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HVAC/R Technician Training Facts

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Jun 21, 2017
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Heating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) technicians work with climate-control systems, such as heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems. They are involved in installing and maintaining, including repairing and servicing, these climate-control systems in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. HVAC/R technicians may specialize in either installation or maintenance, service and repair work, or in heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration, as well as specific types of climate-control systems.

HVAC/R Tech Education Options

Informal training on the job has been the traditional route to becoming a qualified HVAC/R technician. More recently, some employers prefer hiring HVAC and HVACR installers and mechanics with some technical and formal training or education. As HVACR systems become more and more complex, formal training is an asset to any perspective job applicant. Formal or technical training and education can be obtained through technical training at a trade or technical school, a community college, or a college or university. It can also be obtained through a formal apprenticeship programs that combine on-the-job work experience with technical instruction.

Formal HVAC Technician Training and Education

HVAC Training

While HVAC/R technicians traditionally receive their training on the job, technicians are increasingly obtaining formal technical training from accredited schools or colleges. Diploma, certificate, and degree programs are available in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration from technical and trade schools, as well as community colleges and some universities.

Programs generally are between six months to two years in length, with longer programs leading to an associate’s degree and in some cases a bachelor’s degree. In order to prepare for a career as a HVAC/R technician, studying shop, mathematics, and physics in high school are recommended. Strong reading and writing skills are also essential. Admission to heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration programs typically requires completion of these related courses, as well as a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (GED). Applicants may also be asked to complete a standardized test and an interview to assess their suitability.

In addition to attending a school or college, online training and distance education is an option to obtain formal training and education. Some trade and technical schools, as well as community colleges, provide students with the option to complete their HVACR certificate, diploma, or degree through distance education or online learning. Students can complete courses similar to those offered at the college, but through online modules. Online training provides students with an opportunity to set their own schedule rather than attend a rigid schedule of classes at a tradition brick and mortar school or college.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration programs are designed to prepare students for certification as HVAC/R technicians by providing entry-level skills to begin a career as an HVAC/R installer and mechanic. Programs provide an introduction to climate-control systems and instruction on installation and maintenance of equipment, as well as instruction on ductwork and metal fabrication. Students learn about climate-control systems for residential and commercial properties, cooling and refrigeration, electricity for HVACR systems, and air systems, as well as troubleshooting skills, trade skills, and work safety. Instruction is also provided on building and gas codes and regulations that are relevant to climate-control system installation and repair.

HVAC Technician Apprenticeships

Formal apprenticeships are another route to becoming a qualified HVAC/R technician. Apprenticeships can last between three and five years. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with technical instruction in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration. During an apprenticeship, you learn 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 you are able to work on your own as a journeyman.

In order to apply for a formal apprenticeship, you should have a high school diploma or equivalent, such as a general equivalency degree (GED). Applicants should have strong skills in mathematics, physics, writing and reading. Apprenticeship programs are generally offered by trade unions, contractor associations, and other industry groups. Examples of organizations that run apprenticeships programs include the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the National Association of Home Builders. Typically, committees led by local chapters from these organizations oversee apprenticeship programs, in addition to providing testing and interviews for admission into a program. Applications are generally available directly from the local chapter and testing can be administered on a rolling basis (that is, throughout the year) or periodically at specific times a year.

Informal Training

HVAC apprenticeship

If formal education and training are not pursued, you can qualify as an HVAC/R technician with on-the-job training. Training begins with completing basic tasks under the supervision of an experienced technician or journeyman. These tasks generally include insulating refrigerant lines and cleaning furnaces. With more experience, trainees complete increasingly complex tasks such as cutting and soldering pipes, as well as checking electrical circuits.

Over time, informally trained technicians gain sufficient experience to install and repair climate-control systems on their own.Depending on the technician and their ability to master new skills and tasks, this can take several years.

Choosing the Right Path to Becoming an HVAC Technician

Increasingly, employers look for job applicants who have received some form of formal education or training as an HVAC/R technician. Generally, certificate courses provide an overview of basic skills in heating and cooling. Diploma and degree programs explore the skills and techniques necessary for installing and repairing climate-control systems in greater depth. These programs tend to include lab work, where students learn about climate-control systems through practical sessions. Students may also have the opportunity to complete job placements with local industries and businesses, as well as paid internships towards the end of a diploma or degree program. With diploma and degree programs, students enter the workforce better equipped to advance in their careers since they will have in-depth skills related to designing, building, maintaining, and servicing heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems.

