Anyone pursuing a career in HVAC has two paths they can ultimately take: a career in residential HVAC or a career in commercial HVAC.
Residential HVAC obviously involves working on the heating and cooling systems of your everyday homeowners, where commercial HVAC technicians are performing services on the heating and cooling systems of businesses and other public spaces.
While yes, it is true that at the end of the day both kinds of technicians are simply servicing, installing, and repairing heating and cooling equipment, the nature of where they work, how they work, and what kinds of equipment they work on during the course of a typical day makes the two positions incredibly unique.
It is important to know that an HVAC technician isn’t locked into either path. However, knowing the important differences between both careers can give you a good perspective you can use to help guide the long-term direction of your career.
As you pursue your HVAC education, here are important differences between commercial and residential HVAC that you need to know for your career outlook.
Commercial HVAC often requires more education
Commercial HVAC technicians work with larger and often more complex heating and cooling equipment. After all, we are talking about systems that need to heat and cool entire commercial buildings, not just a one-story home.
Because of the complexity of the equipment they work with on a daily basis, it is normally the case that commercial HVAC technicians will need to go above and beyond the baseline education and training needed to practice.
For example, the EPA 608 certification is a requirement for all HVAC technicians, but commercial technicians will likely need to achieve Universal certification (Level 4) that certified you to work on both large and small appliances.
While achieving as much certification and training as you can is recommended for all technicians, regardless of your specialty, because of the employment opportunities it creates, anyone considering a career path into commercial HVAC needs to be more so committed to expanding their education.
Commercial HVAC has more reliable hours
Besides the equipment being worked on, the way in which the technicians of their respective areas also vastly differ due to the kinds of customers they work for.
Residential HVAC technicians deal with homeowners who normally can’t afford to be without heating or cooling relief for very long. So, if a customer’s air conditioning goes out late on a summer evening, if you are on call you may be summoned to work anywhere, anytime.
Commercial HVAC technicians, on the other hand, serve business locations that normally have a very typical 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday work weeks. Since this is the only time that your customer will be present, commercial technicians also typically have a similar work schedule and have to deal with after-hours emergencies less frequently.
As a technician progresses in their career, the appeal of a more structured workweek is often very appealing.
Commercial HVAC often has harsher working conditions
Life as a commercial HVAC technician is all glamorous, however. Whereas residential technicians normally service equipment that is primarily indoors, commercial technicians work on large commercial systems that are normally housed in one location: the roof.
Technicians servicing commercial HVAC systems spend most of their days high up on top of tall buildings and in full exposure to the elements, from the pouring rain to the sweltering hot sun. Here in Texas, our summers can be particularly brutal, making for lots of hot, sweaty, and downright uncomfortable workdays.
No HVAC technician is completely protected from uncomfortable working conditions, but if your plan is to eventually work as a commercial HVAC technician, you need to be fully prepared to regularly work in a difficult and harsh environment.
Commercial HVAC is more competitive
The complexity of equipment and the size and scope of the projects commercial HVAC companies tackle leads those working in the industry to enjoy a greater average pay than those in residential HVAC. While this is obviously a great upside and goes a long way in making working in those harsh conditions worth it, this also results in commercial HVAC positions being highly coveted and competitive when being filled.
Those looking to make the jump from residential to commercial HVAC work will need to be prepared to be able to stand out from the crowd of competing applicants. This is where having pursued additional certification and education to better prepare your resume can not only help you perform your job but also get noticed.
Because of the competitive landscape and the amount of education required to land a job in commercial HVAC, many technicians begin their careers in the residential sector and work their way into commercial later on.
Residential HVAC is more personal
One aspect of working in heating and cooling that many residential technicians enjoy is the interactions they have with their customers. Many technicians often also start getting “regulars” after many years in the same job who they get to know and get closer with over the years. It is these social aspects of the job that many technicians find extremely rewarding.
With commercial HVAC, however, this social aspect is almost non-existent. Contracts are negotiated and written up by the company you work for, you arrive on-site, complete the work, leave, and then the invoice gets sent to their billing department.
While there are certainly many benefits to a career in commercial HVAC, those that particularly enjoy the parts of the job dealing with customers and building relationships need to know that aspect is not nearly as present.
There are differences between commercial and residential HVAC work that give them each their pros and cons. However, it is important to remember that both fields provide your community with a valuable and in-demand service. An interest in one area doesn’t close you off from entering the other, and the skill sets that both require can help make you a well-rounded and effective HVAC technician.
Keep your mind open to learning about both as you pursue your education and career. The education you receive at the Training Center of Air Conditioning and Heating will thoroughly prepare you with everything you need to know to begin your career down either path. Contact us today to learn more about our upcoming schedule of classes.