Published Date: March,20,2019
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:
Step 1: Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
Step 2: Enroll in an HVAC training program, whether it is campus based or with online components.
Step 3: 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.
The Best HVAC Programs in the U.S.
In order to determine the best HVAC schools in the country, we looked at hard data for more than 300 institutions that focus their efforts on associate degree and certificate programs. We scored each school in important categories like schedule flexibility, student success, affordability and more, then ranked them from best to worst. Check out the top ten HVAC colleges below.
Atlanta Technical College was one of the best online schools by enrollment in our study, reporting that nearly 60 percent of its roughly 4,000 students took advantage of the virtual classroom for at least some of their coursework. Certificate students here far outnumber those seeking academic degrees, and the institution reports a 99 percent job placement rate for graduates. ATC also posted the best graduation rate of any school on our list.
HVAC programs at ATC: The diploma program in air conditioning technology at ATC takes three semesters of full time study to complete and teaches the fundamentals of HVAC electrical systems, gas heating, refrigeration principles and more. Two single-semester technical certificates are available as well.
Formed as the result of a college merger in 2009, Chattahoochee Technical College serves a student body of around 10,000 learners on its eight total campuses and learning centers in the area north and northwest of Atlanta. Students here have access to the Soar with Four initiative, an advising program designed to help students save money and graduate faster by making it easier for them to study on a full-time basis.
HVAC programs at CTC: Six technical certificates of credit are offered here, including a new program for the 2019-20 school year that focuses on teaching trained HVAC techs about the design, application and operation of light commercial HVAC systems. The diploma program can be completed in 52 credit hours.
College of Lake County has one of the best retention rates among our top HVAC schools, meaning that students here are more likely than most to re-enroll for the second year of their programs and work toward graduation. CLC was also among the top three schools on our list for its proportion of graduates still gainfully employed six years after finishing their studies.
HVAC programs at CLC: Students looking for truly comprehensive HVAC training can enroll in the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) program in HVAC/R engineering technology, which provides two full years of training and includes a general education component. CLC also offers several skills certificates, including a fast-track plan designed to give working HVAC techs advanced knowledge of HVAC/R engineering technology.
Average net price is a comprehensive measure of college affordability that estimates a student's out-of-pocket cost for essentials like tuition, fees, housing and books by subtracting estimated grants and scholarships from the average total cost. Central Georgia Technical College ranked among the five best HVAC schools in the country for the affordability of its average net price, charging students less than $2,600 for the year in 2018-19.
HVAC programs at CGTC: HVAC programs here include three technical certificates -- one each for electrical technicians, residential technicians and technician assistants -- as well as a diploma in air conditioning technology. The certificates can be completed in 12-16 credit hours, and all four plans are available at CGTC campuses in Warner Robins, Macon and Milledgeville.
Headquartered just south of the Ohio-Kentucky border, Maysville Community and Technical College operates four full-service campuses and one extension center throughout northeastern Kentucky. Just one other school on our list can claim a higher percentage of distance education enrollment than the roughly 60 percent of students taking online classes at MCTC.
HVAC programs at MCTC: A wide range of program lengths are available for certificate students, with some plans taking as few as 9-10 credit hours and others taking as many as three semesters of full-time schoolwork. Students in the HVAC diploma program can customize their schedule to best suit their career goals, using electives, general education courses and additional training opportunities to claim between up to nine extra credit hours of study.
Georgia Piedmont Technical College is the oldest institution among Georgia's 22 technical colleges. It educates around 3,400 students each semester had one of the highest concentrations on our list of HVAC students per capita, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Close to 8 percent of all graduates in 2018 earned degrees or certificates in air conditioning technology.
HVAC programs at GPTC: The 51-credit diploma program in air conditioning technology at GPTC consists of mostly career-focused courses, including training in heat pump systems, refrigeration systems components, air conditioning system installation and HVACR electrical motors. The program emphasizes a combination of air conditioning theory and practical application and features a capstone course in HVAC system troubleshooting.
Educating more than 14,000 learners each year on its expansive main campus and two extension sites, Moraine Valley Community College is one of the largest institutions on our list. The numbers suggest that students returning to school after spending some time in the workforce might feel comfortable here -- 42 percent of the student body is aged 22 or older and around 85 percent of students remain employed while attending school.
HVAC programs at MVCC: Certificates in basic air conditioning, advanced air conditioning and heating and air conditioning are available here, each training students in its own set of HVAC skills. Two comprehensive study plans are available as well: a 43-credit certificate and an A.A.S. in stationary engineering.
Student success was a high-scoring category for Elgin Community College, which posted one of the highest graduation rates among our best HVAC schools and had a retention rate that ranked in the top 25 nationwide. Perhaps as a result of such high student engagement, ECC also reported the highest percentage of alumni who maintained employment for up to six years after graduating.
HVAC programs at ECC: Three levels of HVAC training program are on offer at this Chicagoland school. Basic certificates take anywhere from 12.5 to 26.5 credit hours to complete, while vocational certificates in HVAC facilities maintenance, light commercial HVAC and sheet metal mechanics require 34-48.5 credits of study. A 62.5-credit A.A.S. in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration is available as well.
Affordability is number one at Albany Technical College. Its average net price of less than $700 for a year of instruction was the lowest such figure among all 300+ schools we surveyed. It also has one of the nation's highest percentages of distance education enrollment, reporting that more than two-thirds of its students make use of distance education options in their studies.
HVAC programs at ATC: The HVAC diploma program here has a fairly standard 51-credit length and provides equal training in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration concepts. Several technical certificates of credit are also available, ranging from 12-credit technician assistant and electrical specializations to a robust 28-credit option for aspiring industrial and commercial HVAC techs.
Georgia Northwestern Technical College was created in 2008, merging two existing institutions to better serve its nine-county area in northwest Georgia. A total of six campuses provide academic and vocational training to the roughly 5,800 students who enroll here each semester, and administrators at the college strive to form partnerships with local businesses and area high schools to provide a seamless transition into relevant, high-quality career education.
HVAC programs at GNTC: The certificate programs for air conditioning electrical technicians, systems maintenance technicians and technician assistants each require three courses that total 12 credit hours. The diploma program features comprehensive vocational training and helpful general education courses in the foundations of mathematics, English composition and interpersonal relations and professional development.
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.
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers||324,310||$50,160||14.7%|
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.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, Accessed January 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- 3 Must-have HVAC Certifications for Top Techs, November 10, 2015, Advanced Technology Institute, Accessed January 2019, https://www.auto.edu/blog/3-must-have-hvac-certifications-for-top-techs/
- Section 608 Technician Certification, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Accessed January 2019, https://www.epa.gov/section608/section-608-technician-certification-0
- HVAC Online School Programs, Brownson Technical School, Accessed January 2019, https://brownson.edu/programs/blended-learning-program/
- Apprenticeship, Mountainland Technical College, Accessed January 2019, https://mtec.edu/programs/hvac-apprenticeship/
- The 4 Steps to HVAC Success, North American Technician Excellence, Accessed January 2019, https://www.natex.org/site/1/Home
- Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers, O*Net Online, Accessed January 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/49-9021.01
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed May 2019, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 2019, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
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