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How to Become an HVAC Technician

By Lace Brunsden

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Are you considering a career as an HVAC technician? If you have an interest in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, becoming an HVAC technician can offer a rewarding and in-demand career path. Let’s explore the key aspects of being an HVAC technician, including job responsibilities, required skills, career prospects, and factors to consider when deciding if this profession is the right fit for you.

Career Summary

HVAC Technician Salary

HVAC Technician Salary

An HVAC technician’s salary can vary a great deal depending on the type of clients that you have and the amount of experience under your belt.

According to Glassdoor, your most likely salary range as an HVAC technician is as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$57k)
  • Median Salary (US$70k)
  • Executive Salary (US$88k)

According to the average salary across all occupations, which the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics estimates at US$ 61,900, this is a relatively high-paid career path.

What does an HVAC Technician do?

An HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) technician is someone responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing heating, cooling, and ventilation systems in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. Your primary job description as an HVAC Technician is to ensure that HVAC systems function efficiently to provide a comfortable and healthy indoor environment.

HVAC Technician Career Progression

Here is a career progression list for an HVAC technician, starting from entry-level roles and progressing toward executive positions:

  • Entry-Level HVAC Technician: You begin by learning the basics of the trade and assisting more experienced technicians with installations, repairs, and maintenance tasks.
  • Junior HVAC Technician: At this stage, you handle more responsibilities independently, such as basic installations, routine maintenance, and simple repairs.
  • HVAC Installer: You are responsible for interpreting blueprints, determining equipment placement, assembling and connecting components, and ensuring proper system functionality.
  • HVAC Service Technician: You respond to service calls, diagnose issues, and perform repairs. You have a good understanding of electrical systems, refrigeration, and air distribution.
  • Senior HVAC Technician: You take on more complex projects and act as a mentor to junior technicians. You also provide technical guidance and ensure compliance with safety regulations and quality standards.
  • HVAC Project Manager: Your role involves coordinating resources, managing timelines and budgets, liaising with clients, handling the procurement of equipment and materials, and collaborating with subcontractors.
  • HVAC Operations Manager/Director: You have overall responsibility for the company’s HVAC operations. Your focus is on strategic planning, business development, and team leadership.
HVAC Technician Career Progression

Pros:

  • Variety of Work
  • In-Demand Job Market
  • Hands-On Problem Solving
  • Tangible Impact
  • Opportunities for Growth and Specialization

Cons:

  • Physical Demands
  • High-Stress Situations
  • Irregular and Long Hours
  • Exposure to Hazardous Substances
  • Limited Career Advancement Opportunities

Useful Skills to Have as an HVAC Technician

  • Technical Aptitude
  • Problem Solving and Troubleshooting
  • Mechanical Skills
  • Attention to Detail
  • Customer Service and Communication

Popular HVAC Technician Specialties

  • Residential HVAC Technician
  • Commercial HVAC Technician
  • Industrial HVAC Technician
  • Refrigeration Technician
  • Energy Management Technician

How to become an HVAC Technician

HVAC Technician 5 Steps to Career

To become an HVAC Technician, there are several common steps you can follow. Here is a general outline of the process:

Step 1: Obtain a High School Diploma or Equivalent

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to enter a formal HVAC training program or apprenticeship. Focus on subjects like mathematics, physics, and vocational courses that emphasize mechanical and technical skills.

Step 2: Pursue HVAC Training

There are multiple paths to gain HVAC training and education:

  • Vocational or Trade School: You can enroll in a vocational or trade school that offers HVAC programs. These programs provide a structured curriculum covering topics such as electrical systems, refrigeration, airflow, system design, and troubleshooting.
  • Community College: Consider earning an associate degree in HVAC technology from a community college. These programs provide a more comprehensive education that includes both technical coursework and general education classes.
  • Apprenticeship Programs: You may choose to enter an HVAC apprenticeship program, which combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Apprenticeships are offered by trade associations, unions, or HVAC companies. During the apprenticeship, you work alongside experienced technicians, gaining hands-on experience while earning a wage.

How Long Does it Take to Complete HVAC Training

The amount of time that it takes you to complete the training required to become an HVAC technician will depend on the type of training that you choose to get.

If you complete your training through a trade school or vocational school, completing a program can take anywhere from several months to two years. Apprenticeships typically last 3 to 5 years. Associate degrees at community colleges typically take two years, but this may vary depending on the amount of work that you can take on.

Do I need a Degree to Become an HVAC Technician?

