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As the United States recovers from the Great Recession, and looks poised to recover from another, there’s one field that’s been relatively impervious to the economic downturn: careers in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR). In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) projects that job openings for HVAC installers and mechanics will swell 4 percent between 2018 and 2028, on par with the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that time. The expected addition of 15,100 HVAC positions is due in part to people’s enduring need for comfortable shelter in the face of increasingly erratic weather patterns.

By illustration, the World Economic Forum (2020) has tracked the uptick in natural disasters such as Hurricane Laura and widespread wildfires. All of these events have contributed to the need for failproof climate control in residential and commercial buildings. There has been a growing movement for citizens of the world to take action to combat climate change. With burgeoning trends such as the greening of HVAC technology, the adoption of “smart” climate control systems, and the ever-changing environmental regulations set forth by local and national governments, HVAC is expected to be thriving field on into the future.

So what skills can these aspiring specialists expect to learn in HVAC classes? O*NET (2020)—a data organization partnered with the American Job Center—reports that heating and AC mechanics and installers have many responsibilities including installing, maintaining, inspecting, and repairing HVAC systems; performing tests to determine problematic components; working with sensitive systems such as water, electrical, and fuel lines; recommending upgrades to increase energy efficiency; and staying abreast of the latest technical innovations and governmental regulations for HVAC systems. Some technicians choose to further specialize, gaining skills in specific aspects of HVAC such as solar panels, green technologies, commercial refrigeration, or radiant heating systems.

Although there are varied educational paths to joining this field, a majority of HVAC technicians hold post-secondary certificates, associate’s degrees, or bachelor’s degrees. Sixty-six percent worked as contractors and 7 percent were self-employed (BLS 2020).

Read on to discover the employment prospects for HVAC professionals, as well as to explore HVAC classes, professional certification options, program accreditation, and trends in the HVAC industry expected in 2021.

HVAC, a Career on the Rise

HVAC employment growth (BLS 2019) Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers (BLS 2020)

As stated above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) is anticipating a 4 percent increase in openings for HVAC technicians (i.e., mechanics and installers) between 2019 and 2029. The wealth of opportunities for HVAC professionals has emerged for several reasons. Not only do most HVAC units have a lifespan of roughly ten years—requiring continual upkeep and maintenance—but also many businesses and homeowners stand to save money by making systems more efficient or “greener.”

HVAC is also a relatively lucrative field, paying a median annual wage of $48,730, with a median hourly wage of $23.43, higher than the median hourly wage for all occupations, which is $19.14 (BLS 2019). Not surprisingly, HVAC professionals’ average salary fluctuates by region, industry, level of experience, and source of data.

For instance, the BLS (May 2019) found that the top-paying states for HVAC professionals were:

  • District of Columbia, $34.59 per hour on average

  • Alaska, $32.86 per hour

  • Connecticut, $31.20 per hour

  • Massachusetts, $30.42 per hour

  • Hawaii, $29.56 per hour

The top-employing states in HVAC looks quite different (BLS 2019):

  • Florida (31,710 HVAC jobs)

  • California (29,650 jobs)

  • Texas (26,690 jobs)

  • New York (18,810 jobs)

  • Pennsylvania (15,630 jobs)

It’s crucial to note that the cost of living (i.e., the purchasing power of these salaries) varies significantly by region. As proof of point, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) notes that the most expensive states in the country were concentrated in the west and northeast: Hawaii, District of Columbia, California, Oregon, and New York. The least expensive areas—mainly hailing from the midwest and south—were Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.

Additionally, four of the 10 top-paying municipalities for HVAC services were located in California, two were in Alaska, and the rest were scattered throughout the western and northeastern United States (BLS 2019).

Overall, the BLS (2019) reported the following salary ranges for HVAC professionals across the country:

  • 10th percentile: $30,610

  • 25th percentile: $37,660

  • 50th percentile (median): $48,730

  • 75th percentile: $62,070

  • 90th percentile: $77,920

For more information on employment trends in the HVAC industry, check out the HVAC careers page.

How to Become an HVAC Technician

There are varied educational paths to becoming a certified HVAC technician. Some choose to garner experience on the job through apprenticeships, and others enroll in accredited HVAC classes or programs. In a survey of HVAC technicians, O*NET (2020) reported that a majority of HVAC professionals had earned post-secondary certificates or associate’s degrees. As regulations on the HVAC industry and contractors continue to evolve, there has been a trend toward more formal education, although there are still ample opportunities for those interested in apprenticeships.

Here is one possible path to becoming an HVAC technician:

  1. Graduate from high school. Candidates in this profession typically have strong skills in the physical sciences (e.g., chemistry, physics) and at this stage, may even seek out opportunities to assist working HVAC professionals, paid or on a volunteer basis.

