High school students can get a head start on their HVAC education by completing coursework in physics, math, and vocational education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends that students complete high school shop courses in plumbing, basic electronics, or electrical work.
Initial training programs for HVAC technicians conclude with the award of a certificate or college degree. The main distinctions between the options include the time commitment, the cost of the program, and the subjects covered during the training. Diploma or certificate programs can be completed in as little as 10 months. Associate degrees take two years to complete, and baccalaureate degrees require four years of study. Coursework can include studies in residential systems, HVAC controls (such as voltage, air quality, and resistance, and tools (such as calibration instruments).
The BLS reports that employers prefer HVAC applicants that have completed postsecondary education or an apprenticeship program that can last 3-5 years. Apprenticeships are offered by contractor associations and unions. Some may involve academic coursework and on-the-job training that adds up to of 2,000 hours per year. Apprentices work with trade professionals and in some cases may earn a stipend during their apprenticeship. Apprenticeships lead to industry savvy in blueprint reading and tool applications and safety practices.
Individual states require HVAC professionals to hold licenses and/or certifications. Check with the state regulations in the communities where you expect to work. For example, in order to handle refrigerants, technicians must hold an EPA certification. There is a Federal written EPA certification examination. Certificate programs are typically offered at community colleges, technical institutes, and trade schools. The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute offers certification programs that evaluate the performance of water heating equipment and HVACR.
To increase specializations and related increased earnings, HVAC technicians can pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree, or complete programs for certifications in heat pump pool heaters, commercial furnaces, unit ventilators, and residential boilers. The greater the educational bandwidth, the increase in available jobs for experienced technicians. An associate degree can add professional competence in electricity for HVAC systems, technical physics, heat pumps, and metal fabrication. A bachelor degree program can add skills and expertise in control theory, energy audit and analysis, hydronic system design, contracting issues and commercial HVAC system design.
That depends on the state license requirements. For example, there are continuing education requirements in specific HVAC education in Alabama (4-8 hours), Georgia (4-8 hours), Oklahoma (6 hours), Texas (8 hours), and Virginia (3 hours). Most states also require continuing education in electrical, plumbing, contractor, and commercial contracting. View your state at HomePrep.
An HVAC technician has a more generalized background to deal with the multiple facets of the heating, ventilation, and cooling industry. HVAC-R techs primary focus on installing and repairing refrigeration systems. They may also work on commercial refrigeration, solar panels, and radiant heating systems depending on their certifications.
Commonly related careers (with specializations) include AC technicians, HVAC engineers, HVAC installations, HV mechanics, Refrigeration technicians, Wind turbine and Solar power technicians. The BLS has also identified related professions as boilermakers, general maintenance/repair workers, and sheet metal workers.
The BLS reports that much of the technician’s workload can involve installing or repairing heating, refrigeration, and air ventilation systems in compliance with government regulations regarding “the proper handling and disposal of fluids and pressurized gases." Extended service contacts on commercial or residential systems involve cleaning ducts, inspecting system efficiency, checking levels of refrigerants, and replacing filters or damaged parts.
The BLS found that the largest employers of technicians are plumbing, air conditioning and heating contractors, making up 64 percent of the HVAC and HVACR workforce. Only nine percent of the profession is comprised of self-employed technicians. Work sites include office buildings, factories, hospitals, homes, schools, and retail stores.
HVAC techs have recorded some of the highest injury rates among all occupations, according to the BLS. There can be instances of electrical shocks and burns, as well as blindness, frostbite, or skin damage associated with the handling of refrigerants. Take your safety training seriously!
