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HVAC Technician

Finding skilled workers to fill the growing vacancies is proving to be quite difficult, particularly in the plumbing and heating and cooling industries. By 2022, the worker deficit is expected to reach 138,000, which will spike the employment opportunities by 14 percent. That means there will be a lot of qualified HVAC technicians missing from the workforce. Based on supply and demand, now is the perfect time to consider becoming an HVAC technician. Read on and explore the facts about becoming an HVAC technician.

What Is HVAC?

Have you ever asked yourself, “What the heck does HVAC even mean?” And then, because you don’t know what it means, you wonder why you should even consider becoming an HVAC technician, right? HVAC is an acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Essentially, HVAC technicians work on all those systems in both residential and commercial buildings, as well as certain types of vehicles, to keep the climate comfortable year round. The meaning and definition of HVAC is consistent across the United States and within the industrial sector, but the certification qualifications may vary by state.

What Do HVAC Technicians Do?

HVAC technicians provide service to residential and commercial buildings' climate control systems: heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning units. The HVAC technician may be needed to repair, replace, or install the components that supply the heating and cooling to buildings. The HVAC technician must be certified and follow government regulations pertaining to the heating and cooling industry.

HVAC technicians are trained to use a variety of different work-related tools and equipment. They have a more traditional type of toolbox filled with the basics such screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, and hammers. More sophisticated tools that are part of the HVAC technician's work life are carbon monoxide testers, torches, combustion analyzers, and voltmeters. All of the tools and their workings will become second nature through training and experience. 

Work Skills Necessary To HVAC Technicians' Success

If you were to visit all the job postings for HVAC technicians, then you would see employers list the traits they are looking for in their employees. To be successful in HVAC, you need part HVAC skills and part people skills. You you are going to be interacting with people first and the HVAC parts that are broken next. Let’s break it down a bit.

  • Techie: HVAC technicians need to be able to decipher and understand blueprints, schematics, specs, and other technical data that goes along with repairing, maintaining, and installing HVAC equipment. You should also be computer-literate and be able to use a variety of software programs. Not to mention, the processes of hot water heating, steam heating, air conditioning, and water cooling should be imprinted on your brain.
  • Troubleshooter: Things happen. And an HVAC technician needs to be able to think and act quickly when issues arise. Whether it’s with having to take care of faulty equipment or issues that occur during a service call, a properly trained HVAC technician will have no troubles with their troubleshooting skills.
  • Talker: Okay, so maybe don't be a motormouth. There IS such a thing as knowing when to be seen or heard. But as a successful HVAC technician, you should be able to communicate effectively with supervisors, other technicians, and customers. Also, you need to be able to write as effectively as you speak, because you’ll need to document service with reports and in customer instructions.
  • Training: HVAC technicians need to have a strong desire toward continuing their training and education. Whether you are trying to stay on trend with the industry or pursuing opportunities to advance your career, you should be a constant learner. Being up to date on industry safety standards is probably a good idea, too.

How Do I Become An HVAC Technician?

Wish it, and it shall be. No, unfortunately, becoming an HVAC technician doesn’t work that way. There are steps to take if you want to become an HVAC technician.

  1. You must have your high school diploma or GED.
  2. Pass a very basic math test.
  3. Pass a drug screening.
  4. Have a valid driver’s license.
  5. Either attend a trade school or find a formal apprenticeship for HVAC.
  6. Get your license. Each state has different requirements.
  7. Get your EPA certifications.
  8. Get a job as an HVAC technician!

Sounds fairly simply, doesn’t it? Let’s break it down a bit more. After you receive your high school diploma or GED, you have to either apply for an apprenticeship program or attend trade school.

An apprenticeship program is a paid training position that lasts between 3-5 years. You must have 2,000 experience/work hours plus 144 hours of coursework per apprenticeship year. It’s a great way to start earning money and learn a trade, at the same time. The best bet for apprenticeships is to apply through your local chapter of a trade organization. Some examples would be Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. Through these apprenticeship programs, you’ll be learning how to read and use blueprints, best job safety practices, the use and care of the tools, and ventilation and air-conditioning system designs.

While doing an apprenticeship is certainly a viable option, unless it’s through a trade organization, it’s becoming less popular. More employers are leaning toward hiring HVAC technicians that have been trained through a trade school or community college. Trade schools take six months to get your certificate. Community colleges will take two years. In both instances, you’ll take courses in classrooms, as well as be exposed to hand-on, practical learning. It’s a very well-rounded education: You’ll learn the fundamentals of electricity, the properties of gas, solid fuel and oil boilers, furnaces, ducts and piping, worksite safety practices, and control systems.

How Long Is HVAC School?

TrainingLicensing feeCertification fee
3-5 years$75-$300$155-$205
Trade school
6+ months$75-$300$155-$205
Community College
2 years$75-$300$155-$205

Some states will require you to have completed an apprenticeship or have two to five years of work experience before you can be licensed
. There is also a certification that the Environmental Protection Agency requires if you’re handling refrigerants, and that would be an additional $40-$240.

The reason for the price discrepancies for the education, licensing, and certification costs is due to varying requirements and regulations for each state. Financial aid may be available, and options should be discussed with the financial aid department of the institution you’ll be attending. Check our complete financial aid guide here.

What Type of Courses Will I Take In HVAC School?