No, a degree is not typically required to become an HVAC technician. While you may choose to pursue an associate degree in HVAC technology from a community college, it is not a strict requirement for entry into the field.

It’s important to research the specific requirements of your state, as licensing or certification requirements for HVAC technicians may vary. Additionally, certain positions within the HVAC field, such as HVAC engineering or HVAC management roles, may have different educational requirements that could benefit from a degree in engineering or related fields.

Can I Become an HVAC Technician Through Online Education?

While online education can provide you with valuable theoretical knowledge and a foundational understanding of HVAC principles, becoming an HVAC Technician typically requires hands-on practical training and experience. Therefore, fully online programs may not be sufficient on their own to become a competent HVAC technician.

How Much Does it Cost to Pursue HVAC Training?

The cost of pursuing HVAC training can vary depending on several factors, including the type of training program, the institution or provider, the location, and the duration of the program.

Here are some factors to consider when determining the cost of HVAC training:

  • Vocational or Trade School Programs: Vocational or trade school programs typically can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Associate Degree Programs: The cost of these programs can range from $15,000 to around $35,000, depending on the institution and location.
  • Apprenticeship Programs: The cost of apprenticeships varies as apprentices are typically paid a wage during their training period. Some apprenticeship programs may require the apprentice to cover the cost of textbooks, tools, or exam fees. However, the cost of an apprenticeship is lower compared to formal education programs and can range from $500 to $2,000.

Step 3: Obtain Required Licenses and Certifications

You should check the requirements of your local or state regulatory bodies to determine if HVAC technicians need to hold licenses or certifications. Industry-recognized certifications, such as those offered by organizations like North American Technician Excellence (NATE) or HVAC Excellence, can enhance your credentials and demonstrate your competence in the field.

Is it Difficult To Get an HVAC Technician Certificate?

Obtaining a license through the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) organization as an HVAC technician requires meeting specific criteria and passing NATE’s HVAC technician certification exams. While the process may pose some challenges for you, it is achievable with proper preparation and dedication.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Exam Preparation: NATE offers various certification exams that assess your knowledge and skills in different HVAC specialties, such as air conditioning, heat pumps, gas furnaces, and air distribution. The exams consist of both core knowledge questions and specialty-specific questions. It is essential to thoroughly study the exam topics, review technical materials, and utilize study resources provided by NATE. This will help you familiarize yourself with the exam content and increase your chances of success.
  • Hands-on Experience: NATE certification exams not only test theoretical knowledge but also assess practical skills. Having hands-on experience in the HVAC field is beneficial when taking the exams, as it allows you to apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios. Practical experience can help you understand the systems and components you’ll encounter on the job, enhancing your ability to troubleshoot and solve problems effectively.
  • Exam Administration: NATE certification exams are proctored by approved testing centers. Locate a nearby testing center and familiarize yourself with its policies, procedures, and scheduling requirements. Ensure you meet any eligibility requirements set by NATE and the testing center before registering for the exam.

Step 4: Gain Practical Experience

Whether through an apprenticeship or entry-level position, gaining practical experience is crucial. Working under the guidance of experienced HVAC technicians allows you to apply theoretical knowledge, develop hands-on skills, and learn industry best practices.

What are Internship Opportunities for an HVAC Technician

Aspiring HVAC technicians have the opportunity to gain valuable experience through a variety of internships.

One option is to intern with HVAC companies. Working alongside experienced technicians, interns assist with installations, repairs, maintenance, and troubleshooting. This experience offers practical skills and a deeper understanding of the day-to-day operations of the HVAC business.

Interning with construction companies or contractors involved in HVAC installations is yet another avenue. In this role, interns contribute to ductwork installations, equipment placement, and system testing. This hands-on experience provides insights into the initial stages of HVAC system setup and coordination with other trades.

Energy efficiency and sustainability programs also offer internships in the HVAC field. Interns may work with utility companies or energy consulting firms, conducting energy audits, implementing energy-saving measures, and analyzing HVAC system performance. This exposure helps interns develop knowledge of energy-efficient practices, emerging technologies, and environmental considerations.

Lastly, some HVAC equipment manufacturers offer internship programs. These internships focus on providing hands-on experience with specific HVAC systems. Interns assist with equipment testing, troubleshooting, and may even participate in research and development projects, gaining specialized knowledge and understanding of the latest technological advancements.

