How to Become a HVAC Technician in 5 Steps
HVAC technicians are responsible for installing and maintaining climate-control systems in all kinds of buildings. Find out how long it takes to become a HVAC technician, the training and education needed, and what kind of certifications to consider by reading on.
How to Become a HVAC Technician
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technicians, commonly shortened to HVAC technicians, are responsible for planning, installing, and repairing the ventilation and climate-control systems used in businesses, residences, and other buildings. They must take into account the size of the structures, power management, insulation, and more to ensure that actual temperatures match with expectations. Becoming an HVAC technician requires some specialized education, and may involve apprenticeships and other forms of on-the-job training. Licensing and/or certification may be required.
HVAC Technician Requirements: Physical
Step one in becoming a HVAC technician is to be certain you are ready for the physical demands. HVAC technicians perform labor-intensive work, with most of their workday spent on their feet, lifting and carrying weight, and reaching over their heads. HVAC ducts in buildings can be located in cramped spaces such as in ceilings, so aspiring HVAC technicians should be comfortable in close quarters. HVAC technicians might also be exposed to uncomfortable heat or cold, such as when an air-conditioning system is broken in the summer or a partially finished structure allows in the cold winds of a winter day. Injuries on the job, such as shocks or burns, are common in this line of work. While HVAC technicians primarily work normal hours, overtime may be required for emergencies. Anyone planning a career as an HVAC technician should take these facts into consideration and ensure they are physically healthy and capable of performing the duties required.
HVAC Technician Education
Step two is education. You should have a high school diploma and most employers prefer applicants to have further education and/or an apprenticeship under their belts. HVAC schools typically offer certificate or associate's degree programs. Certificate programs are shorter, often able to be completed in under a year, and focus primarily on knowledge directly relevant to HVAC. Online HVAC certificate programs are available for those unable to attend traditional brick-and-mortar sessions. Associate's degree programs in HVAC include a selection of general education courses and take about two years to complete, and may also include related skills such as welding, refrigeration, and customer service that can aid in your career. Courses in electricity and refrigeration are common to both certificates and associate's degrees; other courses that deal directly with HVAC may have titles like:
- HVAC duct and pipe systems
- HVAC load calculations
- Commercial refrigeration
- Heat pump systems
Some HVAC programs will include internships in their final semester, allowing you to receive on-the-job experience prior to graduating. Others may have affiliated apprenticeship programs with local unions or companies into which you can transition after graduation.
HVAC Technician Training
Step three is an apprenticeship or other on-the-job HVAC training. HVAC technicians will begin learning as they work, either through apprenticeships or when hired. Apprenticeship programs can last anywhere from three to five years; they often include some classroom work in addition to on-the-job experience with veteran HVAC technicians. An apprenticeship is not necessarily required to become an HVAC technician, however. Employers will still hire such applicants, particularly if they have successfully completed a certificate or degree program, and will provide hands-on training to new hires under the supervision of more experienced colleagues.
Step four is to determine whether your state requires a license. Some states require one, while others do not. Additionally, some townships or other localities might require a license. Check with the appropriate government agencies to see whether you will need a license to become a HVAC technician in your area. Licensing requirements typically include an exam as well as some postsecondary education and/or work experience.
How Long Does it Take to Get HVAC Certified?
Step five is certification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires HVAC technicians who work with refrigerant to have Section 608 certification to ensure that they do not violate that section of the Clean Air Act. Section 608 test-prep classes are part of some certificate and associate's degree programs. Some of the 608 test-prep courses are self-paced, allowing you to take as little or as much time as you need. Others might come at the end of a two-year associate's program.
Other certifications are voluntary. Common certifications include those offered through North American Technician Excellence (NATE) and HVAC Excellence. These certifications are available at different levels, which you will progress through as your career advances. For example, one organization offers a certificate (not a certification) showing you are 'ready to work,' while the other offers 'employment-ready' certification. You might earn one of these in as few as several months, provided you are knowledgeable enough to pass the exam. Other, professional-level certifications require two years or more of work in the field before they can be earned.