HVAC Vs Plumbing: Which Trade Is Better?

For some people, the traditional college path is not a viable option. So, trades and apprenticeships are growing in popularity, including HVAC and plumbing. Both careers are lucrative options to secure a future, but which is best for you? We've done the research to help you make this critical decision.

Whether HVAC or plumbing is the better trade truly depends on an individual's preferences. An HVAC technician makes a mean salary of around $48,000 per year in the United States, while a plumber has a mean wage of $59,000 per year. 

Plumbers typically gain their experience via apprenticeships, while HVAC technicians gain their credentials to begin entry-level positions via technical school programs. Also, plumbing is a very dirty, physical job, while an HVAC career involves a complex understanding of engineering, electricity, and more. 

So now that you have a better understanding of the differences in these career paths, we can now delve into the details of pursuing a career in HVAC or plumbing. Keep reading to learn more. 

A plumber and a hvac professional on two images, HVAC Vs Plumbing: Which Trade Is Better?

The HVAC Trade

HVAC workers have become increasingly desired and valued over the past century. As HVAC products have developed, the job has also become more challenging and fulfilling. In this section, we will discuss the different aspects of an HVAC technician's job, and how to know if it's the right fit for you.

Air repair mechanic using measuring equipment for filling industrial factory air conditioners and checking maintenance outdoor air


Typically, when one thinks of work in HVAC, they think of the man who comes to fix an air conditioner in the heat of summer. While this is true, it isn't a full representation of all an HVAC technician's training

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Let's begin with heating. HVAC specialists undergo training to install, clean, and repair heating systems. This includes your furnace and water heater. 

Next is ventilation. These professionals also ensure that ventilation systems are well maintained, safe and efficient. 

The third is air conditioning. HVAC technicians also install, clean, and repair cooling systems. This includes outdoor and indoor air conditioners. 

A fourth aspect of HVAC is refrigeration. HVAC technicians also learn how to install and repair refrigerators, coolers, and freezers. 

In all of these situations, HVAC technicians must use their expertise to replace and repair electrical components. They also must communicate effectively with their clients and fellow workers, to accurately assess the issue and find the source of the problem. 

An HVAC professional's job is not a simple one. They must be able to troubleshoot, communicate, pay attention to the details, complete math equations and formulas and understand electrical and mechanical components. 


STEM student in an engineering class at a workshop

HVAC professionals have a very important job. People trust them to make homes and businesses safe for their inhabitants and consumers. Therefore, education is often necessary for the job.

HVAC professionals must have completed high school or equivalent, and most have to gain a postsecondary degree or certificate in HVAC.

Usually, this takes place at a trade, technical or community college. Occasionally, professionals earn these certificates or degrees from a four-year university.

This education may last for a period as short as 6 months or as long as 2 years. The participant will either graduate with a certificate or associate's degree.

One may receive their education through an apprenticeship program. This path is rare, as most companies require a certificate before bringing in an individual for training. But if you choose to pursue it, a local HVAC union may offer education. 

This education includes information on electricity, the anatomy of air conditioning and heating systems, reading blueprints, hands-on training with appropriate tools, and more. 

To work in the field independently, even under the umbrella of a company, you must also acquire an EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) certificate to handle refrigerants. This certification is usually a part of your preparation and testing when completing an HVAC program.

Many states will require an HVAC professional to gain a journeyman's license to work independently. A professional typically acquires one after a certain amount of time working in the field. 

Work Environment

HVAC can be an incredibly physically taxing job. Much of the job may take place outdoors, in the elements. This means being outdoors in very cool or warm seasons. Even indoors, the area where an HVAC technician is working may be very hot or cold. 

Also, HVAC technicians might have to carry heavy equipment and climb buildings, especially if they work on commercial air conditioners or heating systems. These professionals often get injured on the job. 

HVAC professionals may also become ill from the chemicals they handle. Refrigerants are toxic if handled directly. So,  technicians receive training beforehand. Still, accidents often happen.