Annual earnings for HVAC technicians can vary from state-to-state and by the depth of specialized training of the employee. PayScale reports the average hourly wage for a tech in the country is $20.22, for an annual median income of $49,763. Wages can be increased if the employer offers an annual bonus ($195 - $5,169), profit sharing ($401 - $7,698), and commissions ($793 - $14,639). Apprentices earn approximately half of the wage enjoyed by experienced technicians, the BLS says. Technicians with skills in HVAC controls often have the highest pay rates, according to PayScale. Higher wages are paid to techs who advance to senior positions such as project managers and construction managers. Experienced techs can receive a 13 percent salary increase over mid-career technicians. Salaries for late-career technicians are 25 percent higher than mid-career techs. Learn more about the average salary by state and the job growth outlook for the industry:
The BLS predicts that job opportunities for technicians will increase by 15 percent between 2016-2026, making techs one of the fastest-growing occupational groups in the nation. The development of computerized, sophisticated control devices will place qualified system specialists in high demand. There will also be a need for technicians with training and certifications in pollution reduction and energy efficient systems. Less growth is predicted for techs who specialize in new construction work. There may be rises and dips in employment as economic factors affect the national building rate.
Educational pathways to the HVAC technician field can vary based on program length, faculty expertise, the culminating certificate or degree, and which kinds of professional exam preparation are offered. The following search tool can dramatically shorten the quest for the right program, allowing students to sort schools by name, location, degree/certificate level, and subjects in the curriculum:
Networking with fellow students and HVAC professionals can be a crucial tool in launching and building a career as a technician. By contacting the following organizations and associations, students can forge relationships that last a career. Connections provide a means of learning about new laws and advanced skills in the trades. And notably, job boards and HVAC blogs can be a powerful bridge to employers who are hiring. Here are some organizations to explore:
Established in 1894, ASHRAE and its members are at the forefront of education and promotion of HVAC systems with a focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, refrigeration, and indoor air quality. Student members network as they compete for scholarships and grants for undergraduate and graduate students.
Students who are enrolled in an accredited HVACR program qualify for a student membership for four years. Benefits include full participation in networking opportunities, certification preparation, education, and career assistance at reduced rates.
An independent science and technology organization, IIR has members from 58 countries who are concerned with cost-effective, environmentally sustainable refrigeration technologies. Members receive news and participation in conferences, information searches and alerts on scholarly publications, legislation, and topics on heat pumps, air conditioning, and refrigerants.
AMCA is a non-profit manufacturer’s organization committed to research news and creating ratings for over 3,700 products including air curtains, fans, dampers, louvers, ducts, and airflow-measurement devices. Members can contact or network with professionals in The Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.
ACCA advocates on Capitol Hill on behalf of the indoor environment contracting industry. Members network in a contractor forum and receive access to resources for residential and commercial HVAC professionals, and attendance at the ACCA Town Hall with leading contractors, industry experts and top consultants.
Working HVAC technicians need to remain current on government regulations, advancements in HVAC technology, and ongoing training opportunities. The following organizations provide resources for updating skills and addressing legal requirements that govern the profession. Two of them are dedicated to serving veterans and women in the field:
Under direction of the U.S. Office of Air and Radiation, IAQ hosts a comprehensive index of environmental topics germane to the HVAC industry. Online subjects include air pollution, chemicals and toxics, greener living, health risks, waste cleanup, water quality and science.
Created in 2003, Women in HVACR emerged out of a need to prepare women for roles in HVAC sales, management, ownership, and technical expertise. Student membership is free of charge and includes regular member benefits including career networking, mentorships, educational discounts, and discussion forums.
Organized like a professional bulletin board, the talk forum allows discussions from professionals for the purpose of HVAC information and knowledge sharing. Recent discussion threads were on contractor help, job searching, going green, and tech-to-tech chat.
This organization’s motto is “From Mystery to Mastery.” For a fee, it offers advanced technical service training by mentoring professionals, a job listing board, and online training events.
Formed over 20 years ago, the consortium is comprised of U.S. and Canadian HVAC managers who educate manufacturers, government agencies, and stakeholders to implement gas and electric energy efficient programs. Members include municipal or investor-owned utilities, state/provincial energy offices, and governmental agencies.
This national, nonprofit program provides skilled training and career opportunities in the construction industry to retired and transitioning active-duty military service members, reservists, and National Guard members. Federally-approved apprenticeship training programs are provided by trade organizations.