AC Tech Career Information

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If you live in a frigid climate you probably find warmer weather to be a nice respite from blue toes and red noses. If you live in Phoenix, you probably feel a little differently. In homes, office buildings, schools, hospitals, and retail establishments, air conditioning has become the norm. When an air conditioner goes out, it can be inconvenient and even dangerous in very hot climates where children and the elderly are susceptible to heatstroke. AC technicians are trained to deal with these sticky situations.

An experienced AC technician might do a variety of things on a day-to-day basis, but all will revolve around air conditioning and climate control. Unlike an HVAC technician that may work in heating, ventilation, or air conditioning an AC technician focuses on cooling climates. This includes regular maintenance like changing air filter, troubleshooting with temperature and pressure tests, and installation of AC units as well as ice machines and refrigeration units in many cases. An AC technician might work directly for a building management company or an organization, like a college, but some AC techs make their living working as independent contractors with their own trucks as well. AC technicians should definitely be prepared to work a little harder during hot summer months. In general, an AC tech will work regular hours but there is always the possibility of an emergency call during the summer that will send a technician out in the field late at night.

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Career Outlook

Overall, the demand for AC technicians is climbing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for new AC technicians is expected to rise 21% through the year 2022, which represents approximately 123,700 new job openings during that time period (BLS, 2012). This is significantly higher than the average expected growth for all occupations, which was last predicted at 11%.

The fact is that in many environments, air conditioning is no longer considered a luxury. With increasingly extreme weather throughout the year, the demand for climate control experts such as AC technicians is unlikely to dwindle. Rather, the demand for those technicians who are well versed in new air conditioning systems, particularly those with more complex computer control systems.

There is always a demand for new technicians since those that enter the field often choose to move up along their career trajectory. Trained AC techs can easily go on to become supervisors, service managers, or continue their schooling to learn plumbing or electrical trades.

In terms of hiring, there is always a need for residential AC technicians, who are often employed by contractors during the building process or by homeowners directly when maintenance or repairs are needed. AC technicians are also being recruited by companies with climate-controlled warehouses to ensure the safety of their inventory. Virtually any company that conducts business indoors will need an AC technician at some point, which makes the job that much more interesting.

AC Technician Salary Data

The median salary for an AC technician in the U.S. is $43,640 annually (BLS, 2012). This number includes HVAC technicians. As a median salary, it means that half of technicians make more than this and half make less. At the lower end of the salary range, AC technicians make around $33,000 annually while top paid AC technicians could make nearly $60,000 per year.

Geographic location can also have a huge impact on how much any worker can make, due to cost of living factors. AC technician salaries in the U.S. are highest in Washington, D.C., as well as Alaska, Massachusetts, and Illinois. In states where the cost of living is much lower, such as West Virginia, Mississippi, and Arkansas, AC technicians make much less.

Those brand new to the profession are likely to make closer to the lower end of the spectrum while more experienced technicians will make more. Many AC technicians may start working as an apprentice. Technicians in these positions make a percentage of their supervisor’s salary and are generally given raises at regular intervals, provided they are improving in their position. At the end of the apprenticeship, technicians may be offered full-time employment as well as benefits, depending on the position and company.

AC technicians with a solid educational foundation, such as an Associate Degree or Bachelor’s Degree, may be able to demand a higher rate at first. Over time, it will be experience and dedication to the craft that will determine whether an AC technician continues to move up in the ranks in terms of both salary and responsibility.

Job Requirements – Education & Experience

Starting out, many AC technicians may have no experience at all. If this is the case, the technician should be prepared to show that he or she has a educational foundation to build on. All AC technicians should have at minimum a high school diploma or GED. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 16% of AC technicians have no higher than this level of training at first. However, 78% of AC technicians have at least some college and 3% have an Associate’s Degree (DOL, 2012).

As with most entry level positions, new AC technicians should have some mix of education and experience. A technician with no direct experience should at least have some knowledge of AC systems including electrical circuits and other basic construction knowledge.

AC technicians with a bachelor’s degree or higher are likely to find themselves moving into a supervisory role more quickly than those with less education. Likewise, technicians who have completed an intensive apprenticeship will be better prepared for the demands of the job and therefore eligible for management positions as well.

In addition to direct AC technical training, which is available at many vocational schools and community colleges, technicians should have people skills in addition to basic math and communications knowledge.

Licensure & Certification

The licensing requirements for working AC technicians vary depending on the state where the technician works. In some states, there are no licensing requirements for AC or HVAC technicians. Other states require licenses only for projects that exceed a certain power capacity or a certain dollar amount. Before starting work, prospective AC technicians should be sure to familiarize themselves with the laws in their particular state. A license may only require a fee and registration, but most will require some type of exam and many also require a minimum amount of supervised on-the-job experience.

During the course of their careers, most AC technicians are required to work with certain toxic refrigerants. In order to handle these chemicals, technicians must be EPA certified. The required certificate is known as the EPA 608 certification. Most HVAC schools train technicians with this certification in mind and offer certification exams as part of their training programs. Any technician who does not have this certification upon starting work as a technician should sit for an exam at a local facility as soon as possible so that he or she is eligible to work with these refrigerants.

Barry Franklin

Barry is the Editor in Chief of HVACClasses.org, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures, which he joined as partner in 2013 after almost 20 years in the financial software industry.