HVAC Installer Career Info

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Imagine that you are building your dream home. While some people may prefer a kitchen island and some a swimming pool, everyone will want a home that is able to maintain a comfortable temperature. An HVAC Installer works with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, primarily installing new systems in homes and offices. These systems are the key to keep building hot in cold weather and cool in the warm summer months, meaning they are often the key to happiness and comfort. Additionally, some HVAC installers may also work as HVAC technicians, troubleshooting and repairing systems that are not functioning correctly.

Most people in the U.S. do not worry about their heating or cooling system until something goes wrong. And of course, this usually happens at the exact wrong moment. It is rare that you hear about an air conditioner breaking down in the dead of winter. This means HVAC installers are often stepping into an uncomfortable and stressful environment, meaning the right candidate for this job should be calm, collected, and well trained. This also means HVAC installers should be prepared to work irregular hours, since there is no predicting when a system may need repairs.

A career as an HVAC installer can be a great choice for someone who is self-motivated and comfortable with one-on-one customer service. Most HVAC installers are able to schedule their own days, traveling to different homes and office buildings and interfacing directly with clients. This can be extremely rewarding for someone with the right skillset and career goals. As new, greener technologies are developed for heating and cooling efficiently, HVAC installers will find themselves tasked with performing even more complex and demanding jobs.

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Career Outlook

The future for HVAC installers is bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 267,600 jobs for HVAC installers and mechanics in 2012 (BLS, 2013). The demand for these highly trained individuals is expected to grow 21% by 2022, which is faster than average. This means there are expected to be an additional 123,700 jobs for HVAC installers and mechanics in the next decade.

It is also important to note that new HVAC systems are becoming even more advanced, with many based on computer technology that was not available in the past. This means that HVAC installers with computer expertise, who can adapt to new advancements will continue to be in high demand.

HVAC installers, who have a career focus on installing new units rather than repairing them, often work on construction sites or renovation projects. This can make the job somewhat more appealing, since you will not be required to fix the heat in the dead of winter. However, this also means that the job outlook for HVAC installers is more dependent on the economy. When construction projects slow in leaner time, there will be less demand for HVAC installation, though the need for HVAC repair generally remains the same.

Salary

As with any occupation, an HVAC installer salary can vary greatly from state to state, as well as depending on the installer’s experience and training. The most current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median hourly rate at $20.98, which comes out to an annual salary of $43,640. The most qualified HVAC installers can make more than $50,000 per year, while the lower end of the pay scale sits near $29,000 annually (Salary.com, 2014).

Also, keep in mind that location can play a large role in salary ranges for this type of occupation. States that have more extreme temperatures coupled with a higher cost of living generally offer the highest salaries for HVAC installers, as the skill is quite invaluable in these climates. For instance, the median hourly wage for an HVAC installer in Alaska is $28.13. At the other end of the spectrum are states with a lower cost of living, such as West Virginia, where HVAC installers only make a median wage of $15.71 per hour (US Department of Labor, 2014).

HVAC installers with more experience will likely have opportunities to earn higher wages and work as supervisors, or as small business owners who can make a higher percentage of profits on each installation job. An HVAC installer in training will be paid less that the professional doing the training, but on the job experience will ultimately work in his or her favor.

Job Requirements – Education & Experience

Because installing HVAC equipment is a highly technical process, specialized training is necessary. The two main paths that people follow into the career are generally post-secondary education or apprenticeship.

Many technical colleges and community colleges offer HVAC installer courses. This type of training can be massively helpful in securing an initial position. In order to attend one of these programs, a high school diploma or GED is necessary. It is also a good idea to begin training preparation in high school with classwork in math, shop, and physics. HVAC installer classroom programs can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years and may lead to either an HVAC certification or an associate’s degree.

Those that choose not to pursue post-secondary courses can still train as an HVAC installer by securing an apprenticeship. While this was once the industry standard for training, apprenticeships are now more difficult to find, with most new HVAC installers opting for the classroom training route.

An HVAC installer apprentice must be at least 18 years old and also must have a high school diploma or equivalent. In order to be an apprentice, the applicant must pass a basic math test as well as a substance abuse screening and have a valid driver’s license. HVAC installer apprentice programs tend to last between 3 and 5 years, at the end of which the apprentice will have completed 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of technical education work.

Licensure & Certification

For HVAC installers, licensing requirements vary from state to state. In some areas, it is necessary to complete a licensing exam before you are able to do any HVAC work. For instance, in California an HVAC installer must have an HVAC license before he or she can work on their own. But in order qualify for that license, the installer must first work under the supervision of a licensed contractor for at least four years. Therefore, it is possible to work in HVAC installation without a license, as long as the overall project is properly licensed. Anyone planning to engage in work as an HVAC installer should be sure to look up the specifics of licensing laws in that state.

Even in states where no explicit licensing requirements are on the books, it can be very helpful for HVAC installers to take professional examinations in order to prove their fitness for the job. Some exams, which are offered throughout the country, allow HVAC installers to demonstrate specialized knowledge, such as experience working with oil-burning furnaces. Other examinations are more general and can demonstrate overall competence. The more an HVAC installer is able to prove his or her experience and depth of knowledge, the more likely they are to get jobs that pay well and generate referrals.

Regardless of state or experience level, anyone working with refrigerants – which would be most HVAC installers as they are a part of cooling systems – must be certified if refrigerant handling, per the Environmental Protection Agency.

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.