  2. Complete an accredited HVAC program (six months to two years). Community colleges, technical schools, and other institutions provide training programs at all levels (e.g., certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s) featuring coursework in HVAC system design; energy management; ductwork & piping systems; and load calculations. As part of these programs, prospective HVAC professionals not only receive didactic instruction to learn the theory of HVAC components and procedures, but also may work under the supervision of more experienced technicians to get hands-on training. There are various institutions that provide accreditation for HVAC classes—including HVAC Excellence and Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). The accreditation process establishes educational standards and recognizes programs which meet or exceed the criteria. To learn more about accredited programs, visit the HVAC schools page.

  3. (Optional) Complete an apprenticeship (three to five years). In lieu of a formal training program, some HVAC technicians choose to learn through an apprenticeship where they receive 2,000 hours annually of hands-on training in the field. Some of the organizations that provide HVAC apprenticeships include the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Inc. and the US Department of Labor’s ApprenticeshipUSA program.

  4. Garner experience in the field (one to two years). Depending on the type of certification an individual seeks, it may be advisable to get some empirical experience prior to applying for certification. Please note that there are some “job-ready” HVAC programs which may allow graduates to bypass this step.

  5. Achieve professional certification (timeline varies). Requirements to work as an HVAC specialist vary by state, but there are some popular certifications in this industry such as those offered by North American Technician Excellence (NATE) and HVAC Excellence.

To learn about state licensure requirements in HVAC and to discover more about about the steps to becoming a certified HVAC professional, check the how to become an HVAC technician and HVAC certification pages.

HVAC Programs

For those interested in learning the fundamentals of the HVAC field, there are educational programs available throughout the country in addition to distance-based options at every level: certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s programs.

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Following is what students can expect from various HVAC certificate and degree programs.

HVAC Certificates

The University of California, Berkeley Extension offers an HVAC certificate program with both classroom-based and online learning opportunities. Students will complete 165 hours of coursework in areas such as system design considerations, system load calculations & psychrometry (i.e., properties of gas-vapor mixtures), and ductwork & piping systems. In addition to their certification, graduates receive a certificate of accomplishment from the Golden Gate chapter of the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

The University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) in Lima provides a PAHRA-accredited HVACR certificate program, training students in the fundamentals of furnace technology, commercial refrigeration, and air conditioners. In a combination of rigorous hands-on instruction with qualified HVAC professionals and Simutech computer exercises, UNOH teaches students the latest in service & procedures, heating systems & controls, applications of refrigeration & temperature controls, and other cornerstones of the field. Finally, UNOH boasts small class sizes with a maximum of 20 students and also offers an HVACR associate’s degree program.

HVAC Associate’s Degrees

Front Range Community College in Loveland, Colorado provides a PAHRA-accredited associate of applied science (AAS) degree in HVACR. With 65 credits of classes in areas such as refrigerant tubing, basic electricity & electrical components, and HVACR troubleshooting, Front Range’s program takes four to five semesters to complete. In addition to didactic coursework, students have the option to complete a capstone project or supervised internship to put their newfound knowledge of fabrication, brazing, soldering, and more to the test.

Mount San Antonio College (MTSAC) in Walnut, California provides an associate of science (AS) degree in air conditioning and refrigeration technology. As the only PAHRA-accredited program in the state of California, MTSAC has a work-study component for interested students in addition to training in refrigerant handling, welding, and mechanical & electrical operation. This program is also offered as a certificate.

HVAC Bachelor’s Degrees

The New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn provides a bachelor’s of technology (BTech) degree program in facilities management. This program is an extension of the school’s associate of applied science (AAS) degree in environmental control technology (HVAC) and gives students a working understanding of how to maintain comfortable indoor climates while paying thought to energy conservation and efficiency. This bachelor’s degree may be an especially attractive option to aspiring HVAC professionals who are interested in taking on management roles and increased responsibilities.

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho offers a bachelor of applied sciences (BAS) in HVACR. The program requires 120 credit hours, including general education courses and all introductory HVAC courses as required by the associate of applied science curriculum, Lewis-Clark graduate with the hands-on experience required to enter the workforce.

For more information on four-year HVAC and HVACR programs, please visit the top HVAC bachelor’s degrees page.

Online HVAC Degrees

Ashworth College based in Norcross, Georgia provides an online HVAC training program that can be completed in as little as four months. The Ashworth program includes a voucher towards the student’s cost of certification from ESCO.

Penn Foster based in Scranton, Pennsylvania is a college accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and offers an online HVAC career diploma. As part of the program, students receive a voucher to sit for the EPA certification—a mandatory credential for workers who handle refrigerants—as well as eight units of courses such as math for the trades, the fundamentals of HVACR, and lithium bromide absorption systems.

