The HVAC industry at a glance
It is essential to understand the different roles that make up the trade. Here are some of the most common positions with the best opportunity for employment and career growth:
An HVAC engineer plans and coordinates every part of a heating and cooling system installation. They conduct performance evaluations on existing systems, recommend improvements to increase overall efficiency, and design entire systems for a new project (both commercial and residential).
An HVAC engineer falls under mechanical engineering, which works closely with all the other construction-related trades.
Education requirements: Since this position involves mechanical engineering, a 4-year bachelor’s degree is a general requirement. Furthermore, after completing a 4-year degree, an individual looking for a career in HVAC engineering should complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.2
Average income: According to Payscale, the median income for an HVAC engineer is $57,404, with more experienced engineers making closer to $70,000.3
An HVAC installer is responsible for installing heating and cooling systems for residential and commercial buildings. HVAC installers need to know mechanical systems, be able to maneuver tight spaces, and have the strength to lift and control heavy objects. Time management is another skill that installers must have because they work on different sites regularly in a given week.
Education requirements: There are generally two routes to becoming an HVAC installer. The first is a professional/post-secondary education degree through a community college or trade school. This path typically requires two years of education. To participate in an apprenticeship, you must be at least 18 and have a high school education. Apprenticeship programs generally last 3-5 years.4
Average income: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for HVAC installers comes out to $54,690.5 It’s also important to consider the employment location when forecasting salary. Certain states have a higher demand, and seasonality often determines the need for more installation work.
An HVAC technician is responsible for installing, repairing, and maintaining a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. They may specialize in specific areas of HVAC, such as heating or refrigeration, and seek certifications that reflect that expertise, resulting in better pay. An HVAC technician can work for a company or, after getting a specialized certificate, go into business for themselves as a home service professional. With ample experience, an HVAC technician can move into a high-level supervisory role for a company.
Education requirements: A post-secondary degree through a community college or trade school is required to become an HVAC technician. Apprenticeship opportunities require a high school education and generally take 3 to 5 years of training through an employer.
Average income: The average HVAC technician’s salary is estimated at $50,000 annually.6 With extensive training and experience, you could find your salary higher than the median. Also, your earnings may be higher or lower depending on where you live. For example, Alaska has the highest average wage at $37.73 per hour, and Idaho has the lowest at $22.16 per hour.7,8
An HVAC technician is responsible for the installation, repair, and maintenance of a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. They may specialize in specific areas of HVAC, such as heating or refrigeration and seek certifications that reflect that expertise, resulting in better pay. An HVAC technician can work for a company, or after getting a specialized certification, go into business for themselves as a home service professional. With ample experience, an HVAC technician can move into a high-level supervisory role for a company.
Education requirements: A post-secondary degree through a community college or trade school is required to become an HVAC technician. Furthermore, there are some apprenticeship opportunities available. Apprenticeship opportunities require high school education and generally take 3 to 5 years of training through an employer.
Average income: The average HVAC technician salary is earning an estimated salary of $50,000 annually. With extensive training and experience, you could find your salary higher than the median. Also, depending on where you live, your earnings may be higher or lower. For example, Connecticut has the highest average wage at $52.93 per hour, and Idaho has the lowest at $22.22 per hour.
How to become an HVAC technician
Let’s take a further look into the schooling and education required to become an HVAC technician.
The basic qualifications to become an HVAC technician:
- A high school diploma
- Completion of an accredited HVAC program (depending on the program, it could be 6 months for certification or 2 years for a professional degree); or completion of a 3 to 5-year on-the-job apprenticeship
- Industry, state, and national certifications and licenses
- An EPA certification for technicians who work with refrigeration systems
- An optimal HVAC technician candidate should have a basic understanding of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). While expertise in the STEM fields isn’t a requirement, a general grasp of the fundamentals will lead to a better understanding of HVAC principles.
Modern technology has made it easier for technicians to receive payments and invoice customers in the field. A basic understanding of payment systems and general application usability is a plus.
Because the industry is quickly expanding, many employers would like you to have your qualifications from accredited institutions. While every state has its own unique requirements and accreditations, most states recommend these institutions:
- North American Technician Excellence
- Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association
- HVAC Excellence
- Environmental Protection Agency
On-the-job training to become an HVAC technician
If you don’t take the professional education route, there are still opportunities to become an HVAC technician through on-the-job training and apprenticeships.
- An apprenticeship should be taught by a licensed and experienced HVAC technician
- The apprenticeship should take 3 to 5 years to fully grasp the tasks, roles, responsibilities, and skills associated with becoming an HVAC technician
- You should seek at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training to illustrate HVAC technician competency to a future employer
- If you are looking for an apprenticeship opportunity, some of the most well-respected apprenticeships are overseen by these establishments:
Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Inc.
Associated Builders and Contractors
U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship USA Program
In addition, take a look at some of the best apprenticeship programs by state.
Should you join a union?
There are pros and cons of joining an HVAC union. Becoming unionized or staying non-union depends on your position, where you work, how much business is coming in, and whether you are getting paid fair wages.
Paid union wages, which can be higher than non-union wages (especially for new entrants into the field)
Protection from predatory payments of non-union workers
Establishment of a pension that is paid into
Reduction in work due to undercutting by non-union workers who are paid lower rates
More specialization may mean a reduction in your ceiling due to unionized rates
How do you find an HVAC technician job?
Tens of thousands of HVAC technician jobs will be added to the marketplace in the next 10 years. Here are the best ways to find your next HVAC technician job:
Whether online, in a newspaper, or on a local job board, a job posting is a good starting point for finding your next position. Job postings cast a wide net when employers are looking for qualified candidates to fill open positions.
Job postings are easily accessible online
Job postings receive hundreds of applicants, making it difficult to get your application noticed
Finding a job through your trade school is another way of securing an HVAC technician job. Many of the teachers involved with the curriculum were once HVAC professionals themselves. They may have extensive networks that can help you land your next interview.
Teachers are more likely to recommend available positions to their students, and employers like referrals
Your job search is limited to your teachers’ networks, and they may not know new employers in the industry
Your personal network
Sometimes, your personal network can be your ticket to your first HVAC technician job. Have you worked in the construction sector but in a different role? If so, maybe you already have done previous work with HVAC businesses that are looking to hire a new recruit. In a personal network, the relationship is already built. If the potential employer trusts you and understands your work ethic, they are more likely to hire you.
Leveraging relationships you already built
If you don’t have a strong network, you have limited options to connect with employers
Do you need insurance?
In this industry, it’s best to have insurance than to not have it. Most of the bidding, planning, and contractual standards in an HVAC business require some type of insurance. Depending on the HVAC business that hires you, many companies will insure you as part of the employment requirements. If you are going out on your own as an HVAC technician, you will need insurance to perform the contracted work.
Further education and training
The HVAC industry is always changing, and new tools and techniques continuously enter the field. That’s why, it’s highly recommended that you attend state and national trade shows and conferences. Not only will you stay up to date with new innovations in the industry, but it also will help you build a strong network of HVAC professionals that can help you advance your career and build your business.
Accelerating your career
Whether you’re a career professional or a recent graduate, becoming an HVAC technician is within your reach. The HVAC industry has a positive economic outlook. You can learn either through formal education or on-the-job training. You can work for an employer, or you can start your own business as a home service professional. Whatever route you choose, be sure you know the requirement in your state to break into the HVAC industry.