HVAC Technician: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become an HVAC technician. Learn about educational requirements, licensure, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an HVAC Technician?

HVAC technicians are responsible for the installation, maintenance and repair of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. As an HVAC technician, your job duties may include inspecting existing systems and making recommendations intended to improve the efficiency and/or safety of that system's performance. HVAC-R techs may also work on refrigeration systems. You may specialize in areas such as residential HVAC systems, radiant heating systems or commercial refrigeration, among others.

See the chart below for more information about what you might want to know about becoming an HVAC technician.

Degree Required Training program or apprenticeship program (postsecondary non-degree award)
Education Field of Study HVAC or HVAC-R
Key Skills Installing, repairing and maintaining HVAC units
Licensure Required Licensure requirements vary by state; working with refrigerants requires certification
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% (HVAC-R mechanics and installers)
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $45,110 (HVAC-R mechanics and installers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Do I Need to Become a HVAC Technician?

HVAC technicians can receive on-the-job training, but a growing number of employers prefer to hire those who've completed a formal training program, which can take six months to two years to complete. Technical schools, community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities, offer certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in HVAC. Some programs involve study of refrigeration systems and are called HVAC-R programs.

You might take courses in ductwork, basic electricity, welding and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) strategies. Bachelor's degree programs may include addition coursework in business, project management and advanced HVAC servicing.

Alternatively, you can participate in an apprenticeship program and get your education through a combination of classroom study and paid hands-on training. Apprenticeships are generally 3-5 years in length and can be found at community colleges and technical schools. During an apprenticeship, you are paired with an employer sponsor where you can learn about HVAC theory and application, job safety and reading architectural blueprints.

Do I Need a License or Certification?

Depending on the state where you plan to work, you may need to pass a state licensing exam. If you have experience installing or doing maintenance, you can take tests to become certified in specific skill areas. Some employers are encouraging HVAC technicians to gain certification, so becoming certified could give you addition employment opportunities. The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society and HVAC Excellence are a few associations that offer certification exams.

If you want to work with refrigerants, you must pass an exam to become certified in this specialty. Three types of refrigeration certification approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are:

  • Type I certification - for installation and servicing of small refrigeration appliances
  • Type II certification - for treatment of high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III certification - for handling low-pressure refrigerants

What Would My Job Duties Be?

Depending on your skills, you can work with plumbing, electrical and mechanical components of complex heating and air conditioning units. As a HVAC technician, you might be required to go on service calls to homes and businesses where the work may be in extreme hot and cold temperatures, high places or cramped spaces. You must always perform your duties with care to avoid injury from electrical equipment, toxic fumes and hazardous materials.

What Is the Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for HVAC-R technicians was expected to grow about 14%, which is much faster than average, during the period of 2014-2024(www.bls.gov). The BLS states anticipated growth is most likely due to recent increases in new home construction and environmental concerns, which have prompted some consumers to purchase more energy efficient heating and air conditioning systems for homes and businesses. You may have additional job opportunities if you complete a formal HVAC training program or apprenticeship.

What Can an HVAC Technician Expect to Earn?

As of 2015, HVAC-R technicians earned an average of $45,110 per year, according to the BLS. The three states where HVAC-R technicians earned top dollar included the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Boilermakers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters typically need to have a high school diploma and may complete a 4-5-year apprenticeship. The duties of a boilermaker include the assembly, installation and repair of boilers and large gas or liquid storage containers or vessels. Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters are typically responsible for the installation and repair of pipes in commercial, residential and industrial settings.

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