hvac-technician

How to Become an HVAC Technician

HVAC means heating, ventilation and air conditioning and their work is typically to make sure air conditioning, ventilation and heating units are functioning well at all times because damages and breakdowns can happen overtime. Before you become a fully pledged technician there are some things you need to meet e.g. having certain skills, training and certification. Education-wise, you should only pass your high school exam and hold passing grades in subjects like mathematics, physics and chemistry. You also need to understand how the system works and the different paths you might want to take and their different parts. When it comes to character, you should be willing to work under uncomfortable and extreme conditions because this is where you are more likely to face in future. There are many questions you might be asking yourself such as what HVAC technicians do? What is their work environment? How to become HVAC technician? What is the expected salary? What are the training programs and certifications required? What is their job outlook? Etc. All the above and much more questions will be answered in this article.

What HVAC Technicians do?

HVAC technicians usually provide various services, such as repairing, installing and maintaining of schools, industries, hospitals, residential homes and office buildings cooling and heating systems. However, they are required to complete training and certification before being permitted to work on their own. HVAC technicians work in cramped spaces and in different conditions, both indoor and outdoor, it all depends on the time of the year. It’s not uncommon to find HVAC technicians working overtime in peak period during summer and winter or even to answer emergency calls. HVAC technician are required to be 18 years and above, have a high school diploma or equivalent, to have completed 3 to 5 years of apprenticeship, have a valid driver’s license, pass a substance abuse test and pass a basic mathematics test. Their worksites normally varies, it can either be very cold or very hot because the cooling and heating systems they should repair might be broken.

  • Understand how to read blue prints and wiring diagrams
  • Know how to establish the energy usage of HVAC system
  • Make sure systems are working within regular operating parameters
  • Install thermostats, humidistats and humidifiers
  • Install new heat pumps, duct work, furnace systems and air conditioners
  • Make suggestions for energy efficient advancements
  • Carry out testing and troubleshooting to determine the repairs needed
  • Conduct and inspect regular maintenance of systems
  • Connect systems to air ducts, electric, gas, water supplies, and other components
  • Set up electrical wiring for HVAC systems
  • Recharge cooling systems
  • Repair or replace defective, worn or broken duct work
  • Repair ice makers and refrigeration
  • Repair or replace defective, worn or broken parts and components
  • Travel to residential and commercial worksites

The air conditioning and heating systems usually control the humidity, temperature and general quality of air in businesses, homes among other buildings. HVAC technicians can work on refrigeration systems, which help in the storage and transportation of medicine, food, and other unpreserved products. They are trained to install, repair and maintain air conditioning, refrigeration and heating systems but many only work on repair, installation and maintenance. Other technicians might specialize in some specific aspects, like testing and balancing, radiant heating systems, commercial refrigeration and solar panels.

HVAC technicians must always follow government laws and regulations concerning recycling, recovery and conservation of refrigerants. Some of the regulations might include those regarding proper handling and disposal of pressurized gases and fluids. There are various tools that HVAC technicians use and some of them include acetylene torches, combustion analyzers, carbon monoxide testers and voltmeters to test and install system components.

Work Environment of HVAC Technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US, in the year 2014 there were about 292,000 HVAC technician’s jobs. There were about 63% HVAC technicians in air conditioning, heating and plumbing contractors industry. It was also confirmed that there were approximately 1 in 10 who were self-employed in the year 2014. Some of the medical facilities that can employ HVAC technicians include factories, homes, hospitals, schools, office buildings and stores. At the beginning of each day, some technicians can be assigned to work at particular jobsites. Others might be assigned to make service calls or travel to different locations. Even though most HVAC technicians work indoors, there are some who might be required to work on outdoor heat exchangers. They often work in cramped or uncomfortable spaces; some might work in uncomfortable buildings where heating and air conditioning systems aren’t working well.

Illnesses and Injuries

HVAC technician has higher rates of illnesses and injuries and some of the potential risks include muscle strains, injuries from handling heavy machines or equipments, electrical shocks and burns. It is therefore important that they have proper safety equipment when handling refrigerants, as they are dangerous and contact can cause frostbite, skin damage, or even blindness. It can also be risky for those technicians who work in tight space because they might inhale refrigerants. Additional care is required when handling refrigerants because some of them are highly flammable.

