Online HVAC Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

HVAC and refrigeration programs are not common online, but there are some to choose from at the certificate and bachelor degree levels. Take a look what should be considered when choosing a school and get an idea of some of the coursework involved.

How to Select an Online HVAC School

HVAC is an acronym for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It is now more known as HVACR (or HVAC&R) to include refrigeration. These systems control air quality, temperature and humidity in commercial, industrial and residential buildings. The HVACR profession includes technicians who maintain, repair and install systems, and engineers who design, test and balance them. A few public colleges and online schools offer programs in HVAC and HVACR in fully online and hybrid formats. Students should then weigh the program format with the award level and internship opportunities.

Program Format

Students in online and hybrid programs learn through lectures, videos, applied exercises and e-mail discussions with teachers and classmates. Printed textbooks are needed for some programs. There are also required on-campus labs that take place once during the program.


Though demonstration of skill competency is not always required, it is strongly recommended that students have a supervised apprenticeship with a local HVACR employer. This can provide valuable hands-on experience and lead to better employment prospects.

Award Level

HVACR technician programs culminate in certificates. In some states, technicians must then pass a test and become licensed; test content varies by state. In addition, all states require any technician who will be working with refrigerants to be certified by taking exams approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those training in HVACR engineering technology earn Bachelor of Science degrees and will be qualified for most entry-level engineering positions. Graduates will also be prepared for whatever certifying exams they need to take, but are not required to register as professional engineers.

List of Online HVAC Programs

Certificate for HVACR Technician

The HVACR technician training programs are based on learning objectives defined by leading industry groups, such as North American Technician Excellence, and focus on building competency in each of the four areas of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration. Preparation for any certification exams is also a major consideration.

Graduates of this program should have a comprehensive understanding of HVACR system design and operations. They will be able to install, service, troubleshoot and repair equipment. This program is designed for both those new to the profession and those who are already working but want to expand their skills and become certified. Coursework covers:

  • Refrigerant properties and management
  • Heat pump systems
  • Commercial environmental systems
  • Installation, maintenance and troubleshooting
  • Refrigeration and heating methods

Bachelor of Science in HVACR Engineering

HVACR engineers are involved in the research, design and production of HVACR systems. With today's increased awareness of sustainability, and regulations calling for green technology, retrofitting of existing systems is needed as well. To this end, HVACR engineers also test and re-work current systems and control components for more balanced, efficient and cleaner operation. HVACR engineering programs present the latest information in industry advances, such as the use of microcomputer controls and adjusting equipment for optimum performance. Programs cover industrial and commercial as well as residential HVACR systems.

Selection of primary and secondary equipment components, emphasizing the use of alternate energy sources, is covered, as well as how to audit and analyze HVACR system energy use. The latter course includes a senior project with on-site audit practice, written recommendations for meeting standards and an online class presentation.

Most schools require at least one on-campus visit for several days of lab work for hands-on learning. There is also a required internship with a local HVACR company. Students applying to this program must have already completed an HVACR associate's degree and be able to use presentation and spreadsheet software. Course topics include:

  • Thermodynamics
  • Hydronic residential oil heating
  • Digital control design
  • Electricity, blueprints and fabrication

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