HVAC Training Programs in Illinois

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The Prairie State has a continental climate marked by cold winters and hot humid summers, making it a thriving environment for climate control professionals. In fact, Illinois (IL) not only has a high demand for workers in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R), but it also boasts a wealth of professional organizations which support men and women in this line of work. By illustration, the Illinois Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association has been around for more than 120 years, striving to ‘protect the environment, health, welfare, and safety of the residents of Illinois.’ It provides legal representation with government regulatory agencies, networking events, educational training, scholarships, federated insurance, business discounts, and many other resources. The PHCC also has a Southwestern IL chapter, among other professional HVAC contractors associations in the state.

HVAC workers in the Land of Lincoln and beyond take on varied responsibilities such as reading blueprints & diagrams; calculating heat loads & losses; installing, repairing, troubleshooting and maintaining HVAC components (e.g., refrigeration circuits, controls, hermetic compressors, heat pumps, split systems, package units, electric motors, relays, starters, water pumps, intake & exhaust fans, economizers, humidifiers, etc); keeping detailed client service records, vendor packing slips, and other paperwork; and offering customers recommendations on increasing energy efficiency of their HVAC systems. Some of these skilled professionals focus on one type of equipment, manufacturer, or method, while others choose to become generalist technicians with more broad-based training and abilities. Regardless of one’s chosen path, all workers nationwide who handle refrigerants must achieve the EPA Section 608 certification, which is discussed in the last section of this guide.

This piece examines the thriving employment climate for HVAC workers in Illinois and nationwide, as well as the accredited training programs, salary potential, and credentialing requirements within the state.

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Demand for HVAC Services in IL

As mentioned in the introduction, the HVAC industry is currently booming. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015) projected a 14 percent increase in openings for HVAC professionals across the country between 2014 and 2024, double the average growth expected across all occupations during that time period at 7 percent. This equates to 39,600 fresh opportunities in HVAC nationwide, and there’s evidence that the prospects in Illinois are even brighter. In fact, Projections Central (Dec. 2016) reported that there would be a 15.5 percent increase in HVAC positions in Illinois between 2014 and 2024, resulting in 1,190 new jobs in the state.

There are various reasons for this explosion in opportunities for trained HVAC workers. Not only do maintenance and service contracts guarantee a steady stream of work, but HVAC systems also need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Especially in states like Illinois with marked temperature extremes during the winter and summer and in areas with high growth and rates of construction such as Chicago, the demand for HVAC services is strong. Additionally, old systems sometimes need to be retrofitted, particularly as legislation on environmental protection evolves; for example, the EPA Section 608 certification is mandatory for those who handle refrigerants due to the environmentally sensitive nature of these chemicals. Furthermore, many businesses depend on climate-control systems and rely on the availability of skilled professionals to maintain all equipment in working order.

As of 2014, one in ten HVAC workers were self-employed, and 63 percent worked in the contracting industry (BLS Dec. 2015). It’s important to note that people in this profession sustain a higher-than-average risk of injury compared to other occupations. This is due to the physical nature of the work, which may involve lifting heavy objects, changing out electrical wiring, and dealing with flammable substances. With the proper training and use of safety equipment, however, these problems can generally be kept to a minimum.

Some HVAC professionals in IL work normal business hours, but especially during the busy seasons, they may be called upon to work weekends, evenings, or holidays to meet the needs of clients.

There’s abundant evidence that business is booming for Illinois HVAC workers. As proof of point, Indeed (Dec. 2016) had an incredible 664 job posts calling for HVAC workers in cities across IL, including openings at Manhattan Mechanical Services, Mr. Duct Heating & Air Conditioning, Pure Comfort Inc., Matrix Energy Services Inc., American Vintage Home Inc., and Ludwig & Company, to name a few. Additionally, Monster (Dec. 2016) had 74 posts with opportunities at Wheaton College, Perfect Home Systems, AZ Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning, Sodexo, Uline, One Hour Heating & Air, Midwest Underground Technology, Temptrol Heating & A/C Inc., Precision Plumbing-Heating-Cooling, Tiger Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Electrical Services, First Hospitality Group Inc., and United Technologies Corp.

Illinois HVAC Technician Salary Data

Not only is the employment climate fertile for HVAC workers in Illinois, but it is also a relatively lucrative profession, especially for a job requiring only one to two years of postsecondary training. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2015) found that the 274,680 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide boasted an annual average salary of $47,380. And in IL, people in the industry fared even better.

