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HVAC Technician

Job Spotlight - HVAC Technician

Working as an HVAC Technician is a great option for anyone looking for a long-lasting and rewarding profession. You can choose to start your new job in a few different ways from formal study to on-the-job learning.  The choice is up to you but it helps to have some information on what all this entails before you start. Let’s look more at air conditioning and heating technician position.
 

Quick Facts: Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technicians
2015 Median Pay (Annual) $45,110
2015 Median Pay (Hourly) $21.69
Entry Level Education Post-secondary certificate
Recommended Education Post-secondary education (certificate or degree)
2014-2024 Projected Outlook 14% growth (much faster than average)
2014 Number of Jobs 292,000
2014-2024 Estimated Employment Gains 39,600

Resource: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

HVAC Technician FAQs

You might have some questions on what heating, ventilation and air conditioning techs really do or which kind of education is the best. On this page you will find some of the typical questions we receive from readers like you. Through our vast experience and knowledgeable contacts including a number who currently work as a HVAC Technician, we have answered the most frequently asked questions in a straight forward and honest way. If you feel we missed any questions or we have not provided enough information, please contact us.

What is HVAC?

HVAC is the acronym for heating, ventilation and air conditioning which provide climate control in most homes, buildings and businesses in the country. The responsibility to install, maintain and repair falls on the shoulders of skilled craftsmen known as a HVAC Technician. These tradesmen are busy everyday making sure that everybody is enjoying a comfortable climate even in the most extreme weather.

HVAC Technician career is one of the faster growing occupations in the country. This growth can be attributed to increased construction and maintenance of existing HVAC units. Becoming a HVAC tech can be a very rewarding and profitable career with not a lot training involved. You can become an experienced tech in a few short years of training while working to make everyone’s life a little more comfortable.

Most HVAC Technicians work for large heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies make above average wages. Once experienced, you can also start your own company or become an independent contractor allowing you set your own hours or enjoy the freedom of self-employment. If this seems interesting, then education can start soon, as long as you want to reach for the brass ring.

How to Start Working as a HVAC Technician

Quick Info: Path to a HVAC Tech Position
Get Instruction:
• Enroll in an HVAC program
• Study, practice and learn the ins-and-outs of HVAC
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help
Take the certification exams
• Employment ready certification
• Professional level certification
• Master specialist certification
Take licensing exam
• Check with city and state to see if you need a HVAC Technician license
• Make sure to study local, state and federal regulations and codes
Specialty technician exams
• Green Awareness
• Light Commercial Air Conditioning
• Gas Heat
• Electric Heat
• Light Commercial Refrigeration
• Residential Air Conditioning
• Heat Pump Service
• Heat Pump Installer
• Universal R-410A
• Combustion Analysis
• Residential Heal Load Calculation
• Residential & Light Commercial Hydronic Heat
• Carbon Monoxide Inspection
• Combustion Analysis

Think you have what it takes to work as a HVAC Technician? You know you like to fiddle around with electronics and have fixed the window air conditioner before, but it takes a bit more knowledge to work in HVAC professionally. You can gain this knowledge through some formal training and the good part is, it doesn’t take all that long to make it possible to start your new career.

Generally speaking, there are basically four ways you can get schooling for a HVAC Technician job. We will break down each of the methods including what they have to offer and the pros and cons of each method. Ultimately the choice is up to you which path you decide to go down but rest assured that either way may help you start a very rewarding and lucrative future in HVAC.

Trade School or Community College

One of the surest ways of getting the right education to become a HVAC technician is by attending a HVAC certificate or degree program. These programs can be found at most community colleges and technical or trade schools throughout the United States. Depending on your goals, you can either enroll in the certificate program or an associate’s degree level program. Typically a certificate will take you six months to complete while it takes upwards of two years for an associate’s degree.

Your education through a trade or technical school or a community college will be a combination of classroom instruction and practical experience in one of the labs. The types of HVAC Technician courses you will take may vary by institution but for the most part they should cover the basics of electricity, piping and ducts, hydraulics, work safety, control systems, furnaces, and the properties of gases. Try to find a school that also can offer internships.

Pros

  • Full learning experience in all aspects of the field
  • A certificate or a degree make give an advantage to others when looking for a job
  • Might improve advancement opportunities

Cons

  • School can be expensive
  • Some of the required general education classes do not relate to HVAC training
  • Not for those who do not like classroom instruction
Apprenticeships

One of the more common ways to break in to the HVAC Technician field is by becoming involved in one of the many apprenticeship programs. An apprentice program is where someone who aspires to become an HVAC Technician takes a program offered by a local union or one of the national industry associations to learn the trade. Apprentices work with experienced professionals who show them the ropes and apprentices get a paycheck for their work. Eventually they will gain enough experience and knowledge to become certified.

The instruction you will receive in a HVAC Technician apprenticeship program is somewhat similar to that of a vocational school or a community college. Apprentices are given instruction in a classroom as well as some on-the-job experience. There are a few differences though such as apprentices are paid and it typically takes 3 to 5 years to complete.

Pros

  • Get paid to learn
  • Learn from experienced HVAC technicians
  • Hands-on instruction is real experience compared to working in a lab

Cons

  • It takes 3 to 5 years to complete
  • More grunt work, i.e. carry tools, than working on systems
  • Will not get a degree when you finish
On-The-Job Learning

Another way that some HVAC Technicians got their start was by getting hired by a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company with the prospect of learning via on-the-job. More than likely a company will hire those interested in this type of instruction as an assistant who starts off by carrying the tools, cleaning furnaces and doing the dirty work. Eventually they will start getting involved in the tougher tasks.

Some companies will have these aspiring HVAC techs take some self-study classes or some classroom instruction to help them learn more efficiently. They may even require you to take some relevant classes in computer science and math, as an example. Often an employer will have a set time which you are to finish your on-the-job training and this may vary from company to company.

Pros

  • Get a paycheck while learning
  • Learn in real workplace environments
  • Lots of interaction with all aspects of the job

Cons

  • Mostly serving as a caddy during the beginning
  • May not get proper instruction
  • Must show continued progress or can be let go
U.S. Military

If you have inner passion to serve your country while learning a marketable trade, you can join one of the U.S. armed forces to get your HVAC Technician training. HVAC techs are necessary in the military to help maintain comfortable temperatures in buildings, ships and airplanes. Plus, the military has lots of need for refrigeration equipment to keep food and some fuels cold.

After completing boot camp you can qualify for instruction. You will get both classroom instruction and gain some practice doing repair work. The length of your schooling will depend on the service and specialty you are qualified for. You may also have the option to take some of the advanced courses for some additional education.

Pros

  • Steady paycheck
  • Guaranteed job once training is complete
  • Military service is highly respectable

Cons

  • At least 4 year commitment
  • Can be sent in to dangerous areas
  • Very structured life style
Certification

No matter how you get your training to become a HVAC Technician you may be required to take a certification exam to prove that you have the skills.  These exams test your competency in residential and commercial heating and cooling. There are different levels of exam depending on the amount of experience you have in the field.

These certification exams will show what level and type of competency you can expect out of the HVAC Technician. You may find that employers will give hiring priority to those that have earned more than one type of certifications.

Licensing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that any HVAC technician that works with refrigerants. There are three different written exams that can be earned through the EPA. These are:

Besides EPA licensing, some states and cities require that a HVAC Technician to licensed. The licensing requirements may vary depending on where you are but each require the passing of an exam. An employer or a local union will have all the information you will need on which licenses you will need to obtain.

Our Recommendation

Our best recommendation is to through a vocational or trade school to get the right education and experience to work as a HVAC Technician. From our observations we feel that those with a degree in hand have better opportunities not only for employment but also for potential higher pay and promotions. Plus, we have heard that employers will see the amount of time you have spent in school as a bonus since it proves you are serious about this career choice.

We do feel for some people that may not or cannot put their life on hold in order to go to school. Or they may not be able to afford it. An apprenticeship or the joining the U.S. military can be viable options to get the right HVAC Technician education. The choice is ultimately up to you but we will stand by our recommendation to pursue an associate’s degree.

Where Can I Find Heating and Air Conditioning Programs?

Quick Info: Where To Find HVAC Courses
Prepare for a HVAC technician job through any of the following:
• Accredited trade schools, vocational schools or a community colleges
• State approved apprenticeship program
• On-the-job learning
• HVAC instruction in the military

Depending on the type of HVAC Technician classes you want to pursue, there are plenty of ways you can find the type of instruction the best fits you, your personality or your current situation. This is a decision you must make on your own but we can help you out the best we can.

Trade School or Community College

One of the easiest ways to find a school or college that offers HVAC Technician classes is by looking on the internet. A quick search will show a number of programs in your area or at least close enough to consider. You can quickly compare schools to find out which one is best for you and your goals. You might also ask around if anyone has any experience or heard anything about any of the local schools.

We do advise that you do some research on the school or college you are interested in. You will want to find a technical or trade school or a community college that has been accredited by a national organization such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). You might want to check the graduation rate of students in HVAC Technician training to check on their success rate with students.

