The enjoyment of feeling comfortable in our homes can be owed to our HVAC systems. But more importantly, much of that is credited to the trained professionals who install and maintain these systems.
As an HVAC technician, you will be able to achieve a real sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that you are improving the quality of life of people in your community.
Whether you’re looking to get to work without a 4 year degree or you want to make a good living, there are numerous reasons why you should become an HVAC technician. For instance, you can get extensive in-job training while getting paid at the same time.
Ready to become an HVAC technician? Here are the 4 steps to achieve that goal.
Become an HVAC technician with these steps
Obtain your GED or graduate with a high school diploma
Attend an HVAC technical education program
Earn your required certifications
Become an apprentice and get hired
What is an HVAC technician?
HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. You may even see it referred to as HVAC/R, where the "R" stands for refrigeration.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for HVAC technicians is projected to increase by 5% from 2020 to 2030. As the demand for pollution reduction and energy efficiency increases, the demand for HVAC technicians will also rise as climate-control systems are modified, enhanced, and replaced.
When your HVAC system is not working or operating properly, it can't be ignored. It can even be detrimental in cases when the environment outside is extreme, such as blizzards and heat waves.
Temperature and air quality are viewed as vital areas of our life, which makes this skill valuable to our homes and communities. When HVAC systems need to be fixed, skilled technicians are the ones to get the job done. The demand for HVAC technicians is high as there is a constant need for maintaining, repairing, and installing HVAC systems.
Where do HVAC technicians work?
HVAC technicians work in homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings or industrial structures. Their work environment can be extreme, because the heating and cooling systems they repair are oftentimes located outdoors or in tight spaces.
It's common to find HVAC technicians working in cramped spaces that are not well lit. At times, it may be strenuous and physically taxing, however it's a career that makes a real difference in peoples' lives and directly affects the way they live.
The majority of HVAC technicians work for licensed contractors that deal with plumbing, heating, and air conditioning which consists of 66% of HVAC employers. Self-employed workers make up 9%, wholesale trade 4%, educational services such as state, local and private companies 3%, and retail trade 3%.
Let's take a look at the steps necessary to become an HVAC technician.
What are the education requirements to become an HVAC technician?
Due to the complexity of HVAC systems, employers typically require applicants to have postsecondary education or, at the very least, have completed an apprenticeship under the supervision of an experienced technician.
The minimum education requirement to be an HVAC technician is to have graduated from high school and have received your high school diploma or completed your GED. However, to be a strong candidate for employment, it's best to obtain a certificate from an accredited HVAC technical education program.
Here are some of the education paths and their length of time to becoming an HVAC technician:
When enrolled at an accredited institution, these are some of the classes that you may see as part of their curriculum:
Introduction to Mechanical Refrigeration Systems
Air Conditioning, Electric Heat and Heat Pumps
Introduction to Commercial Controls
Electrical Controls and Systems
Codes and Ordinances
Once an HVAC certificate or degree is earned, it is easier to land a job at a company that will further your knowledge with on-site training, some U.S. states and businesses require to have one or both. . You can also do on-site training through an apprenticeship.
An HVAC certificate program takes approximately 6 to 12 months to complete. It is created to get you started working as soon as possible, and some states require them to work in the field. Be sure to know your states’ requirements for HVAC licensing. The classes you take are meant specifically for the HVAC trade and there are rarely unrelated elective courses. If you are looking for the quickest route, a certificate program is the way to go.
An HVAC certificate will show that you are proficient in the following skills:
HVAC tech or technology
An associate's degree will take 2 years to complete and will usually take place at a community college. This path will require additional electives and core courses that are used to further your education. You'll be required to take classes like English, math, social sciences, and a few others. Many of these courses are transferable to 4-year colleges if you find yourself interested in getting a bachelor's degree.
Apprenticeships are a great opportunity to gain experience in the field. You’ll have the chance to work with a local company, shadow technicians, and help work on real HVAC projects. An apprenticeship can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to complete. This includes paid on-the-job training with up to 600 classroom hours. HVAC apprenticeships allow you to work full or part-time while learning the skills necessary for commercial HVAC installment and service.
An HVAC apprentice will usually train under the supervision of a journey-level HVAC technician in order to become knowledgeable and proficient in the skills and tools necessary for success in the field. As an apprentice, you may find yourself helping install, repair, and maintain HVAC systems, all under the guidance of a seasoned professional.
