How to Become a HVAC Technician in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an HVAC technician. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook 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 Does an HVAC Technician Do?

HVAC technicians install and repair heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and systems. Those who also repair refrigeration systems are called HVAC-R technicians. The job duties of HVAC technicians may include reading blueprints, installing systems and testing components to make sure a system is running properly. They're also responsible for making repairs to faulty components and ensuring any refrigerants are handled according to federal regulations.

The chart below can give you an overview of the field.

Degree RequiredPostsecondary certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of StudyHeating, air conditioning and refrigeration
Training RequiredLong-term on-the-job training
Licensure RequiredVaries by locality and/or state
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 Is an HVAC Technician?

An HVAC technician installs, services and fixes heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in residential and commercial buildings. As a technician, you are trained to read blueprints and use an assortment of common and specialized tools, including metal cutters, flow sensors and current meters. When servicing a system, you ensure that all components, including compressors, motors, fans, pumps, thermostats and switches, are working properly and that all controls are at their recommended settings. Your specific duties include connecting wires, welding pipes, testing electrical circuits for continuity and testing pipes and tubing for leaks.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You can get a start on HVAC training in high school by choosing courses that are helpful to aspiring technicians. Among general curriculum courses, those in computer science, chemistry and physics might be relevant. Many schools also have vocational training or shop classes with courses in mechanical drawing, technical math, blueprint reading and electronics. These hands-on courses can have a direct application to HVAC technology.

Step 2: Route 1: Learn Through On-the-Job Training

If you only have a high school diploma, you can acquire HVAC technician skills by assisting an experienced technician. Start by carrying materials, cleaning furnaces and insulating refrigerant lines. In time, move up to cutting and soldering sheet metal and pipes and checking electrical circuits. Often a company will make available Internet, classroom or self-study courses to assist you in your training if you have little or no experience.

Step 3: Route 2: Earn a Certificate or Degree

Enroll in an HVAC certificate or associate's degree program at a community college, trade school or technical academy. The programs can take between six months and two years to complete. They combine classroom instruction and labs to cover the fundamentals of electricity, the properties of gas, solid fuel and oil boilers, furnaces, ducts and piping, hydraulics, control systems and work site safety. Some programs also provide you with access to internships.

Step 4: Route 3: Participate in an Apprenticeship

A wide range of apprenticeship programs are available to you through local chapters of HVAC industry contractor associations. These include the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America, the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association and the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada. Apprenticeships last 3-5 years and combine classroom instruction with paid on-the-job training. Courses cover the use and care of tools, ventilation and air-conditioning systems design, safety practices and blueprint reading.

Step 5: Obtain a License

Depending on the locality or state where you live, you may need a license to work as an HVAC technician. Licensing requirements vary, but typically include passing an exam and either completing a training program or accumulating 2-5 years of work experience. The content of exams also varies. Some emphasize general HVAC knowledge, while others emphasize knowledge of electrical codes.

If you handle refrigerants you must pass a certification exam for the type of appliance or equipment you service. The three classifications of refrigerant include Type I certification for small appliances, Type II certification for high-pressure systems and Type III certification for low-pressure systems. Trade schools, contractor associations and unions approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administer the exams.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in a career similar to an HVAC technician might consider becoming an electrician, plumber or pipefitter. All three careers require similar training and education. Electricians are responsible for the installation and repair of wiring and control systems used to provide power to new and existing buildings. Plumbers and pipefitters are tasked with making sure residences and businesses are fitted with the pipes needed to transport gas, water or wastewater.

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