Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians are trade workers who help maintain the comfort level of the climate in residences and commercial buildings.
These highly skilled technicians install, support and repair all equipment related to heating, cooling, ventilation and refrigeration. Additionally, their work ensures the indoor air quality remains safe for human habitation.
Most technicians work as independent contractors working with residential HVAC systems. Others work as part of construction crews performing installations for new construction and commercial buildings like offices, hospitals, schools and stores. While many technicians are generalists, some choose to specialize in one area of their field.
Entry to the field requires a high school education or equivalent, followed by post-secondary education or an apprenticeship. The median wage for an HVAC technician is a little over $40,000 per year. The job prospects for HVAC technicians grows yearly. Those with mechanical ability and technical aptitude will see this career as an excellent opportunity to apply those skills to in a wide variety of settings.
As their title suggests, HVAC technicians work with heating, ventilation and air conditioning for a variety of structures. HVAC technicians also work with refrigeration systems, and sometimes the acronym HVAC(R) is used interchangeably to describe this career. These skilled technicians install, repair and maintain systems that provide warmth and cooling to residences and buildings.
Additionally, HVAC technicians ensure that the ventilation system throughout a building remains free of pollution and other harmful chemicals that affect human health. Also skilled in refrigeration systems, HVAC technicians maintain equipment required to keep food at a safe temperature in both residential and commercial refrigerators. Each day presents new challenges as technicians inspect equipment, clean parts and evaluate the overall health of the systems they support.
HVAC technicians spend their days working with customers to assess HVAC issues, diagnose problems and make recommendations for a solution to those problems. Some technicians work on construction crews to install HVAC systems in new construction. These technicians coordinate with the construction manager and other technicians, such as plumbers and electricians, to ensure their work aligns with the overall plan for the project.
Technicians working as part of construction crews read blueprints and building schematics to learn the layout of a building’s HVAC system. Additionally, they keep abreast of local building codes to ensure their work meets regulatory requirements. Due to their vital role in climate control, HVAC technicians sometimes work evenings and weekends. Seasonal demands often require extensive overtime to keep all systems working.
While most technicians possess skills to maintain the entire HVAC system, many choose to specialize in one area. For example, heating technicians maintain the systems that provide warmth to buildings. They use tools and specialized equipment to diagnose heaters, boilers and furnaces. Given the nature of their work, heating technicians experience a greater workload during the fall and winter seasons.
Technicians who specialize in cooling systems handle all components of the cooling of a building. Cooling technicians must understand the internal parts of an air conditioner, as well as how refrigerant affects the quality of the climate throughout a building. These technicians usually see more demand for their work during the warm months of spring and summer.
Finally, there are a group of professionals who choose refrigeration as their specialty. Refrigeration technicians apply their knowledge to help ensure food safety for residences and commercial businesses like manufacturers and restaurants. Their work makes it possible to transport food and other perishable items from one location to another.
A majority of HVAC technicians are independent contractors who work primarily with residential customers. They spend their days interacting with clients to resolve heating and cooling issues for homes. Some HVAC contractors work for construction companies or heating and cooling contractors for commercial projects in factories, office buildings, hospitals or schools.
HVAC technicians earn a median wage of $47,080 per year. Those at the top of the pay scale earned a median salary of $75,330 while those on the lower end earned a little over $29,000 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BSL), as of 2017, the top industry for HVAC technicians is wholesale trade, followed closely by educational services, state and local projects.
Heating and cooling systems are a necessity for many people, and thus the demand for HVAC technicians remains stable. With urban expansion and new construction projects each year, the need for HVAC professionals will likely grow. As technology continues to evolve, technicians who possess advanced technical knowledge will see the most demand for their skills. Those familiar with tablets, computers and specialized construction management software have the best job prospects.
Due to the complexity of the job, most employers prefer their HVAC workers to have some formal education. At the very minimum, HVAC technicians must possess a high school diploma or equivalent. Beyond high school, aspiring HVAC technicians usually complete formal training at a community college or via a vocational program.
College programs may take up to two years to complete, while vocational programs offer a certificate in basic skills in a few months. Whether it is a degree program or a vocational certificate, each program teaches students the basics of electricity, furnace, duct and piping fundamentals. Students also learn workplace safety skills.
Apprenticeships provide another career path to becoming an HVAC technician. Supervised by an experienced HVAC professional, apprentices receive valuable on-the-job training and pay while they learn the profession. Apprenticeship programs last from two to three years during which apprentices must complete 2,000 work hours and 144 hours of classroom training each year. Many employers also require technicians to obtain industry certifications to demonstrate their knowledge.
One of the most recognized certifications is the North American Technician Excellence certification. HVAC technicians must pass in-depth exams to achieve their certification. HVAC technicians specializing in refrigeration systems often obtain certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to demonstrate their ability to handle hazardous substances. Many states require licenses to practice the trade.