HVAC salary & career outlook
Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and technicians install, maintain and repair the critical equipment that keeps the interiors of residential, commercial, industrial and institutional buildings safe and comfortable. In recent years, HVAC (sometimes called HVACR) employers have placed a high premium on employees who have been educated on how to fine-tune equipment for energy-efficient performance and safe handling of toxic gases used in heating and air conditioning. These advancements, along with improvements in wireless technology, have made this an exciting time to join this skilled trade and acquire HVAC certification.
A closer look at heating, air conditioning and refrigeration professionals
HVAC(R) mechanics and installers are responsible for systems that heat, cool and ventilate buildings. They specialize in pumps, refrigeration systems, heating power systems, wiring and ducts. This may involve consulting blueprints or design specifications to repair or install systems. It may mean gauging use and effectiveness to update energy efficiency or determine the need to replace parts. And it typically involves a high degree of electrical work. These professionals may work in extreme hot and cold temperatures both inside and outside their customers' buildings.
HVAC mechanic and installer salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary earned by heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers in the U.S. was $46,110 as of May 2013. Mechanics/installers earning in the top 10 percent took home $69,740 or more. Apprentices usually earn about 50 percent of the wage that experienced mechanics draw, the BLS reports. Salaries may vary greatly based on education, experience, trade union affiliation, employer and geographic regions.
The trade's highest levels of employment are at building equipment contracting firms. The BLS reports that these firms employed 177,580 HVAC mechanics in 2013, offering an annual mean wage of $44,680. The second-highest number of HVAC mechanics for 2013 (8,790) worked for establishments that directly sell heating, air conditioning and refrigeration equipment equipment or service; in these positions they earned a mean annual wage of $47,220.
The states employing the greatest numbers of HVAC mechanics and installers are, as you might expect, in states that are among those relying most heavily on air-conditioning and refrigeration systems: Florida, Texas and California. Three cities in Texas — Temple, Wichita Falls and Harlingen — placed on Kiplinger's 2014 list of "10 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In," and several other cities, including San Antonio, placed very close.
The highest pay came in regions where there is a strong need for HVAC mechanics. However, the cost of living in these areas is relatively high, including:
- Alaska, $62,210
- District of Columbia, $60,310
- Massachusetts, $56,140
- Illinois, $55,970
- New Jersey, $55,170
Preparing for a career in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration
Comprehensive education programs at trade or technical schools for HVAC(R) mechanics can take from six months to two years to complete, depending on previous education in math, physics and chemistry. Students take classes in theory and practical applications of temperature control, thermodynamics, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, electronics, design, construction principles, building codes and governmental EPA regulations for hazardous materials handling. These education programs may be followed by formal apprenticeship, which can last from three to five years. Following the apprenticeship experience, graduates may sit for applicable state or regional license exams.
Career outlook for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics
One advantage of working as an HVAC(R) mechanic or installer is that there will always be a need for individuals to perform these functions, and they cannot really be outsourced. Additionally, with the increased emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction in so many industries, opportunities are growing for people with this advanced set of skills. All of this is driving faster-than-average growth in these jobs during the 2012-22 period, with the BLS estimating that job openings for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics will increase by 21 percent. The best opportunities will be for HVAC professionals with knowledge of computers and electronics, and who have formal training and apprenticeships under their belts.
Explore the programs listed here to discover which one suits your goals and lifestyle.
- "10 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In," Kiplinger's, May 2014, http://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/real-estate/T006-S001-10-cheapest-u-s-cities-to-live-in/index.html?si=1
- Occupational Employment and Wages: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013, 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, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm