If you want to enter a trade after graduating high school, becoming a plumber or HVAC technician are two excellent career paths to consider. While both allow you to work with your hands, there are many differences between the two jobs that could affect your decision about which one to pursue.
HVAC technicians work with commercial and residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems while plumbers work on pipes in residential and commercial buildings. One is not better than the other in general, but each trade is more beneficial for specific people looking to build rewarding careers. Here’s everything you need to know about HVAC vs plumbing to decide which career path is right for you.
Is HVAC or Plumbing Easier To Learn?
Whether you choose to go into plumbing or HVAC, you will need to gain specified knowledge. Many states require you to complete a certified training course, while others require you to work as an apprentice to gain the knowledge you need to succeed in the field. HVAC work is slightly more technical, so it has more of a learning curve, but in general, the two trades are equal in terms of knowledge and training.
If you want to become an HVAC technician, you must complete a training course that lasts anywhere from six months to two years. Some states allow you to work as an apprentice for a few years in lieu of a training program, but you must have a complete understanding of the following concepts before you can take the exam for your HVAC license if you want to work independently:
- Cleaning and installing duct systems
- Analyzing electrical concepts
- Air conditioning
As a plumber, you can likely complete an apprenticeship rather than a training course to be eligible for a license. However, plumbing apprenticeships are hard to find in some states. You must find one that teaches the following concepts:
- Plumbing codes
- Waste and drain systems
- Testing and installing plumbing lines
- Steam, water and air concepts
Is HVAC or Plumbing a Better Trade?
HVAC and plumbing are both great career paths. One trade is not necessarily better than the other, but may be a better fit for you depending on your needs and preferences.
Plumbers often have steady work throughout the year, but their working environment may not be the best. They often deal with sewage and broken pipes, and occasionally they encounter small animals that have died in the pipes. However, steady work means a decent salary regardless of which season it is. You may have to go on-call a few times a year to handle plumbing emergencies if you work for a company.
In contrast, HVAC technicians often have a better working environment because they aren’t dealing with sewage. They may, however, have to maneuver in small spaces such as attics and crawlspaces to get to HVAC units. Their work is also seasonal, so HVAC technicians make more during extreme temperatures in the summer and winter. While you can make some money in the fall and spring doing maintenance work, you will likely make significantly more doing HVAC work during other seasons.
Is HVAC or Plumbing Easier?
Plumbing and HVAC are both fields that require specialized knowledge and skills. Some people have overlapping skills that apply to both areas, but others have traits that are best suited for one trade or another.
Plumbing requires you to have strong math skills. If math is not your strong suit, this may not be the trade for you. You also need outstanding troubleshooting and critical thinking skills to work in the field.
The HVAC field is more technical, so it is more difficult for some people. Basic math skills are good to have, but they aren’t as vital as they are for plumbing. Attention to detail and communication are two crucial skills for HVAC technicians. Becoming an HVAC technician will be more difficult if you don’t have these skills.
Does HVAC or Plumbing Have a Better Salary?
Plumbers and HVAC technicians have comparable salaries. The biggest difference in HVAC vs plumbing salary is that HVAC technicians often make a significant bonus through overtime work, making the field slightly better-paying than plumbing.
According to U.S. News, plumbers make an average of $56,000 per year. The more experience you have, the more you qualify for higher-paying plumbing positions. The top 25% of plumbers make $75,000 annually, while entry-level plumbers tend to start at $42,000.
The average hourly pay for HVAC technicians in the United States is $25.07, which translates to $52,000 per year. These workers also make an average of $6,000 in overtime pay. However, they have to be on-call more often than plumbers, which could affect their work-life balance. It’s crucial to balance your need for salary with your desire for free time when deciding whether or not the HVAC field is right for you.
What Career Opportunities Are Available for Plumbers and HVAC Technicians?
Plumbing and HVAC are important trades that help keep our homes and businesses running smoothly. Because they are so important, each field offers many career opportunities.
As a plumber, you may work independently or for a company installing and repairing commercial and residential plumbing systems. You may also secure a job as an in-house plumber working for a factory or other facility. Construction plumbers who install systems in new buildings are also in demand.
HVAC technicians have similar job opportunities. If you have your HVAC license, you can work independently or run your own company working on residential and commercial units. You may work under another contractor’s license if you choose not to pursue licensure yourself. You can become an in-house HVAC technician for a hospital or work for your local schools in the maintenance department. Installing units in new construction is also a valid career opportunity.
What Are the Risks for Plumbers and HVAC Technicians?