Apprenticeships

Much like colleges or schools, HVAC Technician apprenticeship programs can be found through an internet search. Most of these programs are made available through some of the local HVAC industry associations. Some of the more common associations include:

On-The-Job Learning

To find one of positions in an on-the-job HVAC Technician learning program is a bit more difficult, unless you already have some insider knowledge. One of the best ways to find one of these programs is by calling some heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies to find out if they offer training. Or you can check the local classified ads for any job openings.

U.S. Armed Forces

The armed forces are probably the easiest to get a hold of but you just have to qualify for the instruction. There are no guarantees that you will get in to the program since you will need to pass a vocational aptitude test which will let you know what qualify to do. If your recruiter tells you that you can pick HVAC instruction, it is best to get it in writing.

Are There Any Online HVAC Tech Schools?

If you are looking to change your job but can’t take time to go back to a traditional school, you can always look at one of the online HVAC schools. For some people, an online education is one of the best ways to break in to a new field without quitting your full time job or other responsibilities. By picking the right accredited online school, you will not be losing out on the quality of education as compared to a traditional campus-based style school.

Much like a traditional school, you can pursue either a certificate or an associate’s degree to become a HVAC Technician. At one of these online schools you will be introduced and learn about the fundamentals of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technologies. Topics such as safety, reading blueprints and the basics of HVAC and electricity are normally covered in these courses.

How Long Does It Take to Complete HVAC Classes?

The amount of time it takes to complete HVAC Technician courses depends on a number of factors such as how quick you pick it up, what kind of instruction you are going through and what obligations you have signed up for, i.e. military service. Even then, there will always be something else to learn such as specialist certifications or new technologies that change the game.

Below is the typical time you can expect to spend on the initial instruction, including timed obligations.

  • Certificate from trade school – 6 months
  • Associate’s degree from trade school – 2 years
  • Apprenticeship – 4 years
  • On-the-job training – 3 years
  • U.S. Military – 4 years

How Can I Get HVAC Certification?

As previously mentioned, there are different certifications depending on the amount of experience that a HVAC Technician has. There are a few organizations that offer certification exams for you to choose from or offer a certain certification for your needs. Below is a list of some of the certification associations.

HVAC Excellence

National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)

National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI)

North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

Partnership for Air-Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA)

Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

What is a HVAC Technician Job Description?

Part of the prerequisites to work as a HVAC Technician is learning all the duties and responsibilities associated with the job. Some of the more common duties include:

  • Test and inspect for malfunctions and to verify system compliance with plans
  • Checking electrical circuits and the components
  • Disassemble and reassemble system for repairs
  • Installation of requested or required units or systems
  • Safely handle refrigerants according to EPA standards
  • Communicate with owners or representatives on how the unit operates
  • Discuss the types of malfunctions with users to find problems
  • Make adjustments to system controls to balance the system according to specs
  • Connect wiring between the equipment and controls according to wiring diagram
  • Test pipe and tubing joints for leaks
  • Assemble heating and cooling equipment according to blueprints
  • Insulate pipes with insulation wrap
  • Manufacture pipes or tubing by measuring, cutting and bending where needed
  • Create and record work orders
  • Cut and fit equipment in to walls, floor or roof
  • Cement pipes and tubing for fuel, water and refrigerant sources to make a complete connection
  • Preform installation of auxiliary components of a system or equipment such as pipes, air ducts, valves, etc…

What is the Median HVAC Salary?

You’ve gone through HVAC Technician classes and have been certified and licensed, now you want to know what you can expect to make dollar wise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updated median salary for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers is $45,110 a year or roughly $21.69 an hour. The top 10% was earning over $69,000 while the lowest 10% was making around $27,000.

Important note, your actual salary may differ from the numbers presented by the BLS depending on a few factors. Certain factors such as experience, certifications, location and type of employer can play an important part in what your real salary might be. Your salary may also be altered by working overtime or getting pay for working irregular hours.

HVAC Salary

Apprentices normally make 50% of what more experienced and skilled HVAC Technicians. Keep this in mind when discussing pay for an apprentice program.

What is the Outlook for HVAC Jobs?

The future for those looking to become HVAC Technicians projected to have strong growth over the next decade. This is due in part to the increase in construction projects as well as overall dependence on air conditioning and heating units. The U.S. government projects that HVAC Tech jobs will produce 123,700 new jobs through 2022, or 14% new jobs. This is faster than the average of all occupations.

HVAC Technician Projected Growth

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