HVAC vs Plumbing: Career ROI

HVAC and Plumbing are careers within the building services sector that offer relatively quick entry into the workforce through short educational paths. 

The median pay for all plumbers in the country sits at $60,090 per year. Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning mechanics or installers earn $51,390 per year. These figures show high ROI, considering the $46,310 annual median pay for all occupations.

Which one should you focus on, though? Both careers require a strong foundation in technical skills and require hands-on work in various residential, industrial, and commercial environments. 

There will always be a need for plumbing and HVAC services as long as there are new buildings to construct and existing homes and establishments to maintain. In fact, the US construction market size, which was valued at $2.1 trillion in 2022, is expected to increase with an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 3% from 2024 to 2027. HVAC and plumbing careers are also some of the highest paying trade career jobs.

Comparison Table: HVAC vs. Plumbing Careers

The key differences between HVAC and Plumbing lie in their focus and specialization. While HVAC specialists mainly deal with electrical systems involving heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units, plumbers deal primarily with drainage, sewage, and water systems. Some plumbers, especially those in industrial settings, also handle pipelines for acid, chemicals, and other substances.

That said, their duties may overlap, such as in the installation of water heaters or A/C units that require plumbing connections.

Get the quick details on HVAC and Plumbing work by looking at our chart!

HVAC TechnicianPlumber
Starting salaries$36,170 per year$37,250 per year
Average salaries$57,460 per year$65,190 per year
Job Responsibilities* HVAC installation, maintenance and repair
* Systems and components inspections and tests
* Replace or repair defective components
* Record keeping of work done
* Pipes and water fixtures installation, inspection, maintenance and repair
* Troubleshooting of malfunctioning plumbing systems
* Preparation of cost estimates
* Compliance with local and state building codes
Entry-Level EducationPost-Secondary CertificateHigh School or Equivalent
Certifications/Licensing* US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification exam
* Some states require licensing
* Most states require a license, which may also need 2-5 years of experience
* States may require passing an examination for plumbers who want to work independently
* Optional certifications are available for plumbers who want to expand their career potential
Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032)6%2%
Largest Employer(s)Plumbing and HVAC ContractorsPlumbing and HVAC Contractors
Highest Paying Employer(s)Manufacturers of Measuring, Control and Related InstrumentsSpectator Sports Entities

What Does an HVAC Specialist Do?

What Does an HVAC Specialist Do - Image

Depending on their specialization, HVAC specialists will install, repair, and maintain air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems to ensure controlled temperature and humidity in homes, commercial spaces and other establishments. This rewarding trade career specializes in refrigeration systems, which maintain a climate-controlled environment suitable for storing perishable items like medicine and food.

HVAC Education and Career Paths

If you’re thinking of being an HVAC technician, you’re in good company! HVAC is considered one of the best trade careers

Education-wise, you need to initially attend a post-secondary non-degree program in HVAC installation and servicing offered by trade schools, technical schools or community colleges. An associate’s degree takes two years, while a Certificate program takes only six months.

For starters, you’ll be assisting tenured HVAC technicians who will become your mentors in familiarizing this specialist work. You’ll initially be doing the basic electronics and plumbing tasks and, ultimately, expand your duties to more complex ones, such as ensuring the quality of electrical circuits and plumbing connections.

Apprenticeship programs will provide you with more in-depth training and experiences, allowing you to learn about workplace safety and HVAC installation/servicing techniques that meet government regulations and industry standards. They usually take 3 to 5 years to complete and are often sponsored by contractor associations, unions, and related groups.

HVAC certificate or associate’s degree holders can take on these jobs:

  • General HVAC Technician
  • HVAC Installer
  • HVAC Maintenance or Service Technician
  • HVAC Contractors
  • Energy Auditor
  • Facilities Management Technician

An HVAC career Is For You If:

  • You like to focus on the electrical and plumbing works involving temperature-control systems for homes, businesses, and other establishments.
  • You like a career that builds and enhances your technical, mechanical, and troubleshooting skills.
  • You are willing to work in possibly cramped spaces or in an uncomfortable environment due to HVAC units not working properly.

An HVAC Career Is Not A Great Fit If:

  • You prefer a career that doesn’t require too much math skills.
  • You need a job that doesn’t need physical strength and stamina.
  • You don’t like a career that possibly moves you from one location to another constantly within the day because of service calls.

What Does a Plumber Do?

What Does a Plumber Do - Image

Plumbers generally install, maintain, and repair plumbing systems that carry water, gas, acids, and other substances. They also ensure that newly installed pipelines and pipe systems are properly functioning. They inspect plumbing systems, troubleshoot malfunctioning ones, and replace or repair defective or worn components.

Plumbing Education and Career Paths

Generally, you’ll only need to have a high school diploma, GED, or an equivalent to pursue a plumbing career. You can only get certified in specific plumbing skills, such as work safety or drainage systems, and reap the benefits of a trade career in high-demand if you attend vocational training from trade schools or technical colleges.

Consider joining a 4-year or 5-year apprenticeship program to receive technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training annually. Businesses, unions, and trade associations typically sponsor these programs.

Completing an apprenticeship program makes you eligible to sit for a licensing exam to obtain a Journey-level status, which allows you to perform your plumbing tasks independently. After several years of work experience, you may have to take another exam to obtain the master’s level, a status that some states will require from plumbers who want to obtain a contractor’s license. 

Plumbers can take on these jobs:

  • General Plumbers
  • Pipefitters
  • Steamfitters
  • Sanitary Plumbers
  • Plumbing Contractors
  • Master Plumbers

A Plumbing Is For You If:

  • You would like to enter the workforce as soon as possible after high school.
  • You like chemistry, mathematics, and applied physics, as these subjects provide a solid foundation for your plumbing career.
  • You are aspiring to become a Master Plumber to have your own contractor business in the future.

A Plumbing Career Is Not A Great Fit If:

  • You prefer working in a comfortable, indoor, and more controlled environment.
  • You need a career with traditional or predictable work hours, unlike being a plumber, which may involve frequent service calls due to emergency repair situations.
  • You don’t like a career that constantly requires strenuous physical labor due to health concerns or physical limitations.
HVAC vs Plumbing - fact

Businesses talk about today’s skills gap, which you can readily fill as an HVAC technician or plumber with top-quality vocational education from the best trade schools