First, here were the detailed salary percentiles among HVAC workers across the country (BLS May 2015):

United States (274,680 HVAC workers): $47,380 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,790
  • 25th percentile: $34,920
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,110
  • 75th percentile: $58,070
  • 90th percentile: $71,690

Here were the same figures expressed in hourly salaries:

US: $22.78/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $13.36/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.79/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.69/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.92/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $34.47/hr.

Before jumping into the comparison with Illinois, it’s worth noting that these percentiles differed based on source of data. By illustration, Payscale (Dec. 2016)—a site relying on self-reported data—had 451 HVAC respondents with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 25th percentile: $35,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,886
  • 75th percentile: $53,000
  • 90th percentile: $67,000

Another 2,486 HVAC workers gave their hourly wages, resulting in the following figures (Payscale Dec. 2016):

  • 10th percentile: $13.00/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.00/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.00/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $24.00/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.00/hr.

As mentioned above, the HVAC workers in IL fared much better than people in this industry nationwide, regardless the source of data. In fact, the BLS (May 2015) reported that there were 7,330 HVAC mechanics and installers across IL with an average annual salary of $51,590, 8.9 percent higher than the national salary average in this occupation. Furthermore, Illinois is one of the cheaper states to live in across the country. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2016) found that the Prairie State was the twenty-first most affordable, boasting savings in housing and utilities relative to most of the country. Please keep this in mind while evaluating the following regional figures for HVAC workers.

According to the BLS (May 2015), here were the salary percentiles for HVAC professionals in Illinois:

Illinois (7,330 HVAC workers): $51,590 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,490
  • 25th percentile: $38,550
  • 50th percentile (median): $52,100
  • 75th percentile: $61,430
  • 90th percentile: $75,870

Here were the same figures expressed as hourly wages:

Illinois: $24.80/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $13.70/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.53/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $25.05/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.53/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $36.48/hr.

Lastly, these figures also varied by region within IL as well. While the Chicago metropolitan region employed the highest number of HVAC workers in the state, Elgin paid the highest average annual salary at $62,320, 20.8 percent higher than the average salary for these workers in IL. Here were the numbers of HVAC workers employed, mean salaries, and wage percentiles among the 15 BLS-designated regions across Illinois (May 2015):

Bloomington, IL (220 HVAC workers): $44,980 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $22,290
  • 25th percentile: $27,540
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,370
  • 75th percentile: $59,210
  • 90th percentile: $74,110

Champaign-Urbana, IL (110 employed): $50,770 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,750
  • 25th percentile: $36,710
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,810
  • 75th percentile: $62,020
  • 90th percentile: $77,020

Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, IL Metropolitan Division (4,100 employed): $53,090 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,040
  • 25th percentile: $40,580
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,120
  • 75th percentile: $62,620
  • 90th percentile: $77,010

Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (5,340 employed): $53,230 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $29,320
  • 25th percentile: $40,880
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,620
  • 75th percentile: $62,310
  • 90th percentile: $77,840

Decatur, IL (120 employed): $44,680 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,580
  • 25th percentile: $37,150
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,840
  • 75th percentile: $50,520
  • 90th percentile: $60,030

East Central Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (170 employed): $49,780 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $26,250
  • 25th percentile: $33,410
  • 50th percentile (median): $52,530
  • 75th percentile: $62,400
  • 90th percentile: $74,780

Elgin, IL Metropolitan Division (unknown number employed): $62,320 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $47,540
  • 25th percentile: $52,160
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,400
  • 75th percentile: $62,860
  • 90th percentile: $93,400

Kankakee, IL (120 employed): $49,330 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $22,990
  • 25th percentile: $34,660
  • 50th percentile (median): $52,520
  • 75th percentile: $62,820
  • 90th percentile: $73,950

Lake County-Kenosha County, IL-WI Metropolitan Division (500 employed): $55,960 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $36,880
  • 25th percentile: $51,330
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,740
  • 75th percentile: $62,310
  • 90th percentile: $73,310

Northwest Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (unknown number employed): $45,990 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,900
  • 25th percentile: $36,450
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,210
  • 75th percentile: $55,920
  • 90th percentile: $63,820

Peoria, IL (240 employed): $54,950 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,040
  • 25th percentile: $38,040
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,210
  • 75th percentile: $64,320
  • 90th percentile: $78,250

Rockford, IL (130 employed): $49,200 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,570
  • 25th percentile: $43,390
  • 50th percentile (median): $50,670
  • 75th percentile: $57,060
  • 90th percentile: $60,970

South Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (unknown number employed): $43,520 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,090
  • 25th percentile: $38,360
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,090
  • 75th percentile: $49,470
  • 90th percentile: $57,550

