HVAC Technician Careers 101

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air-conditioning.

HVAC technicians focus on so many areas and the training is a little more involved than some of the other skilled trades. In return for spending more time developing their skills, HVAC technicians frequently rank as the highest paid employees out of all the skilled trades. As of writing, HVAC technicians are not only in high demand, but the industry is expected to experience a growth surge.

Unlike other skilled trades, HVAC technicians have the option of either learning their skills through an apprenticeship or attending a trade school.

Apprenticeship programs take longer to complete than a trade school course but working as an apprentice gives you hands on experience and allows you to build a network. While you are working as an apprentice, you are earning a salary and building your resume.

You must have at least a high school diploma or a GED before you can sign up as an apprentice or enroll in a trade school.

Since it is more specialized than some of the other trade skills, HVAC technicians must get additional licensing and certification. The types of certification change depending on the state. The state you work in dictates how often you must get recertified to continue working as an HVAC technician. More information about becoming an HVAC technician is listed below.

What does an HVAC technician do?

HVAC technicians have numerous responsibilities. Even apprentice HVAC technicians are expected to understand the basics of installing and repairing heating and cooling units, as well as ventilation systems. HVAC technicians must be comfortable working with smaller units typically found in residential areas and the larger variants used in commercial buildings.

In addition to working with different heating and cooling equipment, HVAC technicians must be familiar with building blueprints. Otherwise, they risk installing equipment in the wrong areas. HVAC technicians must be comfortable using different tools, such as:

  • Metal cutters.
  • Flow sensors.
  • Current meters.

HVAC technicians use these tools for important tasks. These tasks include cutting wires, checking pipes and ventilation systems for faults or leaks, and welding any damaged pipes. Many HVAC technicians either work alone or are assigned to work on individual parts of a building. As a result, they must be able to spot potential problems and be confident to make their own decisions.

The Essential Skills of an HVAC Technician

Several important skills are necessary to succeed as an HVAC technician. Since HVAC technicians focus on so any areas right from the beginning, it often takes longer to master the necessary skills versus other trade skill careers. Some of the most important skills to develop as an HVAC technician are:

  • Communication.
  • Computers.
  • General troubleshooting.
  • Understanding schematics and blueprints.

The Expected Work Environment for an HVAC Technician

HVAC technicians work in both residential and commercial settings. Which section you work in primarily depends on your employer. Some employers prefer to specialize in one setting over the other.

Typically, HVAC technicians earn more if they are working in a commercial setting, since businesses have larger projects and bigger budgets. Some HVAC technicians are assigned to a dedicated project, but most travel to different locations as needed.

HVAC technicians work throughout the year, but business frequently picks up based around the time of the year. During the warmest and coolest months, HVAC technicians typically work the most hours. This work largely focuses on making repairs to existing heating and cooling units, as most residents and businesses try to get their systems installed before these extreme seasons strike.

Job Outlook and Income for HVAC Technicians

According to a study from 2014, the HVAC industry was expected to grow by nearly 15 percent by the end of 2024. This represents one of the largest projected job growths for not only trade skill jobs, but all careers as a whole.

One of the reasons HVAC industries are growing has to do with advancements in technology. Over the last few years, there have been major innovations to heating and cooling units. Many businesses and residents are removing their old systems for these newer systems. Newer systems are not only more effective, but they are not as much of an energy drain, which helps residents and businesses cut down on utility bills. Even before these advancements, HVAC technicians were still in high demand, since new businesses and homes are always being built.

HVAC technicians often earn higher salaries compared to other trade skill jobs. This is because HVAC technicians start out in a specialized field, while many other trade skill jobs start smaller and work up towards mastering a specific craft. The more experienced the technician, the more they earn. Where you work, your level of certification and the number of hours you are comfortable working each week all impact how much you earn as an HVAC technician.

Subjects to Focus On

Before you think about becoming an HVAC technician, you must earn a high school diploma or a GED. If you are still studying, focus on a few different skills to improve your odds of becoming an HVAC technician:

  • Chemistry.
  • Physics.
  • Computer science.
  • Any vocational classes covering subjects like technical math, electronics, drafting and blueprint reading or mechanical drawing.

HVAC Licensing and Certification

Each state has slightly different rules regarding certification and licensing as an HVAC technician. In most states, you must take a certification course and pass a written test. Some certification programs include a practical exam as well. Some states allow you to waive these requirements if you have multiple years of work experience. HVAC technicians must have an EPA certificate, which allows them to work on different climate control devices and appliances.

Becoming an HVAC Technician

Become an HVAC technician in one of several ways. The first way to become a technician is by training on the job. Training on the job is different than an apprenticeship. Typically, if you train on the job, you do not earn a salary. Once you master the skills to become a technician, you are employed by the company. Your employer is essentially investing in you by teaching you the basics of the job so you can join the company.

Another way to become a technician is to take a class through a trade school or a community college. Programs vary depending on where you attend, with trade schools typically being faster to complete than community college courses. Finally, you can become an HVAC technician by working in an apprenticeship program. Apprentice positions are paid and typically take between three to five years to complete. Once you have the necessary hours, apply for an HVAC technician license.