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In the Pine Tree State with its cold, snowy winters, there’s a thriving demand for qualified technicians and mechanics in heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and refrigeration (HVAC/R). To meet the community need for these qualified professionals, the Portland Press Herald (Aug. 2016) publicized an accelerated vocational program in Brunswick which allows people to pursue certification in the booming HVAC field; organized through the Maine Energy Marketers Association, the Technical Education Center’s crash course sequences are designed to get people to work quickly by credentialing them in varied skills such as how to work with oil, electrical, propane, and natural gas heating systems, in addition to AC and refrigeration services. MTEC boasted 400 graduates in 2015, and there’s evidence that this employment sector is still booming. In fact, Ed Upham, the director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Employment Services, stated, “If someone has an HVAC license, they can pretty much go out and find another job right now.” MTEC’s $8,500 tuition is fully covered by an employment preparation program called Rapid Response as well as a program for veterans. In sum, MTEC is the state’s most prominent career development institution in HVAC.

MTEC’s parent institution, the Maine Energy Marketers Association, has more than 300 members and represents 125 electricity, biofuel, heating oil, propane, and motor fuel providers. These individuals and companies serve more than 415,000 households across Maine and the organization’s goals include promoting high standards of maintenance and installation in HVAC equipment; offering ongoing educational development services for members; and advocating for the most ethical and efficient standards possible across the industry. Additionally, MEMA provides energy-saving tips for consumers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec. 2015), the responsibilities of HVAC installers and mechanics include, troubleshooting and repairing HVAC systems and parts (e.g., motors, heat pumps, controls, boilers, furnaces, intake fans, wiring, etc); utilizing blueprints to install equipment to manufacturers’ specifications; adjusting systems for optimal performance; educating clients on energy efficiency and upgrades; enrolling in continuing education opportunities to keep abreast of developments in the industry; keeping detailed service records; calculating heat loads and losses; and maintaining proper local permitting for all projects. Climate control systems are present in most residential and commercial properties across the US, and especially in places like Maine with notably cold winters. Some of these skilled professionals choose to specialize in a certain type of equipment or environment such as industrial-scale refrigeration, home oil heating systems, or natural gas setups. Since the systems generally need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years and require regular maintenance, many HVAC workers have steady work, even during the slower seasons.

With the ongoing demand for HVAC services steady nationwide and in Maine, there are expected to be ample opportunities for these workers in coming years. This piece examines the bright career outlook in HVAC in ME, as well as the expected salaries, training programs, and credentialing within the state.

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Demand for HVAC Professionals in Maine

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015), people in HVAC are expected to have a wealth of job openings throughout the coming decade. In fact, the BLS predicted a 14 percent increase in openings nationwide in the industry between 2014 and 2024, a much more robust projection than the average growth anticipated across all US occupations (7 percent). One factor contributing to the high growth prospects in this field is the increasing concern for the environment; as people focus on energy conservation and pollution reduction, systems will need to be upgraded, retrofitted, or otherwise replaced with more earth-friendly systems.

While the expectations are rosy in HVAC, the BLS (Dec. 2015) cautions that people in this profession also suffer a relatively high rate of injury compared to other US occupations, an effect of the physical nature of the work as well as the types of chemicals (e.g., refrigerants) used. Although the threat of muscle tears, strains, burns, and electrical shock remains higher in HVAC than in other occupations, these maladies can generally be kept to a minimum with proper training and safety equipment. Please note that HVAC technicians and mechanics are typically expected to be able to lift at least 40 lbs.

Some HVAC professionals in Maine work normal business hours, but their day may be extended to evenings, weekends, or holidays according to the servicing needs of customers, especially during the winter. One in ten of the HVAC workers nationwide were self-employed in 2014, and 63 percent worked through contracting companies.

As a testament to the thriving demand in HVAC, major job post websites advertised relevant job openings across Maine. By illustration, Indeed (Nov. 2016) had 20 opportunities at places such as Eastern Propane & Oil, Princeton Properties Management Inc., Anistar Technologies, Thermo Dynamics, Hannaford, Aire Serv Corporate Account, Etech Hi Inc., C&W Services, and Piper Shores. Monster (Nov. 2016) provided links to 58 openings with employers such as Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and Renewal by Andersen, to name a couple. To summarize, the future looks bright for trained HVAC professionals in Maine and beyond.

HVAC Salaries in Maine

Not only are there expected to be ample job opportunities in HVAC in Maine, but this industry is also one of the more lucrative fields among occupations requiring only one to two years of postsecondary training. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2015) found that there were 274,680 HVAC workers nationwide with an annual average salary of $47,380; by comparison, the 1,850 HVAC mechanics and installers in ME had an annual average salary of $46,300, only slightly below the national average. Interestingly, other sources of data varied in their wage estimates for HVAC workers. For example, Indeed (Nov. 2016) reported that Maine HVAC professionals earn an average salary of $36,000, substantially below the BLS figures. That said, the BLS projections are generally considered more reliable due to the higher sample size and systematized data collection methods.

In more detailed terms, the BLS (May 2015) found the following salary percentiles among HVAC workers nationwide:

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

And in hourly wages, these salaries became:

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.

Again, the figures varied by source of data. For comparative purposes, here are the salary percentiles from Payscale (Nov. 2016), a site which relies on self-reported data. It had 451 American HVAC workers who responded with annual salaries:

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

Additionally, Payscale (Nov. 2016) had 2,486 other workers in this industry who gave their hourly wage estimates:

  • 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.

Please keep both the BLS and Payscale figures in mind as a basis of comparison for state salary estimates. The BLS (May 2015) found the following salary data on its 1,850 HVAC workers employed in Maine:

Maine (1,850 HVAC workers): $46,300 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $29,420
  • 25th percentile: $36,170
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,700
  • 75th percentile: $56,740
  • 90th percentile: $64,280

And in hourly figures, these salaries became:

Maine: $22.26/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $14.15/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.39/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.97/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.28/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $30.90/hr.

Note that these figures are roughly on par with the national salary percentiles in this field. It’s important to point out that the cost of living in Maine is also higher than many US states, and consequently, the purchasing power of the salaries may not go as far. To illustrate, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2016) found that Maine was the fourteenth most expensive state in the country, although it did boast some relative savings in transportation. Not surprisingly, the wages in HVAC also tended to vary within Maine as well. There’s good news for residents of Portland and the surrounding areas: this region not only boasts the highest number of HVAC workers employed in the state, but it also had the highest salaries. Here are the five BLS-designated regions listed with the number of HVAC workers, annual salary averages, and wage percentiles (BLS May 2015):

Bangor, ME (210 HVAC workers): $43,990 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,720
  • 25th percentile: $31,610
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,610
  • 75th percentile: $55,480
  • 90th percentile: $63,370

Lewiston-Auburn, ME (190 employed): $43,640 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $29,680
  • 25th percentile: $36,020
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,730
  • 75th percentile: $49,530
  • 90th percentile: $58,960

Northeast Maine Nonmetropolitan Area (210 employed): $43,300 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,400
  • 25th percentile: $34,970
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,050
  • 75th percentile: $47,820
  • 90th percentile: $66,520

Portland-South Portland, ME (800 employed): $49,760 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,770
  • 25th percentile: $39,360
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,910
  • 75th percentile: $61,000
  • 90th percentile: $68,450

Southwest Maine Nonmetropolitan Area (410 employed): $42,590 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $29,440
  • 25th percentile: $34,520
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,160
  • 75th percentile: $49,870
  • 90th percentile: $58,410

Lastly, here were the salaries in hourly terms:

Bangor, ME (210 HVAC workers): $21.15/hour average

  • 10th percentile: $13.33/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.20/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $20.49/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $26.68/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $30.47/hr.

Lewiston-Auburn, ME (190 employed): $20.98/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $14.27/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.32/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.02/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.92/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $28.35/hr.

Northeast Maine Nonmetropolitan Area (210 employed): $20/82/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $14.62/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.81/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.74/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $22.99/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $31.98/hr.

Portland-South Portland, ME (800 employed): $23.92/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $14.80/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.92/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $24.96/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.33/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $32.91/hr.

Southwest Maine Nonmetropolitan Area (410 employed): $20.48/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $14.16/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.60/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $20.27/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.98/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $28.08/hr.

HVAC Schools in Maine

Prior to seeking work in Maine’s thriving HVAC industry, people in this field must receive the proper training. Some aspiring professionals choose to complete apprenticeship programs which last from three to five years, comprising at least 144 hours of technical education and hands-on instruction under the guidance of qualified HVAC workers, amounting to 2,000+ hours of on-the-job experience; others may complete a more formal training program through one of Maine’s many HVAC schools. These programs last from six months to two years, and typically involve both didactic coursework on the fundamentals and opportunities to put one’s skills to the test through externships, internships, or lab sessions. To qualify for either an apprentice program or an HVAC training school, candidates must generally be 18 or older; possess a clean record; submit a copy of their high school transcript with proof of qualifying coursework (e.g., math, English); and have a driver’s license.

First, there is a wealth of national organizations which provide apprenticeship programs. The BLS’s detailed list included the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Inc.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America
  • Home Builders Institute
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association

Please reference their individual websites to learn about opportunities specific to Maine.

Second, there is also an abundance of training programs within the Pine Tree State. The traditional accreditation agencies for HVAC schools are HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA); as of November 2016, there weren’t any programs approved by either agency in ME. That said, there’s still a wealth of options for people aspiring to join this high-growth industry.

For example, Southern Maine Community College has campuses in South Portland and Brunswick, and offers an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in two trade-specific specializations: heating, air conditioning & refrigeration, or and heating & plumbing. With a unique focus on green technologies, SMCC’s programs feature coursework in residential heating systems; basic refrigeration; electronics for HVAC; print reading; system design & industrial heating; and various general education classes. The AAS degrees typically take 4.5 full-time semesters to complete (i.e., 65 credit hours). SMCC also provides individual certificate programs in heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and plumbing. Impressively, 94 percent of SMCC’s graduates secure employment or continue their studies within nine months of graduation, and programs generally cost $3,760 per semester.

The Northeast Technical Institute of Scarborough and Bangor has part- and full-time programs for prospective workers in HVAC. Students at NTI may qualify for various certifications such as the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) credential and the CETP gas/propane certification. Since tuition varies widely based on program, interested students are encouraged to check out NTI’s tuition calculator.

The MEMA Technical Education Center (mentioned in the introduction) also provides preparation for several trade-specific certification exams, including the HVAC Pro certification and EPA Section 608 exams, as well as specialized training in gas and propane heating.

Finally, Eastern Maine Community College of Bangor offers an AAS HVAC degree with hands-on instruction for competency exams such as the Limited Electrician in Refrigeration license; EPA Section 608 (refrigerants); Oil Burner Journeyman license; and the Propane/Natural Gas license (CETP). Courses at EMCC include refrigeration components & physical principles; refrigeration systems & flow controls; electricity; technical mathematics; heat pump systems; human relations; and commercial refrigeration systems. Notably, Maine residents pay only $92 per credit hour, and non-residents pay $184.

Lastly, some students may find it difficult to attend an on-campus program. For those aspiring HVAC professionals, there are various web-based classes available. To learn about how to join one of these convenient programs across the country, check out the online HVAC programs page.

HVAC Licensure in Maine

In addition to getting the proper training in the field, HVAC professionals in Maine should ensure that they have all necessary credentialing prior to seeking employment. For all workers across the country who deal with refrigerants, there’s one mandatory certification: the EPA Section 608. Also, there are four categories of this credential which vary by type of equipment: type 1 (small appliance), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal).

There are other competency-based national certifications provided through agencies including North American Technician Excellence (e.g., industry competency exams or ICE); HVAC Excellence (e.g., heating, electrical, air conditioning technology); the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (e.g., certified assistant refrigeration operator); and the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA). To discover how to qualify for the broad range of certifications nationwide, check out HVAC certification page.

Lastly, regional licensure and permitting for HVAC work varies within the state of Maine. Although there is no state license specifically for HVAC, the initial wiring of HVAC systems may require an electrical permit in “systems control wiring” from the Maine Electricians’ Licensing Board. Also, the Board offers a limited electrician license to workers in refrigeration. To qualify, a person must have at least 270 hours of electrical education from an accredited institution; 6,000 hours of experience (4,000 of which can come from an approved educational program); and a passing score on an exam. These state licenses are valid for two years and can be renewed following the payment of a renewal fee and proof of having completed continuing education in electrical code (15 hours every three years).

Regions within the state may require additional permitting such as the City of Bangor, which issues building permits for the development of HVAC systems. Also, the Town of Wells also issues permits for new construction, including the installation of HVAC systems.

Above all, HVAC workers in Maine are subject to differing requirements based on region of the state. Professionals in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or refrigeration are strongly encouraged to reach out to city administrators to ascertain proper credentialing prior to beginning work.