SIC 1711

This industry classification covers special trade contractors primarily engaged in plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and similar work. Sheet metal work performed by plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contractors in conjunction with the installation of plumbing, heating, and air conditioning equipment is included here, but roofing and sheet metal work contractors are classified in SIC 1761: Roofing, Siding, and Sheet Metal Work. Special trade contractors primarily engaged in electrical work are classified in SIC 1731: Electrical Work.

NAICS Code(s)

235110 (Plumbing, Heating and Air-Conditioning)

The U.S. heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) industry employed about 249,000 workers in 2002, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly 50 percent of these individuals worked for heating and cooling contractors, and roughly 15 percent were self-employed. Plumbers accounted for nearly 550,000 jobs in 2002. Average hourly earnings for HVAC mechanics and installers were $16.78 in 2002, with a yearly wage of $34,902. Plumbers earned an average of $13.70 per hour, or $28,475 per year, in 2002. Generally, apprentices earned half the wage paid to their more experienced counterparts.

The plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning industry was benefiting from the growing U.S. housing market in the early 2000s. Despite a weak economy, housing construction continued its record growth in response to low interest rates. There were approximately 1.51 million building permits issued for single family housing in 2003 and 315,000 building permits issued for multi-family units. This was vital for the plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning industry, since more than one quarter of its construction work was done on detached single-family houses in the early 2000s. Industrial buildings accounted for another 15 percent of its work, followed by office buildings and other commercial buildings at roughly 10 percent each. While sales of industrial and commercial units waned as construction in those sectors slowed in the early 2000s, the booming home construction market pushed shipments of central airconditioning units and heat pumps to 6.7 million in 2002 and slightly higher yet in 2003. However, the industry did not remain immune to the effects of the recession. According to a January 2004 issue of Appliance, "It's been a difficult few years for the HVAC/R industry, despite the welcome new record shipments of central airconditioners and heat pumps. The loss of millions of jobs, especially the cutbacks in manufacturing employment, took its toll as indicated by the slowdown in shipments in many sectors of this industry."

Severe winter weather in some areas of the country in 2004 proved to be a good business opportunity for this industry. Water damage from frozen pipes and frozen water mains required expensive repairs. Also, the nation's aging housing stock meant that many homes built during the building boom that followed World War II needed replacement heating and air conditioning systems, as well as plumbing repairs, which helped to boost industry sales. In the air-conditioning sector alone, roughly 65 million air-conditioning units were in use as of early 2003, a figure that boded well for future replacement needs.

SIC 1711 Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning

One trend affecting the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning industry in the early 2000s was the continuing shortage of skilled trades people. Jobs in construction continued to suffer an image problem with high school students. The labor shortage was causing firms involved in construction to increase wages, stretch schedules, and, in some cases, reduce the quality of construction. The U.S. Department of Labor named construction as one of the most promising industries for those seeking employment in the early 2000s. The job market for HVAC workers is projected to grow 37.5 percent between 2002 and 2012; for plumbers it is expected to grow 22.5 percent.

While there are thousands of small, independent contractors in this industry, there are also very sizable major companies leading the industry. The top companies in 2003 in the plumbing, heating and air conditioning industry were Comfort Systems USA Incorporated, which posted sales in 2003 of $785 million; Vivendi North America Management Services; American Residential Service Incorporated, a subsidiary of ServiceMaster; Monumental Investment Corporation, a subsidiary of EMCOR Group Inc.; and ACCO Engineered Systems, formerly known as Air Conditioning Company.

Global demand for HVAC equipment is expected to grow 5 percent annually through 2006, according to the Freedonia Group. Heat transfer equipment is expected to lead the industry with $20.2 billion in sales by 2006, accounting for a significant portion of the $110 billion in total industry sales forecasted for that year. Asian countries other than Japan are expected to offer the largest growth potential.

Further Reading

"Build YOUR Future; Careers in Construction." Craft Information. Available from .

Sutton, William G. "Stronger Economy Brightens HVAC/R Outlook." Appliance, January 2004, 59.

Turpin, Joanna. "Better Furnaces Heat Up New Construction." Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News, 24 November 2003.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition. Washington, DC:2004. Available from .

"Worldwide Demand for HVAC Equipment." Appliance Manufacturer, July 2002, 8.

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