Work Schedule

Many HVAC technicians work fulltime, with occasional weekend and evening shifts. During peak cooling and heating seasons, HVAC technicians frequently work irregular hours or overtime. Most of them are employed by construction contractors but approximately 1 in 10 is self-employed worker who are free to set their own schedules. Technicians who normally service air conditioning, refrigeration and heating equipment have constant employment throughout the year, mainly because there is an increase in the number of contractors and manufactures requiring or providing year-round contracts.

How to Become a HVAC Technician

HVAC systems have become more complex and employers typically prefer candidates who have completed apprenticeship or those with postsecondary education. There are some localities or states that might require HVAC technicians to be licensed or certified. You should also pass background check because some employers might prefer applicants who have passed it.

Education

Many technicians receive postsecondary instructions from community colleges or trade and technical schools that offer programs in air conditioning, ventilation and heating. The programs offered may usually lasts between 6 months to about 2 years and might lead to associate’s degree or a certificate. To lower the costs of programs, many schools normally combine in-class lab work and online lectures.

Important Qualities

It can be exciting to jump into a new career especially if you find a job you enjoy and a company that interests you. It is therefore important to be prepared and ready for the career you choose for you to get the most out of it and be more skilled. The field of air conditioning, heating and ventilation is growing at a higher rate and more than 8,000 HVAC technician jobs are created around the nation every year. For HVAC technicians to perform their jobs effectively they should equip themselves with several important skills. When HVAC technicians take certification programs they usually incorporate some important skills into their curriculum, some of them include:

  • Customer-Service Skills: Many technicians usually work directly with property owners who call in a concern. It is of much importance to have excellent customer-service skills so that you can confidently and freely interact with building superintendents, home owners and property managers.
  • Mechanical skills: Though these skills can be learned in training, technicians need to be comfortable when working with mechanical systems. This skill is important because sometimes HVAC technicians will be required to repair, assemble, program and dissemble HVAC systems.  
  • Time-management skills: Another important skill is being organized and able to effectively manage a schedule. Some technicians receive or make multiple calls a day and it is required that they effectively complete every task for them to move on to other calls without delay.     

Salary of HVAC Technicians

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for nursing assistants in May 2015 was $45,110. The median salary can be defined as the wage where half workers in a given occupation earned less than that amount and half earned more. The highest ten percent got paid more than $71,690 and lowest ten percent got paid less than $27,790. The estimated earning for learners is half of the salary paid to experienced workers. As the HVAC technician learns to perform more, his/her salary will increase. The table below shows the median annual salary of HVAC technicians in May 2015:

Occupation Median Annual Salary
Air conditioning, heating,  and refrigeration mechanics and installers $45,110
Installation, repair  and maintenance careers $45,790
Total, all occupations $36,200

Training Program of HVAC Technicians

For you to become a HVAC technician you need to earn a GED or high school diploma and passing shop-classes, science and math will be a great start. It is not necessary to learn how to use power tools or even computer training, but these things will make it easier for you to train. You should also complete trade/technical training or look for a formal apprentice training. Apprenticeship can be defined as a paid training program that normally lasts for 3 to 5 years; it is a great opportunity to earn money while learning. Even though apprentice programs are offered almost everywhere there is still a rising demand for technicians that have certificate from either a trade or technical school. It takes a couple of months or can take over a year for one to complete this training. Other training schools might also require you to be proficient in mechanic drawing, blueprint reading and mechanics. Being trained and having a certificate is the best way of separating yourself from others and it will make it easier for you to get a job. The main phases that a person should undergo for them to become a full-pledged technicians include:

  • The first phase is attending a technical or vocational school where you will be required to learn through a formal classroom setting of the theories and basics of HVAC repairs among other services. It takes time for you to be deemed knowledgeable in vocational courses. HVAC lessons can last several months or can take years and it all depends on the curriculum.
  • Another method is by becoming an apprentice of a certified HVAC technician. Though it isn’t as formal as a training program is but it allows you to get hold of the HVAC services basics quickly and also apply them in real life settings. In addition, apprentices are normally earns at a discount rate and this implies that they get paid while they are still perfecting their skills.

