Become an Air Conditioning Contractor: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an air conditioning contractor. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in HVAC.

Should I Become An Air Conditioning Contractor?

Air conditioning contractors install, repair and maintain the duct work, electrical equipment and controls found in residential and commercial cooling systems. Depending on the problem being fixed, the job may require indoor or outdoor work. Some air conditioning contractors might travel to perform on-site repairs, and they may work in tight spots or in warm or cold environments.

Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers have a higher-than-average rate of job-related illness and injury. This work may be seasonal, and busy periods can require overtime.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Certificate, associate degree or apprenticeship program; some employers offer on-the-job training
Degree Field HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning)
Experience Varies; up to two years experience may be requested by some employers
Licensure and Certification Refrigerant handling certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is mandatory; licensing is also required in some states; voluntary professional certification can increase employability
Key Skills Physical strength; good hand-eye coordination; strong customer service skills; troubleshooting and time management skills; ability to use specialized HVACR equipment, power tools, air gauges, refrigerant pressure meters and power hacksaws; familiarity with voltage meters
Salary (2014) $44,630 per year (Median salary for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May, 2014), Occupational Information Network, Job postings by employers (November 2012)

Step 1: Complete Formal Training in HVAC

While it's possible to learn the HVAC trade through work experience, air conditioning contractors who have completed formal training often have better employment opportunities. Options include apprenticeship programs, certificate programs and associate degree programs. Apprenticeships usually last 3 to 5 years, while certificate programs require a year of full-time study. Associate degree programs take about 2 years to complete. Common courses include basic electricity, refrigeration, control wiring and sheet metal fabrication.

Success Tip:

  • Take electives in electronics and computer science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the best job prospects will be available to air conditioning contractors who are adept at working with complex computer and electronics systems. Look for coursework that covers such topics as digital circuitry, microprocessors and industrial electronics.

Step 2: Earn EPA Certification

Federal law requires air conditioning contractors who work with refrigerants to pass certification exams designed to ensure the safe handling of these materials. Exam topics include refrigerant recovery, recycling, shipping and disposal for high-pressure refrigerants, low-pressure refrigerants or small appliances. The EPA approves technical schools and community colleges as certification exam providers.

Step 3: Acquire Work Experience

Employers often seek air conditioning contractors who have 2 or more years of experience. Many states also demand work experience as a prerequisite for licensure. The amount varies by state, but can range from 2 years after the completion of an apprenticeship up to 7 years of work experience for technicians who did not complete one of these training programs. Aspiring air conditioning contractors can meet these requirements by performing basic tasks alongside more experienced journeyman or master technicians in an entry-level position.

Step 4: Get a License

Every state sets its own qualifications for licensure, but all require air conditioning contractors to pass a licensing exam after earning the necessary work experience. They might also mandate that they pass criminal background checks and carry liability insurance or performance bonds. Minimum age requirements could also apply.

Success Tip:

  • Research continuing education requirements. Some state licensing boards require air conditioning contractors to complete around 4 hours of continuing education as a condition of license renewal.

Step 5: Advance Your Career by Earning Professional Certification

While professional certification isn't necessary for employment, it could improve air conditioning contractors' career opportunities. Professional associations, such as the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute and HVAC Excellence, offer credentials to technicians who meet work experience requirements and pass exams in specialized areas.

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