What Does an HVAC Technician Do? HVAC Apprenticeships, Jobs and Salary
Almost every building in the U.S. has a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, and property owners rely on skilled HVAC technicians to keep them running efficiently. That’s one of the reasons HVAC technicians have such great job stability.
If you have a knack for solving mechanical problems, HVAC apprenticeship programs and careers are worth a look.
What Do HVAC Technicians Do?
HVAC technicians — sometimes called HVAC mechanics or HVAC installers — install, maintain, test and repair heating, cooling and filtration systems in residential and commercial buildings. These are referred to as HVAC systems.
Technicians may also service HVACR systems, which stands for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.
No matter what type of building or environment they’re working in, skilled HVAC techs make sure the equipment that regulates indoor temperature, humidity and air quality is in good working order.
Sometimes, technicians work on all systems. Other times, they specialize in one area, such as air conditioning. HVAC technicians or mechanics typically fix and maintain systems, while HVAC installers set them up.
When equipment breaks down and systems fail, the need for HVAC repair is an emergency. Customers are always happy to see HVAC technicians show up! But this also means evening or weekend work is likely.
Keep reading to learn more about HVAC careers and how to get started in this in-demand job.
- Install new HVAC systems in residential and commercial buildings
- Diagnose and fix existing HVAC systems, often using computerized tools
- Install electrical components and wiring
- Clearly explain HVAC problems and solutions with customers
- Inspect and clean ducts
- Follow government rules on proper handling and disposal of fluids and pressurized gasses
How To Become an HVAC Technician
Ready to take the first step on a career path as an HVAC professional? There are certain things you’ll need to do to qualify for entry-level HVAC jobs.
Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma (or Equivalent)
First, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Any kind of mechanical training you can get in high school will pay off, whether that be in a vocational class or in your spare time.
Step 2: Continue Your HVAC Training Through a Technical College or Apprenticeship
The majority of your HVAC training will come from a specialized program or apprenticeship. Some technicians earn a certificate or associate degree from a technical college. Others go directly into an HVAC apprenticeship.
An HVAC apprentice job experience is immersive and educational. Many employers prefer HVAC job candidates who come prepared with this level of training. This is why HVAC apprenticeships can be game-changing opportunities for aspiring professionals. These are typically offered through businesses, unions and contractor associations, such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).
An HVAC apprenticeship consists of on-the-job training under the supervision of seasoned professionals. In many instances, you’ll earn an HVAC apprentice salary while you learn the trade.
Whether you choose to attend a technical college or take on an apprenticeship, both pathways will include classroom and hands-on training. You’ll typically start with simple tasks and move on to more advanced skills, such as soldering or checking electrical circuits.
Courses will cover topics including:
- The various HVACR systems
- Diagnostic training
- Safety procedures
- Tool use
- Blueprint readingMath
- HVAC controls (voltage, air quality and resistance)
- Electrical system troubleshooting
Step 3: Get Licensed and/or Certified
Once you’ve completed your training, it’s time to get your state license. Not all states and cities require a license, but getting this credential is a worthwhile step that validates your skills. It may involve a written test.
You’ll also need to earn entry-level certifications, such as Section 608 Technician Certification, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires for anyone who handles or works near refrigerants. There are three levels, Type I, Type II and Type III, and they are all intended to increase technician knowledge and to keep them safe. When released, refrigerant gasses can lead to risks such as low oxygen levels.
To understand the rules in your state, see the licensing and certification box below or go directly to the licensing requirements tool.
Step 4: Earn Additional Certifications Throughout Your Career
As you progress in the job, you can boost your expertise by earning advanced certifications.
Many organizations offer these types of certifications. For example, North American Technician Excellence (NATE) offers several optional certificates, including the Ready-to-Work Certificate for entry-level HVAC techs and the Core & Specialty Tests Certificate for more skilled technicians.
Manufacturers also offer certification to work on their equipment.Areas of specialty include residential boilers, radiant heater systems, commercial furnaces and commercial refrigeration.
Your preparation will pay off with a rewarding career and a steady paycheck!
Becoming an HVAC Technician: FAQs
Are there any other HVAC tech qualifications to consider?
You’ll need a driver’s license so you can easily get to job sites. Some employers will require a background check.
How long does it take to become an HVAC technician?
This depends on your preparation and career path:
- Certificate programs last from six months to a year.
- An associate degree takes two years.
- An HVAC apprenticeship can last from three to five years.
Continuing education is ongoing. The more you learn, the more job opportunities available to you. Plus, you may want to run your own HVAC business someday, and everything you learn will help you work toward that goal.
Are HVAC technicians in demand?
Yes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be 40,100 HVAC job openings every year from 2021 to 2031. The pace of new construction will keep qualified, full-time techs busy. In addition, as climate-control systems become more efficient, property owners will need their older units replaced.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for an HVAC apprenticeship or full-time job?
Successful HVAC techs tend to share these traits:
- Good problem-solving skills
- Excellent communication and customer service skills
- Able to lift heavy materials
- Stamina and flexibility to work in hot and cold climates and tight spaces
- Strong basic math skills
- Mechanically inclined and good with their hands