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February 24, 2021


Commercial vs. Residential HVAC Work: Weighing the Benefits

Can't decide whether to go into commercial or residential HVAC? Learn the differences of working in each field.

HVAC can represent a highly rewarding career path for technicians, office managers, and dispatchers alike. Of course, every HVAC business and worker faces an important choice. What’s better, specializing in commercial or residential work? Is there a way to work in both areas on a regular basis? Many careerists scratch their heads when facing the options available in the HVAC field these days.

Thankfully, you don’t always have to make one choice for your entire career. No one forces you to stick with the path you started, post-training. Both fields have their benefits. No matter which one you choose, you’ll find great career options and distinct advantages.

Key Differences Between Commercial and Residential HVAC

In many respects, the two areas are very similar. For instance, both give you the option of opening your own HVAC business and serving a variety of different customers.

  • Residential: With residential HVAC, you serve customer homes. You usually work small, one-off projects that cluster around peak seasons and usually occur because a heating or AC system stopped working and the homeowner or resident cannot fix the problem on their own. Usually, businesses dispatch only one or two technicians to a project, since residential jobs don’t require much manpower to complete.
  • Commercial: In commercial HVAC work, you’ll do projects for businesses and bigger properties. Accordingly, you’ll encounter bigger, more complex HVAC systems. Each project may take longer and you may work as part of a team with several other technicians. You may perform installations, do routine maintenance, or consult on a construction or renovation project.

In other words, the day-to-day grind of HVAC work can differ depending on the mix of residential and commercial work you do. If you do exclusively one or the other, switching between the two can essentially give you a different career.

For many people, making the choice between these two isn’t easy or straightforward. Some technicians make the decision in school or during their training, before they have much experience in the field and know what they actually want to get out of their work.

HVAC Jobs for Your Personality

Don’t know which specialization you want to pursue? You may wish to make your decision, at least in part, based on your personality.

Why You Might Like Residential HVAC

Residential work may give you more opportunities to interact directly with customers. You get to walk up to someone’s front door, solve a problem, and (hopefully) receive appreciation for your work. You also get to see a job completed quickly from start to finish more often than you might with some commercial work, where you could be just one of several hired-gun technicians working on a long-term project.

In a typical day, you’ll probably go to a wide variety of places and see a lot of different HVAC challenges.

Why You Might Like Commercial HVAC

If you like working on more complex systems, don’t mind the possibility of spending more time on a project, and enjoy working with many different local businesses, commercial HVAC may be right for you. You may spend more time outside in the elements, may not interact directly with customers as often, and may stay in one spot for a while instead of shuffling around town all day.

Commercial vs. Residential HVAC Pay

Although pay can reach higher heights with commercial projects, this may be a simple function of businesses hiring only the most experienced technicians (as well as longer project lengths). Residential projects can be quick, which might make it easy for a self-employed HVAC tech to fit more jobs inside a workday, thus boosting per-hour pay. Either way, experienced technicians who do great can expect high pay.

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average residential HVAC technician salary comes out at $54,228. The commercial technician’s salary comes out a little higher on average, at $55,888 according to Neuvoo.

Of course, pay also varies by region, experience, years in the field, and more. Some areas may have a shortage of qualified technicians—in that case, as with anything else in life, the highest bidder gets their work done by the best people. A large number of commercial projects that pay well may snatch away technicians who’d otherwise work for residential customers, and vice versa. In some locations, you can make a lot more than these averages.

Which area is right for you?

It pays to do your homework. Think about the type of working conditions you want and look at how you can get those. If possible, shadow someone in one or both fields and see what a typical day looks like. And remember! If you make the wrong decision, you’re not stuck. You can always switch fields!