HVAC vs. Plumbing: Which Trade Should You Choose?

So you’re interested in a rewarding career in the skilled trades, but you’re torn between the fields of heating/cooling and plumbing?

HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and plumbing both offer excellent job security, good wages, and the satisfaction of keeping people comfortable in their homes and businesses. But they also have some key differences.

This guide will help you compare the key aspects of HVAC vs. plumbing: duties, skills, salaries, career options, and more. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to choose the trade that’s best for you.




HVAC technicians focus on indoor air quality and temperature control. They diagnose issues with heating and cooling systems, perform preventative maintenance, and ensure these mechanical systems operate efficiently.

HVAC technician duties include:

  • Installing furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, and ductwork
  • Fixing or replacing components like motors, relays, thermostats, compressors, and heat exchangers
  • Connecting components to electrical and fuel lines
  • Cleaning ducts, coils, and filters
  • Checking refrigerant levels
  • Calibrating thermostats

HVAC technician working on AC unitHVAC technician working on AC unit

Plumbers focus on making sure water flows smoothly and waste gets removed efficiently. They diagnose and fix plumbing issues, test systems for leaks, and ensure compliance with building codes.

Plumber duties and responsibilities include:

  • Installing fixtures like toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and showers
  • Measuring, cutting, and threading pipes
  • Identifying and fixing leaks
  • Ensuring proper water pressure
  • Installing appliances like water heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines
  • Dealing with emergencies like burst pipes, sewer backups, and overflowing toilets



Both trades make solid incomes. According to the latest data from the Government of Canada Job Bank, HVAC techs earn slightly more than plumbers on average, but the highest-paid plumbers make more than the highest-paid HVAC techs.

In Ontario, the median HVAC trade salary is about $65,000 a year, while the median plumber salary is roughly $62,000.

However, the top plumbers in the province make about $104,000, while the highest-paid HVAC techs earn approximately $95,000.

Plumber fixing faucetThe highest-paid plumbers in Ontario make six-figure incomes



HVAC and Plumbing Trade Training

HVAC and plumbing are both compulsory trades in Ontario. That means you must complete an apprenticeship and earn a Certificate of Qualification in order to work in these trades.

The apprenticeship for both HVAC and plumbing consists of 8,280 hours of paid on-the-job training plus 720 hours in school. Training takes about five years in total.

Many people go to trade school for HVAC or plumbing to gain a foundation of skills and boost their chances of getting hired as an apprentice. Herzing College’s pre-apprenticeship programs in plumbing and HVAC are designed for that purpose and can each be completed in a year or less.


HVAC technicians in Ontario need an Ozone Depletion Prevention (ODP) card to buy and handle refrigerants. This involves taking a one-day course through a government-approved provider.

In addition, HVAC techs who work on gas-fired equipment must hold gas technician certification from the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). G3 is the beginner-level certification and allows you to work under supervision; G2 is the next level up and allows you to work independently. Herzing College’s HVAC program includes full training for the G2 certification.

Plumbers in Ontario typically don’t require any additional certifications. However, if your work involves gas lines or gas-fired appliances, you might need to obtain gas tech certification. Herzing offers a combined plumber + gas tech training program that includes preparation for the G3 certification.

Technician adjusting valveGas tech certification is an asset for both HVAC techs and plumbers



Beyond your apprenticeship, there are numerous paths for career growth, whether you choose HVAC or plumbing.

HVAC Careers

Thanks to the diverse range of options, you can tailor your HVAC career path to your interests and skills. For instance, you could specialize in either residential or commercial systems. You could also become a:

  • Refrigeration technician: Service and repair commercial refrigeration equipment like walk-in coolers, freezers, and display cases
  • Building automation technician: Work with advanced building automation systems that control HVAC equipment
  • Energy auditor: Conduct energy assessments in buildings to identify areas for efficiency improvements

Career advancement in HVAC includes positions like supervisor, project manager, service manager, or sales engineer. You could also start your own HVAC company.

Plumbing Careers

Plumbing career options are just as varied. In addition to focusing on either residential or commercial plumbing, you could pursue roles like:

  • Medical gas system installer: Install and maintain medical gas systems in hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Fire protection system installer: Set up and maintain fire sprinkler systems in commercial and industrial buildings
  • Water treatment specialist: Work with filtration systems or water softeners

Career advancement in plumbing can lead to jobs like foreman, plumbing inspector, or sales representative. Self-employment is also a possibility.



The skills required for HVAC and the skills required for plumbing are very similar. To be successful in either trade, you need:

  • Manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Attention to detail

However, there are a few differences.

HVAC technicians need to understand the principles of thermodynamics. They must be comfortable working with electrical components, wiring, and control systems, and they need to be able to use proper refrigerant charging techniques.

Plumbers need to understand fluid dynamics and kinetic energy. They must be skilled in measuring, cutting, threading, and assembling various types of pipes (e.g., PVC, copper, steel) and they must be adept at soldering and welding.



The HVAC and plumbing job outlooks are almost identical. The Job Bank gives both occupations three out of five stars for employment and growth in Ontario over the next few years.

In addition, the provincial government says the HVAC and plumbing trades could each see up to 2,000 job openings between 2023 and 2027.



Deciding between HVAC vs. plumbing jobs can be difficult. Here are some other key considerations:

Working conditions: HVAC can involve more exposure to extreme temperatures (since that’s what you’re there to fix), and techs often find themselves in sweltering attics or on rooftops, so you can’t be afraid of heights. The plumbing industry offers a more consistent indoor environment but often requires fitting into cramped spaces, and it can obviously involve sewage and waste.

Work hours: Both trades can involve irregular hours and on-call work. However, HVAC can have seasonal ups and downs, while plumbers typically see more stable demand throughout the year.

Skill sets: HVAC touches on aspects of many trades, including plumbing and electrical. Plumbing is not as broad in scope, but plumbers sometimes require knowledge of electrical systems when installing appliances like water heaters or dishwashers.

Reflect on your long-term career goals and which trade aligns better with your aspirations for advancement and specialization. If possible, it’s also a good idea to shadow someone in each field to get a first-hand understanding of the work involved.



At Herzing College, we’re passionate about helping you launch a rewarding career in the skilled trades. We offer pre-apprenticeship programs in both HVAC and plumbing, taught by experienced instructors who will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to impress an employer and get hired as an apprentice.

Click below to explore our programs and chat live with an admissions advisor. We’re here to help!

Explore the Pre-apprenticeship HVAC Program

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