HVAC professionals may work in homes, businesses, schools, or government buildings.

In this line of work, you could climb commercial business buildings to work on their rooftop cooling systems, or you could repair refrigerators and freezers in grocery stores. This depends on the job path you pursue.


HVAC technicians earn a mean salary of about $48,000 a year. The lowest wage is around $35,000 a year, while the highest is around $80,000 per year. 

The Plumbing Trade

Plumber tools and equipment in a bathroom, plumbing repair service, assemble and install concept

We must thank plumbers. They do what the rest of us can't and simply don't want to. Working on plumbing systems is a dirty job, but it can also be rewarding. We will discuss the many facets of the work here. 


Plumbers may also be pipefitters or steamfitters. The first aspect of a plumber's duty is to assess the plumbing system of a home, evaluate what work needs to be done, and create a cost estimate for their clients. 

These professionals must also be able to understand building codes and assess whether a plumbing system is meeting these criteria. If not, they must be able to plan and complete updates to the system.

They must be able to create lists of what is needed to complete a job and gather the necessary tools and materials. They also must be able to inspect, clean, and install pipes and plumbing fixtures. In some positions, plumbers will have to weld to install and repair these fixtures.

All of this requires plumbers to pay attention to details, troubleshoot, have organization skills, and communicate effectively with their clients. 


Usually, plumbers must have completed high school or an equivalent and have a valid driver's license. While you can take vocational courses on plumbing, it is not a requirement and may even be a rare occurrence. 

Most plumbers receive their training on the job as apprentices or interns. These programs may take 4 to 5 years. Once completed, the plumber will have a journeyman's license and be able to work independently.

Beyond a journeyman's license, plumbers can gain experience and graduate to master status. This may be a requirement to work as a contractor, furthering the plumber's independence.

Plumbers can also pursue certifications that will add to their desirability or work opportunities. These may include plumbing design or welding.

Work Environment

A plumber can find work with residential or commercial companies. Owing to the nature of the work, it can be quite dirty and smelly. This could be a potential deterrent from pursuing the career.

Plumbers risk injuries and illnesses when working. They must be careful not to expose themselves to bacteria that can make them sick. They also work with tools that could cause injury and must lug heavy equipment.


Plumbers don't have to complete any formal education, but they enjoy a higher pay wage than most HVAC technicians. When plumbers enter the workforce as interns or apprentices, they typically earn an hourly wage of $13 to $15 an hour. This which translates to around $30,000 a year. 

As the apprenticeship progresses, a plumber's wage may slowly rise, but the real pay increase happens when an apprentice graduates to a journeyman. Then, a plumber can search for an independent job. This could be as a contractor, or in government, construction, or manufacturing. 

At this point, the median annual wage for a plumber is around $59,000 per year. Depending on the location and job description, the pay could be less or more. 

What Is The Future Growth Of HVAC And Plumbing?

Sticky notes on a table and with a text of whats next

To be sure that you are making the best decision for yourself, you also need to know the future of each of these career paths. Will there be jobs for you to choose from when you have finished your education or training? 

HVAC Projections

HVAC should grow 5% from 2020-2030. This is below average compared to other career paths. There will be 38,500 positions available per year for HVAC technicians.

Plumbing Projections

Plumbing should grow 5% over the coming decade. This is slower than most occupations, but workers expect to transfer career paths or retire. So, there will be 51,000 new jobs annually from 2020-2030.

In Conclusion

A plumber and a hvac professional on two images

Both HVAC and plumbing can be rewarding career paths to follow. In this post, we have discussed the different facets of each line of work to consider - including the duties, education required, work environment, and salary. We hope that this information has aided you by giving you a fuller understanding of each career.

Want to learn more about related career paths? Visit this related post:

How To Become A Solar Technician

Also, we have some other articles worth reading:

How To Insulate Kitchen Sink And Sink Pipes?

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