Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC) mechanics and installers are expected to see an employment growth that’s much faster than average, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, the bureau reports these workers techs can expect a job growth of about 14 percent from 2014 to 2024. If this information piques your interest, and you’re thinking of a career in in HVAC technology, continue reading and learn everything you need to know on how to become an HVAC technician.
How Long Does it Take to Become an HVAC Technician?
The length of time it takes to become an HVAC technician depends on which path you choose as far as training. There are three possible routes to becoming an HVAC technician.
- On-the-Job Training – Individuals with high school diplomas can obtain HVAC training by working with an assisting an experienced technician. A trainee can also take self-study or Internet classes while participating in the training. The trainee will learn things like checking electrical circuits; cleaning furnaces; cutting and soldering sheet metal; and insulating refrigeration lines. Once the individual is confident of his or her knowledge, the individual can apply to take certification exams.
- Earning a Certificate or Degree – Depending on the degree level chosen, this route can take from six months to two years. Through a curriculum combined with classroom courses and lab studies, the student earns about furnaces; electricity fundamentals; control systems; ducts and piping; work site safety; and ducts and piping. The student may also obtain an internship as part of the degree program.
- Participating in an Apprenticeship – Although this is probably the longest route towards becoming an HVAC technician, it’s also the one that provides the most training and prepares the trainee for the most certifications. The apprenticeship typically includes classroom work and paid on-the-job training, so the candidate can earn money while still learning. Apprenticeships can take from three to five years. Aspiring HVAC technicians in apprenticeship programs are generally required to complete at least 144 hours of technical education and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.
What Type of Training or Certification is Required?
Many states require their HVAC technicians be certified and licensed, although this varies from state to state. Whether a state requires licensure or not, an individual is still required to pass an exam before they can work as an HVAC technician
In addition to state requirements, there are also certification requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for technicians who will be working refrigerants. To obtain this certification, you must pass a written test based on one of the following specializations.
- Type 1 – Small appliances
- Type 2 – High-pressure refrigerants
- Type 3 – Low-pressure refrigerants
Technicians can choose to take just one of the certification exams or take several. The more certifications they have, the wider range of services they can provide to customers and clients. Depending on the program or school in which you’re enrolled, you may have access to training courses aimed at preparing you to take the exams. The certification exams you’re eligible to take depends on your level of training and experience. For instance, some require you to have at least one year of experience working in HVAC technology.
Agencies That Offer Certification Exams
- North American Technician Excellence
- HVAC Excellence
- National Occupational Competency Testing Institute
- Refrigerating Engineers and Technician Association
- Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
Possible Internship Opportunities
Individuals may find apprenticeships through the following HVAC industry contractor associations.
- The Air Conditioning Contractors of America
- Mechanical Contractors Association of America
- United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry
- Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association
- Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
- Home Builders Institute
- Associated Builders and Contractors
Aspiring HVAC technicians are typically required to meet the following requirements to be eligible for an apprenticeship.
- Must have a high school diploma or GED
- Must be at least 18 years of age
- Must have valid driver’s license
- Must pass a drug screening
- Must show competency in general math
Because HVAC technicians work in businesses and homes, they are also required to pass background checks.
What Type of Salary Can HVAC Technicians Expect?
The BLS reports that heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers earned a median annual wage of $45,910 as of May 2016. Those in the lowest ten percent earned about $28,440 while those in the top 90 percent earned $73,350. Factors that can affect salary include years and type of experience, number of certifications, employer and geographic locations. Below are the five top-paying states for HVAC techs.
- District of Columbia – $67,230
- Hawaii – $66,820
- Alaska – $63,620
- North Dakota – $60,420
- New Jersey – 58,420