HVAC Technician: Educational and Career Overview

Sep 13, 2019

There are several paths for you to consider to become an HVAC technician, including college programs, vocational school programs, on-the-job training and apprenticeships. A natural extension would be to be trained and certified in dealing with refrigerants.

Essential Information

An HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician is a professional who installs, troubleshoots and repairs cooling and heating systems. Postsecondary education or an apprenticeship are the most common ways to enter this field. Certifications are available to HVAC technicians of different levels of experience, and some states require HVAC technicians to be licensed.

Required Education Postsecondary education, apprenticeship
Other Requirements Licensure, certification
Projected Job Growth 13% between 2018 and 2028 (HVACR mechanics and installers)*
Median Salary (2018) $47,610 (HVACR mechanics and installers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Overview

Academic Training

Training for aspiring HVAC technicians can come from a variety of sources, including technical or vocational schools, secondary trade schools, community colleges, on-the-job training or apprentice training programs. HVAC education through an academic institution usually culminates in an associate degree or certificate of achievement. Topics of study include electrical systems, refrigeration, air conditioning principles and heating systems.

While rare, some schools offer open-enrollment programs that allow students to complete some or all of their studies online. A few of these distance-learning programs might require on-campus labs under the guidance of an instructor. Others include videos and tutorials within the lessons.


Aspiring HVAC technicians can also learn the trade through apprenticeships. These programs usually last 3-5 years and are often offered through specific committees or unions, such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association or Associated Builders and Contractors. Apprenticeships usually offer coursework and on-the-job training, and students typically get paid while they learn.

Career Overview

Job Description

HVAC technicians ensure the temperature, humidity and air quality of an HVAC system. They could work either inside or outside in residential, commercial and industrial settings. In addition to knowing how to fit and install ductwork, technicians might need to know how to maintain and repair the motors, pumps, fans, thermostats and other components in an appliance. They could perform specialized tests to determine what's wrong before making the necessary repairs.

Licensure and Certifications

Licensing requirements vary by state, and HVAC technicians might be required to be licensed before they can work. To obtain licensure, licensing boards usually require applicants to complete a formal training program and pass a competency exam. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), anyone who acquires or works with refrigerants must pass a certification test administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS stated that employment opportunities for heating, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics and installers are expected to increase 13% from 2018-2028, which is notably faster than the average for all career fields. The BLS also reported that the annual median wage for these workers was $47,610 in 2018.

It is becoming common today to pursue an academic credential, such as a postsecondary certificate or an associate's degree, in HVAC. However, apprenticeship programs lasting from 3-5 years are offered through professional organizations. Though licensing varies from state to state, if you plan on dealing with refrigeration, you must receive EPA certification.

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