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The Ultimate Guide: How To Become An HVAC Technician In 2019

Career Roadmap To Becoming An HVAC Technician

The HVAC industry is booming. The economy needs more heating and ventilation professionals to enter the marketplace. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the industry is expected to grow 15% from 2016-2026, adding 48,800 jobs. 

Many individuals are looking to change careers or learn a new trade. Becoming an HVAC technician is an excellent route in accomplishing this pursuit. While becoming an HVAC technician does require ongoing education (due to the nature and constant changes in technology and techniques in the industry), most employers offer support with the ongoing education aspect of the job. 

We uncover everything there is to know about becoming an HVAC technician from the different roles within the job, what one can expect in job training, average earning potential, and how to land an HVAC position in a community near you.

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:

HVAC Engineer

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 the purview of mechanical engineering, which works closely with all the other trades involved with construction. 

  • Education requirements: Since this position involvew mechanical engineering, a 4-year bachelor's degree is a general requirement. Furthermore, after completion of a 4-year degree, an individual looking for a career in HVAC engineering should complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.

HVAC Installer

An HVAC installer is responsible for putting the heating and cooling systems in place for a residential and commercial building. HVAC installers need to know mechanical systems,  possess the physical ability 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 requires typically two years of education. To participate in an apprenticeship, you must be at least 18 years old and have a high school education. Apprenticeship programs generally last 3-5 years.

  • Average income: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for HVAC installers comes out to $47,610. It's also important to consider the location of the employment when forecasting salary. Certain states have a higher demand, and seasonality often determines the need for more installation work. 

HVAC Technician

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 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

HVAC Technicians Standing In Doorway

Let's take a further look into the schooling and education required to become an HVAC technician. The basic qualifications are as follows:

  • 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 stronger adoption of HVAC principles. 

Modern technology has made it easier for technicians to receive payments and invoice customers in the field. An introductory understanding of payment systems and general application usability is a plus. 

Because the industry is quickly expanding, many employers would like for 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

Should you join a union?

There are pros and cons of joining an HVAC union. Becoming unionized or staying non-union is contingent on your position as well as where you work, how much business is coming in, and whether you are getting paid fair wages.

Pros: 

  • 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

Cons: 

  • 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?

There are tens of thousands of HVAC technician jobs being added to the marketplace in the next 10 years. Here are the best ways to find your next HVAC technician job:

Job postings

Whether it’s 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. 

Pro:

  • Job postings are easily accessible. Several job boards exist online.

Con:

  • Job postings receive hundreds of applicants. It may be difficult to get your application noticed.

Vocational/trade schools

Finding a job through your trade school is another way of securing your a HVAC technician job. Many of the teachers involved with the curriculum were once HVAC professionals themselves and may have extensive networks that can help you land your next interview. 

Pro: 

  • Teachers are more likely to recommend available positions to their students. Plus, employers like referrals. 

Con:

  • Your job search is limited to your teachers’ networks. They may not have relationships with 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. 

Pro: 

  • 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.

Con:

  • 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 a HVAC technician, you will need insurance to perform the contracted work.

Further Education and Training

Group Of HVAC Technicians At A Conference

The HVAC industry is always changing, and new tools and techniques continuously enter the field. Therefore, it's highly recommended that you attend state and national trade shows and conferences. Not only will your attendance at trade shows keep you informed with the 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 something 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.