HVAC Technician Career Factsheet
Heating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technicians work on heating, ventilation, and cooling systems. HVAC technicians can be known as Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) technicians when also working with refrigeration systems. HVAC and HVACR technicians are mechanics and installers who work closely with systems that control air quality and temperature in all types of buildings, including installing and repairing systems. HVAC/R technicians work with residential and commercial climate-control systems, including gas and oil boilers and burners, hot-air furnaces, air conditioning units, and heating stoves.
Is this job for me?
There are a number of qualities and abilities that are fundamental for anyone considering a career as a HVAC/R technician:
Customer-service skills: Since technicians interact regularly with the public, a commitment to high-quality customer service and meeting customer requirements to ensure their satisfaction is a main aspect of the job. Being polite and friendly, as well as punctual, are essential requirements.
Detail oriented: In order to find and resolve problems, and to work with various tools to make precise repairs and adjustments, a strong attention to details is required to ensure systems operate effectively and efficiently.
Dexterity: Technicians are required to make precise and coordinated movements with their fingers to grasp, manipulate, and assemble very small objects. Having good hand-eye coordination and near vision in order to see details at close range is essential.
Mechanical skills: You should have knowledge of machines and tools, including how to use and maintain them. Knowledge of practical applications of engineering science and technology, physics, design, mathematics, and building and construction are also important in order to understand the complexity of climate-control systems to properly install or repair them.
Physical strength: Strong abdominal and lower back muscles and good multi-limb coordination are needed, as well as steady arms and hands. Good flexibility is also an asset, as you will be required to regularly bend, twist, stretch, and reach when repairing or installing items.
Time-management skills: When responding to multiple maintenance and installation calls, technicians must ensure they are on-time and keep to a rigid schedule to meet customer needs and employer requirements. Managing your time to make sure repairs and tasks are completed on time is essential to ensure work does not get delayed.
Troubleshooting skills: With many intricate parts in climate-control systems, problem solving skills and the ability to know when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong are important qualities of a successful technician.
Why Consider a Career as a HVAC Technician?
The demand for HVAC/R technicians is rising. Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that Americans employed as HVAC and HVACR technicians will increase by 29% or more. It is estimated that over 100,000 jobs expected to be created nation-wide between 2010 and 2020. This is much faster than the average growth for other occupations.
Salaries for HVAC and HVACR technicians are also slightly higher than the national average for all occupations. Although wages can be low when beginning as an apprentice, salaries increase substantially as you gain more experience and become a fully-certified technician or journeyman. The highest wages for technicians can reach over $33.10 per hour or $68,840 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, well above the national average.
Many technicians are self-employed, which provides you with the flexibility to set your own schedule by running your own business. HVAC/R technicians will also benefit from the green economy and increased used of green construction, as well as higher demand for green technologies. With increasing demand for energy efficient and environmentally sensitive technology, HVAC/R technicians can play an important role in supporting greener industry and a more environmentally sustainable industry. The green economy will also likely support and create new occupations in the climate-control systems sector that HVAC and HVACR technicians can well-positioned to transition into with ease.
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What Education and Training do I Need?
Studying shop, mathematics, and physics in high school provide excellent background to begin a career as a technician or to pursue formal education in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration. Increasingly, HVAC and HVACR technicians receive their training from technical and trade schools or from community colleges. Degrees are also available from junior colleges and some universities. Formal training is provided through diploma, certificate, and degree programs in heating, air conditioning, and/or refrigeration. Programs typically last between 6 months to 2 years, with longer programs leading to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
HVAC/R installers and mechanics who receive their training on the job are becoming increasingly uncommon, although it remains the main source of training for technicians. Technicians that receive informal training begin as assistants to experienced technicians or journeymen, and are involved in completing basic tasks. Over time, new technicians are asked to complete more complex tasks. More formal training can be obtained through apprenticeship programs that last between 3 and 5 years. During an apprenticeship, you receive technical on-the-job training and instruction with a trade union or industry association. Training includes learning about safety practices, how to read blueprints, and how to use tools. Once an apprenticeship is completed, you are considered a skilled trade worker and are able to work on your own.
What Types of Entry-Level Jobs Can I Get?
Once you complete your training, entry-level jobs often report to senior and experienced technicians or journeyman. Entry-level jobs include air conditioning installers, HVAC/R installation assistants, HVAC/R service technicians, and sheet metal workers. You can also be employed as a mechanic equipment service tradesman or mechanic apprentice where you provide maintenance service and some repair work under the supervision of a journeyman. You can seek employment as a contractor for a manufacturer or heating, cooling or refrigeration service provider, as a HVAC/R sales representative, or begin your own HVAC/R installation and service business.
During your training and career, you can obtain licenses and certification to advance into more advanced jobs. Some employers look for certification and licensing when hiring technicians. Once you have at least a year of experience in installing climate-control systems and two years experience in maintaining and repairing systems, you can take specialized exams to certify that you are able to use specific types of equipment. Some states and local governments require technicians to be licensed in order to work as a HVAC/R technician. Licenses are typically issued by passing an exam. If you work with or buy refrigerants, you must also be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
How Much Can I Earn?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, a HVAC/R technician can earn on average $22.54 per hour or an annual salary of $46,880 (May 2014 data). Generally, an apprentice earns about half the wage of an experienced technician. Salaries also typically increase as technicians gain experience.