Step 5: Continuously Update Skills and Knowledge

The HVAC field is constantly evolving, with new technologies and regulations emerging. Stay updated by attending workshops, seminars, and manufacturer training sessions to learn about the latest equipment, controls, energy efficiency standards, and industry trends. Continuously improving your skills and knowledge will enhance your career prospects and ensure you provide the best service to customers.

What Skills Will I Learn as an HVAC Technician?

As an HVAC Technician, you will acquire a range of skills that are essential for the installation, maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Here are some key skills you can expect to learn and develop:

  • HVAC System Knowledge: You will gain a deep understanding of various HVAC systems, including their components, functionality, and operating principles. This includes knowledge of heating systems (furnaces, boilers), cooling systems (air conditioners, heat pumps), ventilation systems (ductwork, fans), and control systems (thermostats, sensors).
  • Electrical Skills: You will learn electrical fundamentals and how they relate to HVAC systems. This includes knowledge of electrical circuits, wiring, voltage, amperage, and safety protocols. You will acquire skills in reading electrical diagrams, troubleshooting electrical issues, and safely working with electrical components.
  • Refrigeration Principles: Refrigeration is a fundamental aspect of HVAC systems. You will learn about the principles of refrigeration, including the refrigeration cycle, refrigerant properties, heat transfer, and the operation of compressors, condensers, evaporators, and expansion valves.
  • System Installation and Maintenance: You will learn how to install HVAC systems, including proper sizing, placement, and connection of equipment, as well as the installation of ductwork and ventilation systems. Additionally, you will gain skills in performing routine maintenance tasks such as cleaning coils, replacing filters, lubricating components, and inspecting system performance.
  • Troubleshooting and Repair: HVAC Technicians must be skilled in diagnosing and resolving system issues. You will learn how to troubleshoot and identify problems in HVAC systems, whether they are related to mechanical components, electrical issues, refrigerant leaks, or airflow imbalances. You will acquire the ability to repair or replace faulty components, perform system adjustments, and restore proper system operation.
  • Safety Practices: Safety is paramount in the HVAC field. You will learn and adhere to safety protocols to ensure your well-being and the well-being of others. This includes knowledge of electrical safety, handling refrigerants safely, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and following industry-specific safety guidelines.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become an HVAC Technician

There are several web resources available that can help you learn skills and gain knowledge to become an HVAC Technician.

Here are some reputable websites and online platforms where you can find valuable HVAC training materials, courses, and resources:

  • HVAC School: HVAC School provides a collection of podcasts, videos, and articles created by experienced HVAC professionals. They cover various aspects of HVAC, including technical knowledge, practical tips, and industry insights.
  • HVAC Redu: HVAC Redu offers online HVAC training courses that cover a wide range of topics, from basic principles to advanced system diagnostics. Their courses are designed for technicians at various skill levels and can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
  • Building Performance Institute (BPI): BPI is a recognized organization in the energy efficiency and building performance industry. They offer online training and certification programs related to HVAC system diagnostics, airflow, combustion analysis, and energy efficiency measures.
  • HVAC Excellence: HVAC Excellence is an organization that offers certifications and resources for HVAC professionals. Their website provides access to study materials, practice exams, and educational resources to enhance your HVAC knowledge and skills.

What’s the Career Outlook for HVAC Technician?

The career outlook for HVAC technicians in the USA is positive, with a growing demand for skilled professionals in this field. According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the employment of HVAC Technicians is expected to grow by 5% from 2021 to 2031. That is as fast as the average of all occupations.

The demand for HVAC technicians is expected to increase due to factors such as the need for energy-efficient climate control systems, the retrofitting of older systems, and the emphasis on environmental sustainability. Additionally, as existing HVAC systems require regular maintenance and replacement, there will be a continued need for skilled technicians.

HVAC Technician Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of an HVAC Technician?

HVAC technicians have a range of job opportunities available to them across various sectors and industries.

