How to Become an HVAC Technician?
HVAC systems are becoming increasingly complex. This is why employers now prefer applicants with the right educational qualifications and relevant experience in the field. Some states and localities might even require these technicians to be licensed before they can practice.
The following guide outlines the basics of the HVAC industry, requirements for entry into the field, steps to become an HVAC technician, career prospects and job growth.
What Does an HVAC Technician Do?
HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) technicians, also referred to as HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) technicians work on the heating, ventilation and cooling systems that regulate the temperature and quality of air in buildings. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, their duties include the following:
- “Install, clean, and maintain HVACR systems
- Install electrical components and wiring
- Inspect and test HVACR systems and components
- Discuss system malfunctions with customers
- Repair or replace worn or defective parts
- Recommend maintenance to improve system performance
- Keep records of work performed”
Some HVAC technicians may specialize in one or several aspects of HVAC, such as solar panels, testing and balancing, radiant heating systems etc.
HVAC technicians mostly work in homes, stores, schools, hospitals, office buildings or factories. Most of them work indoors, though some specific jobs may require outdoor work. The work of HVAC technicians is highly strenuous in nature and they are likely to work in uncomfortable conditions and cramped spaces.
Most HVAC technicians work full time, with occasional weekend or evening shifts required.
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- South Carolina
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Types of HVAC Certifications
There are different types of certification options available for those who intend to work in this field. Here is a summary of these:
- EPA Type I Certification – Allows working on servicing small appliances
- EPA Type II Certification – Allows servicing high pressure systems
- EPA Type III Certification – Involves servicing low pressure systems
- Universal EPA Certificate – Involves the knowledge of all of the above
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE) – A non-profit organization offering nationally recognized certification options for HVACR technicians
Career Outlook and Salary for HVAC Technicians
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers made an annual median income of $47,610 in 2018. The expected growth is this field is at a high 15%, between 2016 and 2026, which is more than twice the average growth rate for all other occupations. The number of jobs in this category in 2016 was 332,900, and an increase of 48,800 is expected by 2026. The top industries in which heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers worked were wholesale trade, educational services, retail trade and plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractors.
The expected high growth rate is a result of the consistent increase in commercial and residential building construction projects. The increase in number of complicated climate-control systems is also likely to increase demand for qualified HVAC technicians.
Applicants who are familiar with the use of tablet computers and basic electronics might have the best job prospects, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Steps to Become an HVAC Technician:
- Get a high school degree
This is the basic educational requirement for HVAC technicians in the US. You can get a head start in the field by selecting the right coursework, such as physics and math.
- Complete a training program
This could take you around 6 months to 2 years to complete depending on the program you choose. Candidates may go for a certificate, an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree that covers coursework in HVAC systems, energy management, industry code standards, ductwork and pipework and air quality management.
- Complete an apprenticeship
Even though this is optional, it is highly recommended that you get some experience to improve your job prospects. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC applicants who have completed postsecondary education or an apprenticeship program are preferred by employers. Apprenticeships are usually offered by unions or contractor associations.
- Get licensed/certified as per the state laws
States have varying licensing and certification requirements. Candidates are advised to check the state regulations, as well as employment-specific certifications. For instance, if they will be handling refrigerants as part of their job, they need to hold an EPA Certification.
- Continuing education
Candidates who want to excel as HVAC technicians might opt for higher educational degrees, such as an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. This could improve their knowledge of various relevant areas, such as commercial furnaces, heat pump pool heaters and resident boilers etc. A bachelor’s degree could add skills in control theory, hydronic system design, contracting issues and commercial HVAC system design.
Should You Become an HVAC Technician?
HVAC technicians are expected to remain in high demand in the coming years. Here are a few more reasons why you should become an HVAC technician:
- Active workplace
Instead of a typical desk job, you would be out working in the field, using tools such as drills, hammers, metal snips, pipe cutters and acetylene torches. HVAC is a career for active people.
The work of an HVAC technician involves lots of variety and is very dynamic in nature. For instance, one day they could be working on installing water supply lines and the other day they could be studying blueprints.
- Quick training
You do not need to get into extensive educational programs for entry into this field.