater knowledge and skills, such as medical, laboratory, and service gas, water distribution on a macro scale, an understanding of water processes, mitigation of Legionella, etc.

The level of knowledge needed for modern and complex water and sanitary systems continues to increase. This continued growth in complexity will mandate a need for specialized knowledge that differs from engineers who specialize in environmental conditioning.

No engineer, professional, or degreed individual can be knowledgeable of everything. That is why Professional Engineers focus on their core competencies—those to which they can show specific, demonstrated, and documented knowledge before their peers.

In Summary

  1. ASPE is proposing the establishment of plumbing/piping as an OPTION under the MEPP examination as developed by NCEES and administered by the various state and territorial boards.
  2. NO attempt is being made to develop Plumbing Engineering as a standalone discipline within the NCEES or any state board.
  3. It is NOT in ASPE’s interests to restrict the practice of any Registered Engineer or place any undue hardship on any engineering concern.

The Importance of the Work of ASPE’s PEWG Cannot Be Understated

As we understand it, as a PE, one should be able to practice in any area that is within one’s area of expertise and in which one can demonstrate competency therein. That competency is verified when one’s peers are in agreement that the person has demonstrated sufficient knowledge in the product/work they produce. Under ASPE’s proposal, this will not change. Current PEs who can meet this criterion will continue to be able to place their seal/signature on plumbing documents.

The ultimate goal of the Society’s initiative is the establishment of a verifiable measure of competency for the discipline of plumbing and the continued, no…enhanced, protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public at large.

As design professionals, we should not be expected to do any less.

If you would be interested in assisting the PEWG to make this vision a reality (and lending assistance to the next generation of plumbing engineers), please fill out a Committee Membership Form.

Thank you for your time and attention.

About the Authors

The authors are Co-Chairs of the PEWG, and either may be contacted at their respective email address:

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

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