HVAC certificate and associate's degree programs often include the same type of technical courses in topics like heating systems, controls and heat load calculation; however, 2-year associate's degree programs also require students to complete general education courses. Bachelor's degree programs in HVAC take four years to complete and often include more advanced technical courses and a hands-on training experience, such as an internship or senior project. All of these programs require applicants to have a GED or high school diploma.
Certificate in HVAC Technology
These 1-year programs teach students the basics of maintaining and repairing climate control systems in residential and commercial buildings. Students learn about heating and cooling science, HVAC system installation and blueprints. Programs at this level prepare students for technician-level careers. Coursework includes instruction in:
- Refrigeration theory
- Motor controls
- Heating systems
- Applied physics
- Technical math
Associate's Degrees in HVAC
Students learn refrigeration and HVAC systems problem-solving techniques and the proper methods of customer-technician interaction as well as how to read wiring diagrams. Experimentation and hands-on training help students gain practical experience with mechanical and electronic controls and HVAC systems repair.
Associate's degree programs distinguish themselves from certificate programs by offering general education requirements in addition to more technically based courses. Liberal arts training helps students to better communicate with customers. In order for aspiring technicians to install, repair and maintain HVAC systems, these programs train students in:
- Heating systems
- Technical writing
- Electrical servicing
- Heat pumps
- Steam systems theory
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Bachelor of Science in HVAC Technology
These programs teach small business management as well as system design, control theory and energy management. Students can acquire hands-on experience through internships or senior projects that require planning, researching and designing an HVAC system. Bachelor's degree programs cover system testing, retrofitting basics and technical calculations. Degree-completion programs require students to have finished an associate's degree program.
Algebra, trigonometry, electronics, design and automation design for HVAC systems are all covered in major courses. Preparation for trouble-shooting an entire system - on-site - includes training in:
- Duct design
- Load calculations
- Equipment selection
- Mechanical systems
- Energy analysis
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers earned a median wage of $45,110 annually, as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that these HVAC professionals should see an expected 14% increase in employment opportunities from 2014-2024.
One of the stated reasons for the projected employment increase was a jump in homeowners and businesses replacing outdated and non-functional systems. Energy efficiency and fiscal savings are also reasons that homeowners and businesses seek to upgrade climate control systems.
Popular Career Options
Though careers in clean rooms, cryogenics and other specialty fields are available to bachelor's degree holders, commonly, professionals find work in more generalist settings. Over 70% of the 274,680 professional HVAC installers and mechanics employed as of May 2015 found employment with building equipment contractors, according to BLS reports. Working for local governments, sales firms, hospitals, maintenance shops and design companies, graduates are able to find employment as:
- Construction estimators
- Field service technicians
- System designers
- HVAC shop supervisors
Mechanical engineering programs at the master's, graduate certificate and Ph.D. levels offer heat engineering or heat transfer training. Graduate training can result in highly specialized careers such as computational thermal modeling of spacecraft life support systems.
Licensure and Certification
Some states require that HVAC technicians be licensed. To acquire a license, states commonly require that technicians complete an apprenticeship program or acquire job experience and pass a competency test.
Various industry organizations allow technicians to formally recognize competencies by obtaining voluntary certifications. Certifying bodies include HVAC Excellence, the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society and the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute.
Compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Air Act requires that technicians obtain refrigerant-specific certification (www.epa.gov). Required exams vary depending on the type of chemicals used; types of certification include small appliances as well as low and high-pressure refrigerants.
HVAC technology training prepares graduates for employment as HVAC technicians as well as system designers, HVAC shop supervisors and construction estimators. HVAC technicians in some states are required to be licensed, and all technicians who handle refrigerant must pursue certification from the EPA.