Plumber vs. HVAC: Should I Work in HVAC or Plumbing?

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Plumbing vs. HVAC: What's The Difference?

Choosing a career path is a critical decision that impacts one’s future significantly. Among the various skilled trades, Plumbing and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) are two prominent fields. Both offer robust career opportunities but differ in various aspects like job roles, work environment, salary, and long-term prospects. This blog post aims to compare these two trades to help you make a more informed career choice.

Plumber & HVAC Job Responsibilities

While both trades have many similarities comparing the job duties of HVAC vs plumbing shows many differences as well.

Plumber Job Description

Plumbing involves the installation, repair, and maintenance of pipes, fixtures, and other plumbing equipment used for water distribution and waste water disposal in residential and commercial buildings. Plumbers deal with systems that transport water, sewage, and natural gas. They also install plumbing fixtures like bathtubs, sinks, and toilets, and appliances, including dishwashers and washing machines.

HVAC Job Description

HVAC refers to systems that control the climate within buildings. The primary role is to install, repair, and maintain heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. HVAC components and word includes electrical wiring, refrigerants, and air ducts, and are responsible for ensuring that these systems operate efficiently and effectively.

Plumbing & HVAC Training

In the field of Plumbing, you can start as an apprentice and progress to a journeyman and then a master plumber. Plumbers usually enter the trade through a 4-5 year apprenticeship program, and others opt to attend a trade school for plumbers. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most require a certain amount of experience and passing a written exam. Specializations can include pipefitters, steamfitters, and pipelayers.

In HVAC, career progression typically starts with an apprenticeship, though some may opt for post-secondary education in HVAC from a trade school or community college. This leads to becoming a HVAC technician. Certification, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification for handling refrigerants, is often required. Specialization areas include residential, commercial, and industrial HVAC, refrigeration, and sometimes even solar panel installation.

Both careers require a high school diploma or equivalent as a minimum.

HVAC vs Plumbing Salary

The earning potential of plumbers and HVAC technicians can vary based on factors like location, experience, and specialization. The average pay for plumbers was approximately $55,000 per year, whereas HVAC technicians had a median annual wage of about $53,500.

However, it’s important to note that these figures can fluctuate. For instance, master plumbers or HVAC technicians with specialized skills in emerging technologies can earn significantly more.

Day-to-Day Life of HVAC Technician vs Plumber

Plumbers often work in different locations, from homes to large construction sites, and may need to work outdoors in various weather conditions. The job can be physically demanding, sometimes requiring work in tight spaces or at heights.

HVAC technicians also work in diverse environments, from residential to industrial sites. They may work in extreme conditions, dealing with heat when fixing a furnace or cold when repairing air conditioning in hot climates. The nature of HVAC work often requires availability for emergency calls and working outside regular business hours.

Job Outlook of HVAC vs Plumbing

Both plumbing and HVAC sectors are expected to grow in the coming years due to the constant need for water systems and climate control technologies. Advancements in technology, like smart home systems, also create new opportunities in these fields.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a water heater HVAC or plumbing?

Water heaters are part of a plumbing system, not an HVAC system. Water heaters are installed and maintained by plumbers to provide hot water to sinks, showers, and other appliances.

Is a boiler HVAC or plumbing?

Even though water pipes are involved, a boiler is part of an HVAC system. HVAC technicians are trained to install and repair boilers.

Should I become a plumber or HVAC technician?

The demand for plumbers and HVAC professionals is high and continuing to grow nationwide. While plumbers make more on average, both careers are great options.

Is it easier to move plumbing or HVAC?

Plumbing is usually harder to move than HVAC. Plumbing pipes are often run under concrete and behind walls, while HVAC vents are often exposed. HVAC systems also use plumbing, so moving one likely means moving the other.


Choosing between a career in plumbing or HVAC depends on individual preferences, skills, and long-term career goals. Both offer opportunities for growth, good remuneration, and the satisfaction of skilled, hands-on work. Consider your interests, the type of work environment you thrive in, and potential for specialization when making your decision.

Both fields are essential to modern society and offer fulfilling career paths. Whether you decide to work in HVAC jobs or plumbing jobs, you’ll be entering a field with a strong future and the opportunity to make a significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

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Casey Loeber

Casey Loeber is the founder of His mission is to share the best information online about plumbing jobs and help plumbers lead fulfilling careers.

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