Become an HVAC Technologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an HVAC technologist. Explore the education, real-world training and certification options that can help you start a career in HVAC technology.

Should I Become an HVAC Technologist?

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technologists, also referred to as technicians or mechanics, work on the systems that control the air quality and temperature in a home or building. Because of the size of these systems, HVAC technologists often need to travel to locations to make repairs.

The services of HVAC technologists are needed in a variety of settings, including homes, businesses, schools, stores and factories. Some HVAC technologists are self-employed and set their own work schedules. However, the work can often be hazardous or uncomfortable due to the materials used and the heavy equipment needed.

Career Requirements

Education Required Post-secondary training or apprenticeship
Degree Field HVAC technology
Certification Specialty certification is available through many different organizations; EPA certification needed to work with refrigerants
Key Skills Physical strength and dexterity; customer service; problem solving; proficiency with specialized tools and technology
Salary $44,630 (2014 BLS Median Salary for Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Installers and Mechanics)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); (October 2012)

Step 1: Review Training Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are no current national standards on how heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) technologists receive job training. Some workers obtain basic training on-the-job. Applicants who have completed a formal training program are preferred by employers. These programs are available at trade schools or community colleges, and may be part of apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship programs combine classroom learning with real-world job experience and take 3-5 years to complete. While these programs take longer, they provide workers with a paying job and networking opportunities.

Step 2: Enroll in an HVAC Program

Most training programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Coursework covers the fundamentals of HVAC systems, including maintenance, electronic components, motors, pumps, condensers and troubleshooting. Individuals are trained in the installation and repair of equipment, and some programs feature specialization opportunities. Additionally, many programs offer business courses that teach students how to conduct sales and negotiate service contracts.

Success Tip:

  • Complete hands-on training. Hands-on training may be part of a program and offers an opportunity to work and learn under an experienced HVAC professional.

Step 3: Attain Licensing and Certification

States may have certain requirements that HVAC technologists must meet in order to obtain licensure. Common license requirements include a sufficient amount of experience and passing an examination. States may have different licensing levels that HVAC technologists can attain, depending on their experience.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers certification to HVAC technologists who work with refrigerants. Three types of certifications are available - Type I deals with small appliances; Type II focuses on high-pressure refrigerants; Type III ensures understanding of low-pressure refrigerants. Passing an exam is required to earn each licensing specialization.

Success Tip:

  • Consider specialty certification. While obtaining specialty certification isn't mandatory in most states, many companies prefer to employ credentialed workers to verify customers are receiving quality service. For example, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) offers an Industry Competency Exam that demonstrates knowledge and skills in the field.

Step 4: Gain Experience and Continue Training to Advance Career

Changes in green heating, cooling and energy change offer HVAC technicians numerous career advancement options, all of which require experience and additional training. HVAC techs can move up into supervisory positions within firms or add specialty education to become energy auditors, green technology specialists or project managers. Consider continuing education and training at every experience level.

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