If you’re considering one of the skilled trades as a career choice, you’re in luck: These trades are rising in popularity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these careers are growing at a moderate rate of about 6% over the next decade and provide excellent job security. Most of these fields pay at or above the national average salary.
You may be toying with the idea of being an HVAC technician, a carpenter, a plumber, an ironworker, a general contractor, or an electrician. Take a look at the differences between HVAC and carpentry to start.
HVAC vs Carpentry: Which Is Better Overall?
While both trades pay well and present good job security, there are significant differences between the two occupations. A carpenter and an HVAC technician may work alongside each other on a project, but there is little overlap in what they do on the job.
HVAC technicians work with heating and cooling systems, while carpenters specialize in building, repairing, and maintaining structures. Additionally, each trade requires a different educational path, state licenses, and specific skills that pertain to each respective career path.
If you wish to work mostly indoors while installing or fixing equipment, HVAC may be the right career choice for you. If your skillset leans more toward working outside, following detailed plans, and putting things together, carpentry may be a perfect option.
Which Trade Is Easier To Learn?
That depends upon what type of learning you wish to engage in. Carpenters can begin their careers with a high school diploma, but most complete an apprenticeship or seek out additional schooling after graduating from high school. This career focuses more on building skills than getting an advanced degree, but don’t be fooled: Carpenters need to have a high-level understanding of reading plans, following detailed instructions and balancing physical and mental labor on the job.
HVAC technicians typically need to complete a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree, which can last for about six months up to two years, along with an apprenticeship during school or intensive training on the job. You’ll devote at least a year of your life (but most likely more) to your HVAC training before you can work on your own. HVAC may require more mental work than carpentry because you’ll work with more specialized equipment and the career is more technical overall.
Which Trade Has a Better Salary?
Carpenters make around $48,260 per year, or around $23.20 an hour, according to the BLS. HVAC technicians make about $48,630 per year, which is around $23.38 per hour. In other words, the median salaries are roughly the same for both occupations, so don’t let this be a factor in choosing the perfect career for yourself. Carpentry is expected to grow at a minimal rate of 2% by 2030, while HVAC will likely see about a 5% increase in available jobs. Both occupations are growing at a slower-than-average rate.
When HVAC technicians and carpenters work for themselves as contractors, they can take work outside of normal working hours, charge for overtime, and set their own rates. Think carefully about where you want to work and what type of life you want to have in addition to the average salary of your desired occupation.
On the Job: What To Expect in HVAC Tech or Carpentry
It might be worth your while to shadow an experienced carpenter or HVAC technician to determine what the realities of your daily work will be. Consider the following work environments, hours, and risk levels of these occupations.
What Are My Career Opportunities?
Carpenters can work as self-employed contractors who simply fix things around residential properties, or they may work for a construction company that builds new neighborhoods or commercial buildings such as hospitals and schools. If you don’t enjoy working on large buildings, you can also try your hand at furniture, fences, or backyard pergolas. You’ll learn how to repair damage to existing structures as well.
HVAC technicians can work virtually anywhere there is a heating and air conditioning system. This includes homes, schools, banks, restaurants, hospitals, and more. You’ll be able to find work in the automotive industry, as an HVAC installer or repair person, or in the field of wind turbines and solar energy. You can work for yourself or as part of a company.
What Are the Working Hours?
Carpenters can work during regular daytime hours as it’s difficult to do adequate carpentry work when there’s no sunlight. You may have jobs postponed if there’s rain, and you likely won’t work as much during the winter season if it snows.
HVAC technicians do not work outdoors as much as carpenters do, but their work can take on a seasonal pattern as well. For example, they may get a rush of work during the first heatwave of the summer or when people typically turn their heating units on in the fall.
Your hours also depend on where you choose to work. If you work for yourself as an independent HVAC technician or carpenter, you’ll have more choice between jobs — but you may complete these jobs in the early morning or in the evening.
What Are the Physical Requirements, and What Risk Level Should I Expect?
Carpentry can be inherently risky because it involves carrying heavy lumber and working with equipment such as blades, saws, nail guns, and chemical fumes that can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use them correctly. Always be sure to wear a hard hat, boots, and other protective clothing if the job calls for it. Your training and apprenticeship should cover how to use electrical equipment and tools, how to deal with potential biohazards like asbestos, and how to safely work with scaffolding so that you and your coworkers don’t sustain injuries on the job.
HVAC technicians also must lift heavy equipment and work in tight, uncomfortable spaces as a part of their regular job — and according to the BLS, they have one of the highest occupational rates of injury on the job. HVAC units are often located in attics, basements, and even garages, and while the option to hide away your units is convenient for the homeowner, it takes a certain kind of person to devote their career to repairing equipment that’s tucked away in cramped, often poorly lit conditions. In this occupation, you also may be exposed to chemicals, extreme temperatures, and electrical hazards. You might also be at risk of ladder injuries as you’ll frequently use one for your HVAC work.
Licensing and Requirements for HVAC vs Carpentry
Licensing requirements differ between states, but most states require both carpenters and HVAC technicians to accumulate a certain amount of practical work experience as well as either formal schooling or an apprenticeship. About six states require a carpenter to hold a license before they perform specific types of jobs. Regardless of which state you choose to work in, you must complete the following requirements to get a license:
- A high school diploma (usually).
- At least two, but usually four, years of work experience including your apprenticeship.
- A passing score on a carpentry trade exam.
- Liability insurance or bonding (depending on your state).
A common career path for carpenters is to become a general contractor at some point. You can find out what it takes to become a contractor in your state here.
HVAC technicians need additional schooling in the form of a certificate or postsecondary degree in their field. You can expect to complete about two years of additional schooling, which might include an apprenticeship, before you can select jobs for yourself. You’ll also need the following:
- An apprenticeship that was completed during trade school or afterward.
- Certification in handling refrigerants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- If your state requires licensing, you’ll need to accumulate a certain amount of work experience and pass an exam.
- If your state does not require licensing, you may still have to become certified and pass an exam.
For detailed information on how to get licensed as an HVAC tech in your state, start with our State-by-State Directory of HVAC License Requirements.
Is HVAC or Carpentry More Strenuous Overall?
The physical requirements of carpentry are often more strenuous due to the fact that you’ll be doing heavy lifting, completing jobs that involve intensive physical labor, and putting yourself at risk of injury due to the tools you’ll be working with. If you enjoy being on your feet at work and having the opportunity to go into business for yourself as a contractor, this job might be perfect for you.
You’ll occasionally be exposed to extreme temperatures during HVAC work, and you are at high risk for incurring injury on the job because of your heavy equipment. An HVAC technician works on his or her feet, lifts heavy objects, and often works alone in tight spaces. These conditions can cause falls, muscle strain, and other injuries due to standing on ladders and dropping heavy machinery.
It can be difficult to choose between HVAC or construction-related jobs — especially when presented with so many options that, at first glance, look similar. Don’t be fooled by the similarities between HVAC and carpentry. While these technicians often work together on the same projects, their individual responsibilities, training, and ultimate career paths are quite different.
Maybe neither HVAC nor carpentry seems like the best fit. If so, keep learning about what’s available to you! Educate yourself about the skilled trade occupations at General Contractor License Guide and gain perspective on the education, training, and apprenticeships you’ll have to complete on your future career path.