If you're looking for job that won't go out of style, consider a career in HVAC, also known as HVACR. Standing for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, workers in this field keep both residential and commercial buildings feeling comfortable, among other goals. Since virtually all buildings have environmental controls, HVAC technicians will likely always be in demand.
In the course of their day, HVAC technicians might do any of the following:
- Install new HVACR systems, including electrical components
- Test new and existing HVACR systems to ensure proper working condition
- Repair or replace defective units
- Recommend system upgrades and maintenance
- Maintain service records for clients
Students in HVAC programs are taught core fundamentals of the industry, but they may also choose a specialized area for professional development. An HVAC training school can help prepare workers to specialize in the following areas among others:
- Heating: Technicians who specialize in heating install, repair and maintain everything from simple furnaces to complex multi-load, multi-temperature systems.
- Cooling: Cooling technicians may service residential air conditioners as well as commercial refrigeration units.
- Alternative energy: Some technicians focus exclusively on systems that use alternative power sources such as solar panels.
- Repair: Those who specialize in repair only work on existing systems rather than installing new ones.
How to Become an HVAC Technician
Many people go to an HVAC trade school or complete a HVAC apprenticeship program to become a technician. Here's what you might need to do:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Enroll in an HVAC training program, whether it is campus based or with online components.
- Apply for positions in the HVAC workforce. Opportunities often come up through your school's resources, so be active in your search for positions while in school.
It helps if you have some familiarity with the following topics:
- Electrical work
HVAC Degree Programs
At one time, HVAC technicians learned their trade mainly through on-the-job training. However, employers are increasingly looking for job applicants who have attended a HVAC tech school. These institutions most commonly offer one or both of the following.
- Certificate: HVAC certificate programs can be completed in as little as six months although some may run as long as one year. Longer programs may provide students with more hands-on experience. Regardless of its length, a certificate program should prepare students for all aspects of installing, diagnosing and repairing HVACR systems.
- Associate Degree: While associate degrees traditionally take two years to complete, some HVAC schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as 14 months. Because they are longer programs, an associate degree may better prepare students to handle complex HVACR systems or work with alternative energy sources.
An HVAC apprenticeship program is another way to prepare for a career as a technician. These programs may last 2-5 years and combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Community colleges and technical schools offer apprenticeship programs as do some unions and trade groups. Partnering businesses sponsor apprentices who are paid for their work during the program.
Schools for HVAC Technicians
You'll find HVAC programs at both public and private schools nationwide. You can even go to an HVAC school online. Distance learning programs may use videos and multi-media presentations to demonstrate installation and repair techniques. Other programs take a blended approach. For instance, if you earn an HVAC associates degree online, you may be able to complete your classroom instruction via online courses and then attend in-person training sessions for hands-on experience.
HVAC Licensing and Certification
Any HVAC tech who works with refrigerants must be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Known as Section 608 certification, all applicants must pass a core certification exam before they can apply for one of four credentialing levels.
- Type I - Designed for technicians that service small appliances
- Type II - Designed for technicians who service high-pressure appliances
- Type III - Designed for technicians who service low-pressure appliances
- Universal - Designed for technicians who pass the core exam and other three parts of the Section 608 certification examination
There are also voluntary certification programs offered by industry groups. The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification is considered by many to be the gold standard in the field. Gaining NATE certification demonstrates real-world, fundamental knowledge of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Its certifications fall into four categories:
- Ready-to-Work Certificate for entry-level technicians with little to no education or experience.
- HVAC Support Technician Certificate for those with 6-12 months of work experience.
- Core and Specialty Certifications in more than a dozen areas such as air distribution and oil heating for those with at least two years of work experience.
- Senior Level Efficiency Analyst Certification which is the highest level of certification offered by NATE.
As for how to get HVAC certified, you'll need to have the proper level of experience and pass a certification exam. The Senior Level Efficiency Analyst Certification is only available to those who already have at least one heating and one cooling certification from NATE.
The HVAC Excellence certification program is another well-known option for technicians, and industry groups such as the Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute offer their own certification programs as well.
Career Advancement for HVAC Technicians
Expanding skills is a top way for HVAC technicians to advance their careers. Earning specialty certifications or working with new technologies, such as green energy sources, may open up new job opportunities. Another option for career advancement is to become an instructor at a HVAC school.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for HVAC Technicians
HVAC technicians have a hands-on job that requires the following skills and abilities:
- Quality Control Analysis: Technicians must be able to effectively evaluate whether HVAC systems and their components are in good working order.
- Troubleshooting: When a HVAC system isn't working correctly, technicians need to use troubleshooting skills to get to the root of the problem.
- Equipment Selection: Various HVAC systems may have different features, and technicians must be able to match their recommendation to their client's needs.
- Visualization: Heating and cooling systems are often bulky, but they can be configured in different ways. A good technician will be able to visualize the proper placement before beginning an installation.
- Finger Dexterity: Whether installing or repairing, HVAC techs spend a lot of time turning and grasping parts which makes finger dexterity a crucial ability in this field.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for HVAC Technicians
When considering HVAC technician salary data, remember that a person's education, certifications and work experience can all influence income. However, you can see average, nationwide figures for the profession below.
Likewise, jobs for HVAC technicians can vary across the country. Regions seeing a surge in construction may have a need for installers while repair jobs may be more prevalent in cities that are largely built-up already. National employment figures are listed here, and your HVAC training school may be able to provide more specific information for your region.
Projected Job Growth
|Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers||324,310||$50,160||12.6%|
Professional Resources for HVAC Technicians
Whether you graduate from a HVAC training school or complete an HVAC apprenticeship program, you'll want to know these three professional organizations.
- Air Conditioning Contractors of America - Don't let the name fool you. The ACCA is about more than cooling and has been a leading HVAC association for more than 40 years.
- ASHRAE - Previously known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, ASHRAE advocates for the HVAC industry and can trace its roots to 1894.
- Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute - AHRI represents manufacturers of HVAC systems. It also offers its own certification programs.