Springfield, IL (180 employed): $55,120 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $25,730
  • 25th percentile: $29,960
  • 50th percentile (median): $61,320
  • 75th percentile: $76,480
  • 90th percentile: $88,480

West Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (360 employed): $32,370 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $21,270
  • 25th percentile: $23,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $27,480
  • 75th percentile: $36,980
  • 90th percentile: $56,780

 

Accredited HVAC Schools in Illinois

Prior to joining this high-growth, high-paying industry in Illinois, it’s important to get the proper training. There are currently two main organizations which approve HVAC programs and schools nationwide: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). There are eight HVAC schools in IL with accreditation from one of these two entities. To learn more about how institutions and programs are approved, please visit the websites themselves or the main HVAC schools page for a breakdown of criteria.

As of December 2016, there were three HVAC Excellence-accredited programs in IL. For example, the HVAC Technical Institute of Chicago is a unique, minority-owned trade school which opened in 1994. With an emphasis on guided, hands-on learning, the facility comprises 7,500 square feet of offices and classrooms, as well as over 10,000 square feet of lab space. In its certificate program, students receive preparation for the aforementioned EPA Section 608 certification and the R-410A safety certification, as well as training in electricity; heating; basic & advanced air conditioning; ventilation & installation; hydronics; and career readiness. This program costs $10,500 total.

The Midwest Technical Institute of Springfield also boasts HVAC Excellence accreditation. In its 36-week program, students receive 750 hours of training and 180 outside hours, gaining proficiency in basic electricity; air conditioning & heat pump service installation; gas & electric heat; and major appliance repair.

Richland Community College of Decatur provides an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in HVAC/R with instruction in occupational safety; refrigeration fundamentals; electricity fundamentals; control applications; troubleshooting air conditioning systems; motors & controls; and technical mathematics, among other courses. Richland also provides certificate programs in refrigeration; commercial HVAC; and residential HVAC.

As of December 2016, there were also five PAHRA-accredited programs in IL. For instance, the College of Lake County in Grayslake has several programs, including an AAS in HVAC/R engineering technology and various specialized certificates (e.g., installation technician, service technician, commercial refrigeration, residential heating, residential energy auditing, etc). In its AAS program, students complete courses such as blueprint reading; refrigeration (commercial appliances); air movement & ventilation; installation & service; and metal fabrication, among others. Programs cost $112 per credit hour for in-district students, $289 for out-of-district, and $390 for out-of-state.

Lastly, while an on-campus program is convenient for students located close to accredited programs, those in more rural regions of IL may have difficulty attending a traditional brick-and-mortar institution. Fortunately, there’s also a wealth of distance-based training options available to residents of IL. To learn more, check out the main online HVAC programs page. 

HVAC Licensing & Certification in Illinois

In addition to seeking out the proper training, aspiring HVAC mechanics, technicians, and installers in IL also must receive the proper credentialing prior to beginning work. As previously mentioned, there is one mandatory national certification for all people who work with refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 certification. Training for this is typically provided in HVAC/R certificate and degree programs. There are four kinds:

  • Type 1 (small appliance)
  • Type 2 (high-pressure appliances)
  • Type 3 (low-pressure appliances)
  • Type 4 (universal)

Additionally, there are several organizations which offer employment-ready credentialing in this field. For example, HVAC Excellence has two main broad-based certifications: Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology (HEAT) and HEAT Plus. It also has various specialty certifications in areas such as green awareness, residential heat load analysis, and combustion analysis, to name a few.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) has several core and specialty certifications in areas such as light commercial refrigeration, hydronics (gas or oil), and oil heating, as well as industry competency exams (ICE).

To learn about the gamut of national certifications available, check out the HVAC certifications page.

Finally, while there is currently no state license required for HVAC workers in Illinois, local permitting and registration requirements vary. For example, the City of Evanston requires all mechanical contractors (including HVAC workers) to seek a license from the city. To qualify, candidates must pass an open book exam on the International Mechanical & Fuel Gas Codes and pay $100. It can be renewed annually. The City of Elgin—notably the top-paying metropolitan region for HVAC professionals in IL—requires its warm air heating contractors to register with the city’s Department of Community Development. The qualifying exam takes three to four hours to complete, covering three main areas: duct design, venting & combustion air, and installation parameters. The exam costs $100, and for successful applicants, the registration fee is $25 annually.

In sum, all interested HVAC workers in IL and other states are strongly encouraged to check with local credentialing authorities prior to beginning any work in maintenance, installation, or repair of these systems.