In the beginning, an apprentice will be tasked with simple tasks, however as time progresses, an apprentice will increase their skill set and tackle more advanced jobs that require a deeper knowledge of the tools and skills you’ll use.
Upon finishing the 3 to 5 year program, apprentice graduates are eligible to become what's known as a journey-level technician. A journey-level technician is a professional who has worked at least 4 of the last 6 years under the supervision of a licensed technician.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
In order to work with refrigerants, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that all HVAC technicians attain proper refrigerant handling certification. This is known as the Section 608 Technician Certification.
Technicians must pass an EPA-accepted exam to possess Section 608 Technician Certification.
It’s important to look into whether the trade school you're interested in prepares its students for the EPA certification exam.
Various parts of the country have different requirements to work as an HVAC technician. Look into what your state and city require in order to become an HVAC technician.
For some states, a license is not required in order to be an HVAC technician. However, if you want to be an HVAC contractor, there are additional requirements to achieve that.
For example, here are the licensure requirements in California to become an HVAC contractor:
4 years working at the journeyman level
Education can count towards 3 of the 4 year work requirement
Pass the licensing exam
Pass the California Law and Business exam
Pass an open book asbestos exam
Obtain a certificate of workers' compensation
Depending on where you live, you may qualify for certification by showing that you have practical experience working for a licensed air conditioning and refrigeration contractor. Also, military experience can be accepted as part of the experience requirement.
Each state is different so remember to check what the requirements are where you are located.
3 Important qualities every excellent HVAC technician demonstrates
If you want to be successful as an HVAC technician, there's more than just obtaining your certification. There are certain traits and practices, also known as soft skills, that will set you up to prosper in the industry. Here are 3 major qualities great HVAC technicians have.
1. Follows safety principles
Safety is important for yourself as well as those you serve. In the field of heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration, there are many potential hazards associated with daily tasks of working on HVAC systems. That's why it's important to follow safety protocols and have proper training in order to prevent hazardous issues.
2. Provides a high level of customer service
A major part of working as an HVAC technician is interacting with customers. Effective communication skills and customer relationship management will help you establish trust with your clients as they refer to you to help them fix their HVAC systems.
3. Possesses a strong work ethic
In any business, especially when providing customer service, it's imperative to demonstrate reliability, dedication, professionalism, and responsibility. Unethical conduct makes it difficult for customers to trust you and may even result in you losing your job.
Opportunities for career growth
HVAC contractor license
After you've obtained and held your HVAC certification for at least 12 months and have a minimum of 36 months of supervised experience in refrigeration and air conditioning, you are eligible to apply for a HVAC contractor license. If you meet those requirements, you may take the Air Conditioning and/or Refrigeration Contractor examination.
Be sure to check what your state requires in order to progress from an HVAC technician to an HVAC contractor.
Master HVAC technician
A master HVAC technician is also known as a master specialist. They conduct hands-on performance exams as technicians demonstrate they have retained the necessary knowledge. To be a master HVAC technician, you must have at least 3 years of field experience and have a passing score on related written professional level HVAC technician certification. This would be the equivalent of the NATE exam and passing the hands-on performance test.
Advice from a Pro
Nathan Culp from Culp's Heating & Cooling Solutions had this to say:
“Take a communications course or two. Being able to talk to your clientele is one of the most useful skills that is underutilized in our industry. It can help with faster diagnostics. It also helps in identifying underlying air quality, comfort, and mechanical concerns which leads to significantly higher revenue streams and profitability for the company. Therefore increasing your value as an employee. Making your weekly paycheck jump from 1k into 2 or 3k.”
Leslie Gagen from Green Comfort Heating & Air Conditioning said:
"Make sure you don’t mind and you are healthy enough to crawl in dirty attics, lift heavy things, climb ladders and work in high heat conditions. And have a good driving record."
An HVAC career is well within reach and doesn’t have to take you a long time to begin working.
According to the bureau of labor statistics, the projected job growth of HVAC technicians is promising. This in-demand career will give you a sense of accomplishment and make an immediate impact in people's lives as you improve their quality of life.
If you've been considering the idea of becoming an HVAC technician, check out our list of accredited training programs located near you. Your path to becoming a successful HVAC technician is just a click away.