HVAC technicians install, maintain and repair the systems that generate and circulate temperature-controlled air through houses, office buildings, commercial freezers and other indoor spaces. And as the construction industry continues to rebound from the recession, jobs in HVAC are on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth of 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, and that growth is expected to come with solid earning potential — the average salary for HVAC professionals in the US was $46,110, as of May 2013, per the BLS.
If you're looking for a hands-on job that can offer good growth and a living wage, HVAC career training might be the right step for you. Check out these answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about careers in this industry, and start looking for HVAC schools near you.
1. How long does HVAC training take?
Individual institutions set their own parameters for the amount of class credit needed to graduate. According to the BLS, the length of HVAC training programs typically falls between six months and two years, though that may vary based on whether a student can attend full or part time.
HVAC training that lasts a full two years or more may lead to an associate degree, which can often be used as a springboard into further education in mechanical engineering or management. Some schools also offer additional certifications, for HVAC technicians looking to enhance their knowledge or sharpen a specialized set of skills.
2. What skills does an HVAC program teach?
Fast facts about HVAC careers
Total HVAC employment in 2012: 267,600
Projected HVAC employment in 2022: 323,500
Growth rate, 2012-22: 21 percent, or 55,900 additional jobs
Average annual HVAC salary, 2013: $46,110
Average hourly wage for HVAC workers, 2013: $22.17
Want more information about job outlook, wages and growth industries? Check out our HVAC salary page.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Each individual program curriculum provides its own perspective on the specific requirements of HVAC careers, but the general skills of the profession are taught fairly consistently from school to school. Here's a list of what you can expect to learn in most HVAC programs:
- Electrical fundamentals
- Interpreting wiring diagrams
- Electric circuits and metering
- Refrigeration system components
- Heating and humidification
- Air conditioning system troubleshooting
- Understanding electrical motors
- Commercial and residential systems
- Refrigeration theory
- Energy management
Associate degrees in HVAC technology often include a few sections of math, communications, social science and other general education coursework alongside the hands-on, technical core.
3. What's the difference between HVAC and HVACR/HVAC&R?
The simple answer is that HVAC stands for "heating, ventilation and air conditioning," while HVACR stands for "heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration." Although contractors and construction firms often use them interchangeably, the two acronyms may indicate subtle differences among training programs.
HVAC programs that specialize in automotive systems tend to skip the refrigeration component and may take fewer credit hours overall than residential or commercial training. Non-automotive HVAC programs that don't teach refrigeration are uncommon, but it never hurts to double-check the details before enrolling.
4. What schools offer HVAC certifications?
HVAC career diplomas can be earned at a wide variety of institutions, both online and at brick-and-mortar campuses. Career colleges, vocational institutes, community colleges, junior colleges and technical schools in your area are all possible locations for HVAC training and certification.
It's important to note that training and certification aren't the same thing in all cases. Some programs, like the HVACR career diploma program at Penn Foster Career School, have stepping stones to certification built into their training curriculum.
5. How do you get licensed as an HVAC technician?
While techs don't need a national contractor's license, workers in many states may have to pass licensing exams furnished by state regulators. For info and advice about licensing in your state, check with a regional HVAC contractor's association or contact the state board of labor, public safety or construction contracting.
6. Are there industry organizations you should join?
HVAC is a thriving trade, and numerous industry organizations exist for professionals nationwide. Membership in professional associations comes with several potential benefits, such as additional training through apprenticeships and access to exclusive professional development events, and some construction firms or commercial property owners may reach out specifically to professional organizations for high-value contracts.
Here are a few organizations that may have a local chapter in your area:
- ABC - Associated Builders and Contractors
- ACCA - Air Conditioning Contractors of America
- ASHRAE - American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers
- MCAA - Mechanical Contractors Association of America
- NAHB - National Association of Home Builders
- PHCC - Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
- UA - United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States, Canada and Australia
Local contractors' associations may also be available in some areas. Check with the career services department of your HVAC school for some help finding local options.
7. Are there any other certifications you need?
Ever since the passage of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, HVAC techs who work with chemical refrigerants in the U.S. must pass a specialized Environmental Protection Agency exam on their appropriate handling and use. Here are the four levels of EPA certification that you can get:
- Type I Certification - for HVAC technicians who work on small appliances that use five pounds of refrigerant or less
- Type II Certification - for HVAC techs who work on appliances with refrigerants under medium, high or very high pressure
- Type III Certification - for HVAC techs who work on low-pressure appliances only
- Universal Certification - for techs who have passed all three EPA certification exams
Certain HVAC schools, including Penn Foster and Ashworth College, include a study guide and exam voucher for EPA certification.
Career Diploma, Heating and Air Conditioning, Ashworth College, http://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/heating-air-conditioning/
Air Conditioning Technology, Associate of Applied Science Degree, Gwinnett Technical College,
HVAC Licensing, National Contractors,
HVACR Training Program Overview, Penn Foster Career School,
Online Automotive HVAC Essentials Certificate, Penn Foster Career School, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/automotive-and-engine-repair/automotive-hvac-essentials-certificate.aspx.
Heating, Ventilation, Air conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR), Tennessee College of Applied Technology,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes499021.htm
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
Complying with the Section 608 Refrigerant Recycling Rule, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,