Commercial VS. Residential HVAC/R
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There are three main segments of the industry: residential, commercial, and industrial HVAC. Each one has a unique set of requirements and skills, though many technical skills translate across all of them to some extent.
Trade schools tend to focus on residential and light commercial work because those two areas make up a large percentage of the marketplace. Heavy commercial and industrial HVAC tend to have more complicated control systems that you won’t cover in trade school, so a lot of training on those systems will be on-the-job or come straight from the manufacturer.
Residential HVAC relies heavily on soft skills like communication and customer service skills. You will have to have conversations where you educate the customer and talk about pricing, which can be difficult to do well. If you don’t have strong interpersonal skills, we recommend developing those skills or trying out another segment of the trade that doesn’t work as closely with customers. Residential service tech salaries can vary widely based on your people skills (which translates to your ability to make sales).
Within residential HVAC, there are service and installation sides. The service side deals quite heavily with customer communication, but the installation side is less customer-heavy and much more focused on workmanship; installation is often physically taxing and is a decent avenue for young people who might be looking to start in residential but don’t feel that they are quite ready for service yet; many techs transfer from the installation side to the service side.
Commercial HVAC is much more technical and mechanical than residential HVAC; there is less communication between you and the customer, so it is often a good choice for introverts. However, you will likely have less support than you do as a residential technician (where manufacturer literature and tech support are often widely available), so you will have to rely on your mechanical aptitude. The commercial world will often require you to travel greater distances between jobs, and you may spend several days (or even months) out of town to work on a single job site.
Industrial HVAC is very similar to commercial HVAC, but it’s more mission-critical and you work on even larger equipment to control the temperature and humidity of manufacturing plants and other large applications.
In any case, you will be happiest if you can find a company that suits you.