Similar to degree and diploma programs, formal apprenticeships leave technicians well-equipped. Apprenticeships provide you with the skills and practical experience needed to design, build, maintain, and service climate-control systems. This is done through practical, on-the-job training and instruction rather than formal in-class instruction. The advantage of an apprenticeship is that you will be earning a wage throughout your study, although wages are less than a full-time technician.

HVAC Technician Training Costs

HVAC/R technician training costs depend on the type of program you are pursuing and the program’s provider. While certificate programs can cost only a few hundred dollars, a degree program can reach into the thousands of dollars. In addition to tuition, you will be required to purchase books for in-class instruction and any materials such as tools that are needed to complete a program’s lab or practical component. Tools can cost up to $1,000 or more, depending on the type of program you are completing.

For apprenticeships, there is generally no cost associated with enrolling in a program. Costs of books for associated coursework and instruction are typically the responsibility of the apprentice. If an apprenticeship program is offered by a trade union or association, apprentices are usually required to become a member of the union or association by paying an initiation fee and monthly union dues after successfully completing the program.

Financial Aid

Merit-based financial aid is generally available directly from the institution you are attending. This aid is typically offered in the form of scholarships and grants. Grants and scholarships are also available from outside organizations, such as trade unions and industry associations. Some educational institutions may also provide students with interest-free loans on a needs basis.

Needs-based federal financial aid is also available, including Federal Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). Loans administered by the U.S. Department of Education are also available to students requiring financial aid. Federal financial aid is available to students enrolled in programs provided by accredited schools, colleges, and universities. Students in online programs are also eligible for financial aid if they are enrolled with an accredited school.

HVAC/R Certification

HVAC/R Technicians can take several tests to measure their skills in order to be certified as qualified technicians. While certification is not mandatory, it puts you at a competitive advantage when applying for jobs or advancing in your career. Some employers prefer to hire industry-certified technicians. If you plan to own your own business, being certified also lets customers know that you have the skills and competency to install and maintain or service climate-control systems to manufacturers’ specifications in a safe and efficient manner.

If you have relevant coursework but have less than two years of work experience, you can take entry-level certification exams to test basic skills in residential and light commercial heating and cooling, as well as commercial refrigeration. Certifying exams test your competency in electrical, air conditioning, refrigeration, electrical, gas and oil heat, carbon monoxide, and other areas. These exams can be written at technical and trade schools, and are often built into education and training programs. If you have at least one year of installation experience and two years of maintenance and repair experience, you may be eligible to take additional specialized exams. These exams test your skills related to specific types of equipment, for example gas and oil boilers and furnaces, residential and commercial air conditioning, compressed-refrigerant cooling systems, transport refrigeration, geothermal heating, and many other specific types of climate-control systems and equipment.

Certifying exams are offered by a number of organizations. The Industry Competency Exam is provided by Air-Conditioning, heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). AHRI also provides a wide range of specialized certification programs, from forced circulation air-cooling and air-heating to geothermal skills to heat pump pool heaters and indoor pool dehumidifiers. Exams are also provided by the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) and the Refrigeration Services Engineers Society (RSES). HVAC Excellence also offers certification in a wide range of areas, including the core Principle of Electrical and Refrigeration Theory exam. This core exam can be completed after you obtain at least two years of field experience. Once it is passed, you can complete certifying exams on specific types of equipment and climate-control systems. Certifying exams are also available in carbon monoxide inspection and green awareness. HVAC Excellence also offers various levels of certification through Employment Ready Certifications, which are used by post-secondary schools and industry to assess whether you have obtained the skills necessary to enter the HVAC/R workforce.

HVAC Technician Employment Prospects and Outlook

The demand for HVAC/R technicians is rising and employment prospects are expected to be positive over the next decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of Americans employed as HVAC/R technicians will increase by an estimated 29% or more between 2010 and 2010. The BLS estimates that over 100,000 HVAC/R technician jobs will be created during the same time period. This rate of growth is much faster than the average for other occupations.

HVAC/R technicians are likely to benefit from increased focus on the green economy and higher consumer and industry demand for greener, more efficient climate-control systems. HVAC/R technicians have an important role in the green economy as climate-control systems become increasingly linked to green construction and demand for efficient heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. HVAC/R technicians are also positioned well to easily transfer their skills into new occupations as the climate-control industry moves to towards more energy efficient and greener systems.

Useful Links

For more information about Federal Student Aid programs, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.

For more information about accredited schools and colleges:

For more information about apprenticeship programs:

For more information about certification:

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