If you want to become a plumber or HVAC technician, it’s important to understand the risks of each trade. These two trades are fairly safe in terms of bodily injury, but they do pose a few potential dangers to your overall health.
Plumbers often work in tight or elevated environments that can affect your mental health. If you have a problem with heights or tight spaces, you probably shouldn’t enter the field of plumbing. You may also be injured when working with power tools or handling hot pipes. Finally, working on plumbing systems exposes you to asbestos which could heighten your risk of developing health problems.
HVAC technicians sometimes also work in high and tight spaces, so falling or getting trapped are reasonable concerns. You will also work with various electrical components to ensure that the systems operate correctly, so electrical hazards are a big concern. You may also be exposed to chemicals that could lead to health problems.
What Are the Physical Requirements for HVAC Vs Plumbing?
The HVAC and plumbing fields don’t have strict fitness standards, but there are physical requirements that must be satisfied if you want to be successful. Having a smaller frame is beneficial in both industries when you need to fit into a small space, but strength is the most important physical requirement for both trades.
Pipes and HVAC units are often heavy. You must be able to easily lift at least 80 pounds if you want to be a successful plumber or HVAC technician. Being able to hold components in place while you secure them is also vital.
What Are the Education and Training Cost Requirements for HVAC and Plumbing?
Each state has unique education requirements and training costs. The cost of plumber vs HVAC tech education varies widely.
If you live in a state that only requires you to complete an apprenticeship instead of a training program, you will only need to pay the fee for an apprentice license, which is often $100 or less. If formal education is required for licensure, you must attend a certified training program, which is significantly more expensive.
A training course for a plumber can often be completed within a year. The average cost of a plumbing program is anywhere from $1,000 for an online class to $3,000 for an in-person course. If you have an apprenticeship instead of or while you attend the training program, you can make money while gaining hands-on field experience.
Certified HVAC training programs can cost up to $15,000 for the ones that last up to two years. The courses that last for less than a year can cost as little as $1,500. The length of the program and the school you choose to attend will affect the cost of the course. Because many schools offer flexible class hours, you can often work during the day and attend class in the evening to make your studies more affordable.
What Are the Licensing Requirements for HVAC and Plumbing?
Many states issues licensees for HVAC and plumbing contractors. In these states, you must sit for an exam to earn a license to work independently or own a company in the field. However, you can choose to work under someone else’s license so that you do not have to take the test or pay licensure and renewal fees.
Licensing requirements vary widely among states, but in general, plumbers are eligible for licensure after completing a training course or working as an apprentice for a minimum of five years. You must pay a fee for the exam in addition to a licensing fee. It’s best to check the specific requirements for the state in which you want to work to be sure you comply with all regulations.
Most states require HVAC technicians to complete training programs before taking a licensing exam. Some states have various licensure levels that allow you to supervise others, but you can’t work for yourself until you obtain a contractor’s HVAC license in these states. Before going into the HVAC field, it’s good to check licensure requirements to have a clearly defined career path.
What Is Being a Plumber or HVAC Technician Like?
If you’re considering plumbing or HVAC as a career, you probably want to understand the work-life balance of each trade before committing to one. What is life like when you become a plumber or HVAC technician?
As a plumber, you can expect a steady schedule with work throughout the year. You may have to go on-call as often as once a month, but you can usually expect a fantastic work-life balance with a decent salary. The work is steady, so you’ll always have something to do.
However, the work can be dirty and unsanitary at times. You may come home from work covered in grime and sewage, so this may not be the best industry for you if you don’t want to get dirty. It’s not always a dirty job, and sometimes you’ll just have to replace a broken pipe or adjust the water pressure. Some jobs are relatively quick and easy to complete.
The HVAC industry offers more pay with overtime wages, but you’ll need more availability in the summer and winter. You’ll have many long days when the weather is extremely cold or hot, so although the pay is good, the work-life balance may not be great during those seasons. Life will be more manageable in the spring and fall, but you won’t make as much money.
HVAC work is often cleaner than plumbing. While you may have an occasional dirty job, you won’t typically have to work in unsanitary conditions. You will, however, spend a lot of time outside working on outdoor HVAC units so that you may stay hot or cold depending upon the weather. The schedule of HVAC technicians is less reliable than that of plumbers.
Deciding between the HVAC vs plumbing fields can be challenging, but whether you choose to become a plumber or an HVAC technician, you’ll have an opportunity to build a rewarding and exciting career. Decide what you want out of a job to determine which career path is best for you.