Electrician vs. HVAC — Which Career Is The Right Choice For You?

If you're at the beginning of your career, chances are you could go in any number of directions. You're interested in the trades, but you're not sure where you want to end up. That's totally ok! It's a good thing to weigh your options. In this post, we'll explore a decision that a lot of tradespeople make: should I become an electrician or an HVAC technician?

We'll go through the different aspects of each job, and hopefully shed some light on the "Electrician vs. HVAC" debate. First up:

Electrician Duties

We've written extensively about this in other posts, so we won't spend too much time on this (you can visit the rest of our posts for more info). Basically, electricians install and maintain the equipment that brings electricity to industrial centers, commercial spaces, and residential homes. There are a few different types of electricians, namely inside wiremen, residential wiremen, outside linemen, and telecommunications electricians. They have a lot of responsibilities that include reading blueprints, installing and maintaining wiring, using measurement devices to test how systems are working, and using the National Electrical Code to make sure buildings are operating safely and efficiently.

HVAC Duties

HVAC is short for "heating, ventilating, and air conditioning." HVAC technicians install and maintain the equipment that moves heat, oxygen, and cool air through a building. In any building you've ever entered, there are vents and heating systems that you can see, but there also extensive heating and ventilation systems in the infrastructure of the building. HVAC is a vitally important system in residential homes, but also in commercial spaces that are open to the public, and industrial centers that create chemicals and gases.

Verdict: Tie. Both electricians and HVAC techs work with systems that are vitally important to all types of buildings.

How Different Is Training?

As we mentioned in our "Is Training Difficult?" post, electricians need an apprenticeship that lasts about five years. Apprenticeships can be difficult to find, and many people who want to become electricians get either get an entry level job or some kind of schooling, in order to get some experience and make it more likely to get an apprenticeship. The good news about electrician apprenticeships: they're paid, and you get pay raises at scheduled points during the apprenticeship.

It's the same thing for HVAC techs, and it's another similarity in the "HVAC or electrician" debate. HVACs are also trained through an apprenticeship program, but the program may be shorter, depending on where the apprenticeship is located. Some apprenticeships last a little more than three years; others last a little more than five. Just like electrician apprenticeships, HVAC apprentices are paid as they move through their apprenticeship, and get pay increases at various times during the apprenticeship.

Verdict: Another tie. Both occupations require extensive training, and the apprenticeships provide all the training required. There are HVAC apprenticeships that are more quickly completed than the electrician apprenticeships, but honestly---that doesn't really matter all that much. You're getting paid either way. If the apprenticeships were NOT paid, then you'd want them to be over as quickly as possible. But because you "earn as you learn," the length of an apprenticeship isn't incredibly important.

HVAC Salary vs. Electrician Salary

In the United States, there is a federal organization called the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they record thousands of different data sets regarding employment, income, job outlook, and so on. At the time of their latest measurement, laborers in the two careers earned the following incomes:

Note that those figures represent "median wage data"---not an average, but the "middle" wage. The median wage for electricians was $49,840, meaning that half of electricians in the U.S. made more than that amount, and the other half made less than that amount.

Another note: the median annual wage for all American workers was just around $35,000.

Verdict: Electrician is the higher-paying career. The good news is that the pay for both careers is well above the national median pay. No matter which choice you make, you'll be earning more than the average American!

HVAC vs Electrician

Job Outlook

Back to the BLS. They expect that all occupations can expect to see 11% growth in the period between 2012 and 2022. For electricians and HVAC professionals, they expect the following:

  • Electricians can expect 20% growth between 2012 and 2022;
  • HVACs can expect to see 21% growth between 2012 and 2022;
  • Construction trades workers, as a whole, can expect growth of 22% between 2012 and 2022.

So what does that mean? It's means that the future is bright, regardless of the career choice you make!

Verdict: Another tie. That's excellent news for tradespeople of all kinds. There are many sectors of the American economy that see far harsher job outlooks. Those figures, of course, will be re-calibrated in 2022 and the years after that, but so far, the job outlook is very positive.

What Are YOU Interested In?

Here's the thing: the "Verdicts" we made for each section above don't really matter. The trades are almost always a good career choice, and any one of the trades will supply you with a reliable income and a solid, long-term professional career. That's what makes the trades such a great career option: it's work that simply can't be outsourced overseas. There will always be work for electricians, HVAC techs, and tradespeople of all kinds in the United States. It's tough work, but it's reliable, and it's respected.

What you need to do is figure out what you'd like to do, and what kind of options you have. Talk with people you know who might be in the trades, and call the local union for each job type. Talk it over, and ask questions! The more you know, the better shape you’ll be in to make a decision.

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