Most students in an HVAC certificate program are seeking entry into the job field. Those looking to improve upon their job skills also enroll in these programs to stay abreast of the advances in the field, such as the technologies being used to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified standards. Students who pass requisite examinations may qualify for professional certifications. An HVAC program typically takes about one year to complete and involves practical experience.
Heating and cooling certificate programs offered through a technical college or a university's continuing education department simply recommend that applicants have a high school diploma or GED. Programs offered by community colleges, however, may require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. An additional entrance exam testing for reading, writing and math proficiency may also be required and is administered by the college.
Coursework begins with general topics in safety and materials terminology. In upper-level courses, students learn how to maintain a building's comfort levels through the management of an air conditioner or furnace's electrical systems, compressors, heat pumps and thermostats. Courses for an HVAC certificate are hands-on and often supplemented by laboratory requirements. In some cases, students enroll in apprenticeship programs through the college or vocational school to gain experience while completing the following coursework at nights or on weekends:
- HVAC system measurements
- Electrical components
- Sheet metal construction
- Heating fuels
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
HVAC mechanics and installers earned median hourly pay of $21.69 and $45,110 annually, as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Employment in this field is expected to grow by 14% during the period of 2014-2024, due to the increasing number of homes and businesses that will need new systems installed. Existing models in older homes will also need to be repaired or replaced in the coming years with more energy efficient or environmentally friendly systems, reports the Bureau.
Continuing Education and Professional Certification Information
HVAC technicians who handle refrigerants must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Passing a written exam is necessary in order to be certified. There are three types of exams specific to the amount of refrigerant a technician will be certified to handle, and they range from small appliances (type I) to high- and low-pressure appliances (type II and III). These written examinations require technicians to demonstrate their knowledge of the proper handling techniques for using refrigerants.
Optional heating and cooling certification is available through trade organizations like the North American Technician Excellence, which offers 5-year certification to those who pass two written examinations. One of these is in general HVAC knowledge and the other specializes in either the installation or service of air conditioning, furnace and refrigeration or other heating and cooling systems.
A number of additional professional organizations offer similar certifications to technicians of all experience levels. These include the Air Conditioning Refrigeration Institute (ARI), Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Refrigeration Service Engineer Society (RSES).
Focusing on topics like HVAC electrical systems, ductwork and refrigeration, a year-long certificate program prepares those wishing to obtain employment as HVAC technicians. There are a number of certification programs available for those who want to work with refrigerants or increase their credentials.