Are you a problem solver by nature? Do you prefer working with your hands and with machines? Don't want to choose between electrical, mechanical, and plumbing work?
You might be well-suited to a career as an HVAC technician.
What Does an HVAC Technician Do?
HVAC technicians install, maintain, and repair indoor climate control systems, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment. Some also handle refrigeration equipment, and you'll see them designated as HVAC/R. HVAC technicians who work on household appliances are known as HVAC/R-MAR (Major Appliance Repair).
Most HVAC technicians work on residential systems. Some handle all types of climate control systems, while others specialize in only one or two. Similarly, some specialize in installation or in maintenance and repair, while others handle all phases of HVAC systems' life cycle.
Some may specialize in a particular type of equipment or component, like air-to-air heat pumps, oil heating, gas heating, or air distribution/ducts.
Commercial HVAC technicians work on larger, more complicated systems. This requires more training, but it also pays better.
Other specialties include solar-powered HVAC systems, HVAC systems for wind turbines, aerospace HVAC systems in aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles, or automotive HVAC.
Is HVAC a Good Career?
There are a lot of factors that influence whether something is a good career.
You might be wondering, "Do HVAC Technicians make good money?" and that's important. But you should also consider the potential future of your career and whether the day-to-day work environment will suit you.
How Much Do HVAC Technicians Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average HVAC technician salary for 2020 was $53,410 a year, or $25.68 an hour.
Income varies by experience, specialty, location, and other factors, but most make between $31,910 and $80,820.
What's the Career Outlook for HVAC?
The BLS estimates that HVAC/R mechanics and installers will grow the average amount (4%) between by 2029, but it's worth noting that the estimate may be low – it was 13% the year before, and the BLS admits that the pandemic is making accurate projections tricky.
Logically, HVAC career prospects are stable. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration technology is ubiquitous, and climate control isn't going anywhere. The increasingly complicated nature of the technology calls for trained professionals to troubleshoot, repair, install, or upgrade them.
It's safe to say you'll have solid job prospects just about everywhere you go, especially if you specialize in maintenance and repair work. Those that specialize in new installation may experience ebbs and flows in demand based on the state of the economy and on the amount of new construction.
What's an HVAC Technician's Work Environment?
HVAC technicians are usually employed by plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors (66%). A few are self-employed (7%), work in retail or wholesale trade (4% & 3%), or teach at technical schools (3%).
Most HVAC service technicians work full-time – or often, overtime.
Since heating and cooling are crucial to people's health and well-being, techs often work heavy and irregular hours during the summer and winter. That can include middle of the night and holiday emergencies. Of course, logging long hours means more money, but your willingness to be "on call" is worth considering.
Being an HVAC technician can also be dangerous. The nature of the job means you'll often work in extreme heat or cold and cramped or uncomfortable spaces. You may also need to work at extreme heights or in dangerous weather. You'll work with heavy equipment and be subject to hazardous materials on occasion. You'll be at risk for electrical shocks, burns, muscle strain, and breathing problems.
HVAC Career Path
Due to the increasingly complex nature of HVAC systems, it's becoming less and less common to start your career through on-the-job training. Employers usually prefer to hire graduates of a technical training program or a formal apprenticeship, instead.
The overwhelming majority (77%) of HVAC technicians have post-secondary awards or associate's degrees, according to Career Explorer. Another 13% have a high school diploma with no formal training, and only 7% have a bachelors.
High school students who are interested in becoming an HVAC technician should take classes like shop, math, and physics. HVAC/R service technicians must be able to apply theoretical knowledge of physics and math to the equipment they handle. They also need to understand the operation of electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.
HVAC/R training programs last between 6 months and two years, depending on whether they lead to a certificate or an associate's degree.
Most jurisdictions require licensing for HVAC contractors but not technicians. However, some do require HVAC technicians to be licensed, or they require licensing to work on specific equipment.
It's important to check with relevant states, counties, or municipalities for licensing requirements. The prerequisites vary, but they often involve training, experience, an exam, or some combination of the three.
The only certification that's mandatory for all HVAC techs in the U.S. is through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Specific jurisdictions may require other certification as part of the licensing process. Then there are other certifications that are optional but may provide better hiring or advancement opportunities.
Section 608 Certification
HVAC technicians must hold Section 608 Technician Certification from the EPA in order to handle refrigerants. Those chemicals can be harmful to the environment, so this certification is meant to ensure you know the relevant laws so you can abide by it.
There are four types of Section 608 certification. Each one qualifies you to work on a specific type of equipment: small appliances, high-pressure appliances, low-pressure appliances, or all of the above.
NATE and HVAC Excellence Certifications
There are two common and nationally-recognized certification programs for the industry: the North American Technical Excellence (NATE) and HVAC Excellence. Technicians with these certifications earn more and experience greater demand for their services.
Both programs have validating exams for entry-level workers that you can take after your initial training. For HVAC Excellence, it's called Employment-Ready Certification. For NATE, the exams are called "ready-to-work" (for those with little to no training) and HVAC Support Technician (for those with six months to two years' experience). These NATE programs are certificate-based, not true certifications.
Once you have two years of experience, you can take the core and specialty exams for NATE and HVAC Excellence Professional Technician Certification.
Advanced or specialized work can also be validated with certification – from either of these organizations, or from others like the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA).
Train for HVAC/R Technician Certification Online
If you have more than a year of hands-on experience, our HVAC/R Certified Technician program will help you prepare to pass the certification exams you need to advance, including HVAC Excellence Core and Professional Technician exams, the NATE Core and Specialty exams, and the EPA Section 608 certification exam.
Through self-paced online coursework and hands-on service call simulations, you'll be able to study and prepare from the comfort of home and around your busy schedule. Soft skills simulations will also help sharpen your customer service skills.
Program costs include an HVAC Excellence ESCO Group Voucher Package that includes one Principals of Electrical and Refrigeration (Core) exam voucher, one Professional Technician exam voucher (Residential Air Conditioning recommended), and one EPA 608 exam voucher.
What are you waiting for? Get started today