There are a couple different options when it comes to getting your HVAC technician degree or diploma. You can do a hybrid program, which is both online and through a school, or there is the traditional format of attending classes on a campus. Most programs, however, consist of fairly similar courses.

If you are still in high school and considering HVAC for your future career, load up on math, physics, chemistry, shop, mechanical drawing, and any other courses your high school may offer that make sense.

Common HVAC Courses:

  • Principles of refrigeration: Learn the basics and applications of refrigeration systems, along with the chemical and physical laws of refrigeration.
  • Residential gas heating: Learn about gas-fired appliances, along with troubleshooting and repairs of the systems.
  • HVAC building systems: Learn how to design and construct comfort control/climate control systems for commercial buildings.
  • Load calculations for heating and cooling systems: Mathematics is a key principle when it comes to effectively heating and cooling a building of any size. Learn how to apply sizing calculations to climate control.
  • Other courses: Learn about theory, design, electronics, and equipment construction, how to use and care for commonly used tools, on the job safety, how to read blueprints, and the theory and design behind all HVAC equipment.

HVAC Licensing Requirements 

Licensing is required in order for you to work as an HVAC technician. It proves to employers and customers that you’ve been properly trained for the job. In order to become licensed, you must attend some sort of training, whether it’s through an apprenticeship, a trade school, or a community college.

Once your formal education has been completed, you will take the knowledge-based licensing exam. The test content and length varies by state, as well as testing location. The exam will test you on every aspect of HVAC installation and repairs. All HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants are required to take a licensing exam called the Section 608 Technician Certification. Also, if you choose to work as an HVAC contractor, there is another test you’ll need to take, as well.

The licensing exam is given through the International Code Council. Each state has its own location where the exam is given.

There are a few requirements necessary to be eligible to get your HVAC technician license once you’ve completed your training:

  • You must be a minimum of 18 years of age.
  • You must be fluent in English.
  • You must have four years of warm heating experience.

HVAC Certifications And Why You Should Become Certified

Certification is extremely different than licensing. The license proves you’ve successfully completed your training and have the basic knowledge and skills to effectively do your job as an HVAC technician. Certifications, on the other hand, are a step or three above the licensing aspect. With certifications, you prove you have broadened your HVAC horizons. You can choose to specialize in a few areas.  

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires anyone handling refrigerants to be certified. All HVAC technicians must have, at the very minimum, the EPA 608 Certification so that they can legally do the bare-bone essentials of their trade, as well as the nationally recognized NATE Certification, and the elite Excellence Certification.

Within the EPA 608 Certification, there are four levels.

  • Type 1 allows an HVAC tech to handle small appliances that contain less than 5 pounds of refrigerants (like a refrigerator).
  • Type 2 will allow the HVAC professional to deal with high pressure refrigerants.
  • Type 3 allows the handling of low pressure refrigerants.
  • Universal will include all three: Type 1, 2, and 3.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) Certification: This is one of the highest achievements for HVAC professionals. The NATE Certification is not required; however, it’s nationally recognized and highly respected. The NATE Certification is obtained through an exam and can be earned in areas such as air-conditioning, air distribution, and gas furnaces.

HVAC Excellence Certification: To be eligible to earn the Professional-level HVAC Excellence Certification, you must have a minimum of two years on-the-job experience and pass the knowledge-based exam. You can also receive a Master-level HVAC Excellence Certification. There is a minimum of three working years required before you can take portion of the knowledge-based exam.

The more certifications you have under your worker belt, the more desirable of an employee you make yourself! Certifications give you even more work credibility because they reinforce to employers and clients that, not only do you know your stuff, but you know it exceptionally well. It gives all involved a sense of security that the work is in outstandingly capable hands.

How Much Do HVAC Technicians Make?

HVAC is considered to be one of the best-paid skilled labor careers. The median pay of all HVAC technicians is $47K. Entry level, or the lower 10 percent, earned $29K. The top 10 percent, the HVAC technicians who have years of experience behind them, made an annual salary of $75K. Salaries vary by location and industry, so your paycheck could vary greatly from the median. HVAC apprentices earn about half of what their experienced counterparts make. But the more an apprentice learns and gains in terms of experience, the more he or she will make.

Most HVAC technicians work a full-time position, and their work schedules could vary based on their employers.

5 top paying states for HVAC technicians

District of Columbia

Top paying industries for HVAC technicians

Aerospace products and parts mfg.
Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution
Scientific research and development services
Specialty hospitals
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing

What Is The Job Outlook For HVAC Technicians?

Employment growth for HVAC technicians is going to be much faster than the average of other occupations, at 15 percent through 2026. Why? Because of two things. One, the construction rate of both residential and commercial buildings is increasing. And two, climate-control technology is becoming more sophisticated, which will increase the demand for HVAC technicians skilled enough to work on all those newfangled devices.

Industries with the highest level of employment for HVAC

Building equipment contractors
Direct selling
Hardware and plumbing/Heating equipment and supplies wholesalers
Commercial & industrial machinery and equipment repair and maintenance
College, university, and professional schools

Our country is short-handed in skilled HVAC technicians. We need YOU! HVAC careers are plentiful, and if you’re willing to put in the time and become licensed and certified as an HVAC technician, you should have no problem finding your dream position.


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