Here are some common job opportunities you may find as an HVAC Technician:

  • HVAC Service Technician: Service technicians are responsible for diagnosing, repairing, and maintaining HVAC systems. In this role, you will respond to service calls, troubleshoot issues, replace faulty components, perform routine maintenance, and ensure proper system operation.
  • Installation Technician: Installation technicians specialize in the installation and setup of HVAC systems. You will follow blueprints, configure equipment, install ductwork, connect electrical components, and ensure proper system functionality. Installation technicians often work in construction or contracting companies.
  • Maintenance Technician: Maintenance technicians focus on preventive maintenance tasks for HVAC systems. As a maintenance technician, you will perform regular inspections, clean and lubricate equipment, replace filters, and identify potential issues before they escalate.
  • Refrigeration Technician: Some HVAC Technicians specialize in refrigeration systems. If you do this, you can work with commercial or industrial refrigeration units, such as walk-in coolers, freezers, and refrigeration equipment for supermarkets or restaurants. Refrigeration technicians are responsible for the installation, maintenance, and repair of refrigeration systems.
  • Energy Auditor or Efficiency Specialist: HVAC technicians can work in energy auditing or energy efficiency roles. In this role, you will assess HVAC systems’ energy performance, identify areas for improvement, recommend energy-saving measures, and ensure compliance with energy efficiency standards and regulations.
  • Controls Technician: Controls technicians specialize in HVAC system controls and automation. Your job will require you to install, program, and troubleshoot control systems, including thermostats, sensors, and building automation systems (BAS). Controls technicians often work in commercial or industrial settings, ensuring HVAC systems are integrated with building management systems.
  • Sales and Technical Support: HVAC technicians with excellent product knowledge and communication skills can work in sales or technical support roles for HVAC equipment manufacturers, distributors, or service companies. You will provide technical guidance, assist customers in selecting appropriate equipment, and offer support for installation, troubleshooting, and maintenance.

What Type of Companies Hire an HVAC Technician?

HVAC technicians are in demand across various types of companies and organizations.

Here are some common types of employers who may hire you as an HVAC technician:

  • HVAC Service Companies: These companies specialize in providing HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair services to residential, commercial, and industrial clients. HVAC service companies may employ you to handle service calls, perform system diagnostics, and carry out repairs and maintenance tasks.
  • Construction and Contracting Firms: Construction companies and contractors often have HVAC divisions that handle HVAC system installations in new construction projects or renovations. You may be employed by these firms to install and commission HVAC systems in residential, commercial, or industrial buildings.
  • Facilities Management Departments: Facilities management departments of organizations, such as universities, hospitals, hotels, government agencies, and corporate offices, employ HVAC technicians to maintain and ensure the proper functioning of HVAC systems within their facilities. These technicians handle routine maintenance, troubleshoot issues, and coordinate with other maintenance staff.
  • HVAC Equipment Manufacturers and Distributors: HVAC equipment manufacturers and distributors employ HVAC technicians in various capacities. You may find roles in technical support, assisting customers with equipment selection, installation guidance, troubleshooting, and warranty services. Some technicians may work in research and development, testing new products or improving existing ones.
  • Energy Companies and Energy Efficiency Firms: Energy companies and energy consulting firms may hire HVAC technicians for energy auditing, efficiency assessments, and the implementation of energy-saving measures. As a technician in these firms, you will analyze HVAC systems’ energy performance, recommend improvements, and ensure compliance with energy codes and regulations.

What is the Work-Life Balance of an HVAC Technician?

Your work-life balance as an HVAC technician can vary depending on various factors, including your specific job role, industry sector, employer, workload, and personal preferences. Let’s explore some key points to consider regarding work-life balance in this profession.

In certain situations, HVAC technicians may be required to be on-call or respond to emergency service requests. This can disrupt the work-life balance, as technicians may need to be available outside of regular working hours to address urgent repair or maintenance needs.

HVAC work can be influenced by seasonal demand, particularly if you live in regions with extreme weather conditions. For example, during the peak summer and winter months, you may experience an increased workload and longer hours due to the high demand for cooling and heating services. This can impact your work-life balance during these periods.

HVAC work can involve physical labor, such as lifting heavy equipment, climbing ladders, and working in various weather conditions. It’s important to consider the physical demands of the job and how they may impact your overall well-being and work-life balance.

Some HVAC technicians work as independent contractors, which can offer more flexibility in setting their work hours and managing their workload. However, this may also entail additional responsibilities such as handling administrative tasks and managing customer relationships.

Should I become an HVAC Technician?

While the HVAC technician profession has its challenges, including physically demanding work and potential exposure to extreme conditions, the rewarding aspects outweigh the difficulties for many people. Job satisfaction can come from solving technical problems, helping customers, and contributing to energy efficiency and sustainability efforts.

It is important to consider your own interests, aptitudes, and career goals when deciding whether to become an HVAC technician. If you enjoy hands-on work, have a knack for problem-solving, possess strong technical skills, and are willing to continuously learn and adapt to new technologies, this field could be a good fit for you.

Careers Related to HVAC Technician


Lace Brunsden

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