Some technicians usually are trained their trade entirely on the job, this case is now becoming rare. HVAC technicians who are trained on the job normally assist qualified technicians to perform basic tasks, like cleaning furnaces or insulating refrigerant lines. After learning some simple tasks they can move on to a more complex task, such as checking electrical circuits and soldering or cutting pipes. There are also different HVAC specializations a person can learn while training and this is mainly because there are different types of HVAC that should be handled differently. This means that when training you are given various HVAC units or services to choose from and specialize in when you become a licensed technician.

Certification of HVAC Technicians

It is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US that all HVAC technicians who handle work or buy refrigerants to be certified or licensed in proper handling of refrigerant. For technicians to be certified they must pass a written exam to one of the four certifications; certification type I, certification type II, certification type III and universal certification. There are many unions, employer associations and schools that offer training programs that can prepare learners for EPA exams. It is recommended that HVAC technicians to take different tests so as to measure their abilities. There are different levels of experience that are required; those who have a relevant coursework of 2 years or less of experience might take the entry-level certification exam. The exam can be taken at trade or technical school and what one will study might include light commercial cooling and heating, commercial refrigeration and residential heating and cooling.

Some states might not allow you to perform HVAC work until you pass a state exam and then acquire an HVAC license; other states might not require you to become licensed at all. The EPA section eight certification or HVAC certification is a requirement that every HVAC technician should hold for them to be able to provide their services. The main reason for this is that the Environmental Protection Agency requires one to completely be knowledgeable and skilled of working and opening with a refrigerant container without exposing it to the environment. People performing HVAC work that involves refrigerant are recommended to gain an EPA certification by passing written exams. But, getting an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification typically depends on the type of HVAC work you want to perform. Because of the potentially risky nature of the occupation, only HVAC technicians who are fully licensed can be allowed to work on different types of HVAC systems. There are various certification levels an individual should pass for him/her to be liable to provide services. Some of the certification you need include:

  • Certification Type I: It is granted to HVAC technicians capable of servicing small machines or appliances such as domestic refrigerators, vending machines and air conditioning.
  • Certification Type II: It is granted to HVAC technicians skilled in disposing and servicing of tools with elevated pressure refrigerants like heat pumps, conditioners and industrial and supermarket refrigeration.
  • Certification Type III: It is granted to HVAC technicians capable of handling low pressure refrigerants such as chillers.
  • Universal Certification: It is granted to every technician who has the ability to service and deal with different HVAC refrigerants, units and systems.

HVAC Technicians Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the US stated found out that the expected job opportunity for HVAC technicians from the year 2014 to 2024 was 14%; this is faster than the average for all occupations. Residential and commercial building structures will lead to increase in employment of HVAC technicians. It is also projected that there will be an increase in the number of sophisticated climate-control systems and this will lead to an increase in demand for experienced technicians. HVAC technicians typically replace and repair heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Climate-control systems should be replaced after every 10-15 years. Another thing that is projected to increase the demand for HVAC technicians is the growing emphasis on pollution reduction and energy efficiency because climate-control systems are replaced, retrofitted and upgraded completely. Additionally, policies that prohibit the production and discharge of older kinds of refrigerants might bring about the need to replace of modify many air conditioning systems that exist.

Occupation Duties And Responsibilities Education/Entry Level Median Pay In The Year 2015
Solar Photovoltaic Installers Solar photovoltaic installers, who are also called PV installers usually install, maintain and assemble solar panel systems on top of roofs or other buildings. High school diploma or equivalent $37,830
Sheet Metal Workers Sheet metal workers install or fabricate items made from thin metal sheets, like ducts used in air conditioning and heating systems. High school diploma or equivalent $45,750
Plumbers, Steamfitters and Pipefitters Plumbers, steamfitters and pipefitters repair and install pipes that normally carry gases or liquids from, within and to homes, factories and businesses. High school diploma or equivalent $50,620
Electricians Electricians maintain, repair and install lighting, communications, electrical power and control systems in factories, businesses and homes. High school diploma or equivalent $51,880
Boilermakers They usually install, repair and assemble closed vats, boilers, and other large containers or vessels that hold gases and liquids. High school diploma or equivalent $60,120

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