Accreditation of HVAC Programs

Aspiring HVAC professionals are strongly encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their program prior to enrollment. The process of accreditation sets up industry-validated standards for training in HVAC to ensure that a school is meeting or exceeding the skill set necessary to uphold government regulations surrounding climate control and provide quality service to customers. Criteria for accrediting organizations may include specific curricular requirements; school finance assessments; and an examination student outcomes & support services.

As stated above, the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) is the main national accreditation body for HVAC programs. PAHRA developed its program standards in conjunction with all segments of the industry including workers, HVAC educators, administrators, and state supervisors in technical education. PAHRA-accredited programs must use the industry competency exams (ICE) for graduating students, which test knowledge in three areas: residential AC and heating, light commercial AC & heating; and commercial refrigeration. These exams are administered by North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

Additionally, HVAC Excellence has accredited HVAC programs since 1999. A two-person team (an HVAC instructor and an administrator) performs on-site evaluations and weighs criteria such as the mission of the program; school finances; the availability of student services; the quality of student facilities; and instructor credentials.

Finally, there are various organizations that provide accreditation to schools as a whole including the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) for online programs, as well as six regional bodies which have been recognized by the US Department of Education:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)

  • Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

HVAC Licensing and Certification

There are a number of regional and national professional certifications available to HVAC professionals. The certification process indicates to prospective employers and clients that the person has achieved competence in specific fields of HVAC.

There is one mandatory certification for all HVAC professionals who handle refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 certification. Preparation for this exam and vouchers are typically offered as part of an HVAC program. There are four types of certifications available for EPA Section 608: type I (small appliances), type II (high-pressure appliances), type III (low-pressure appliances), and the universal option that covers all aspects of handling refrigerants.

It is important to note that while the EPA certification is mandatory, licensure and certification requirements vary by state. Visit the HVAC certification page for a full list of state agencies to verify the credentials necessary to work in this field.

There are several organizations that provide professional HVAC certifications. These include:

  • HVAC Excellence provides the heating, electrical, air conditioning technology (HEAT) and HEAT Plus certifications for high school students. They also have a variety of employment-ready specialty credentials in green awareness, residential heat load analysis, the use of R-410A refrigerant systems, heat pump service, combustion analysis, residential air conditioning, and HVAC educator certifications.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE) has a core HVAC exam and specialty certifications in air conditioning, air distribution, oil heating (air), gas heating (air), heat pump (air-to-air), hydronics gas, hydronics oil, commercial refrigeration, and light commercial refrigeration. NATE also provides industry competency exams (ICE), which are required of all students graduating from a PAHRA-accredited program. Please note that many of the specialty exams are also available in Spanish.

  • The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) offers the mandatory EPA Section 608 and eight specialized exams: commercial air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, controls, domestic service, dynamic compression, heating, heat pump, and HVACR electrical.

For more information on professional certification and licensure, please visit the HVAC certification page.

HVAC Trends in 2021

As the 2022 AHR Expo in Las Vegas approaches—where thousands of HVAC professionals will gather to discover new industry technologies, products, and best practices—there are six trends in the field which have caught the experts’ attention:

Smart Systems: One of the major trends in the industry is toward “smart controls” in both residential and commercial HVAC systems. The US Energy Information Administration reported that although they can improve on energy efficiency, just 3 percent of respondents to their annual survey were using a smart thermostat — but that number is expected to increase. These intelligent controls also allow people to track energy-use patterns, detect problems with components, and send diagnostics via mobile technologies to the appropriate service agency to ensure timely maintenance and repairs. The burgeoning internet of things (IoT) has been a major driver in the automation and increased distance-based control of HVAC systems.

Increased Integration and Automation: Aided in part by the increased use of “smart” HVAC technologies, the ability to control several systems seamlessly in concert is a major goal in the industry. It is no surprise that homeowners, property managers, and business operators can benefit from having one easy-to-operate interface for temperature controls. In fact, HVAC businesses are striving to improve the mobility, user-friendliness, and comprehensiveness of software that can link multiple systems together.

HVAC Goes Green: Green technology systems that pay thought to energy conservation and efficiency are on the rise. Enervise stated that the federal government’s property-assessed clean energy financing (PACE) program has contributed to the awareness of efficiency, renewable energy sources, and the greening of HVAC by empowering local governments to fund much-needed energy improvements to residential and commercial properties. Governments pay up-front for the upgrades and property owners pay these back over time. Furthermore, buildings are striving to be net zero energy use facilities (i.e., producing as much or more energy than they consume) through the use of renewables (e.g., wind, solar, geothermal, and hydraulic) and energy recovery ventilators.

Evolving Regulations: Federal and local governments are continually changing the standards of energy use, product labeling, building codes, and tax credits, in effect rewarding the use of more efficient HVAC technologies. The US government’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) strives to develop innovative technologies to promote energy efficiency in manufacturing plants, HVAC products, new homes, and buildings. Legislation such as the Energy Policy Act (2005), as well as changes to the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) standards and seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) are applied differentially across states, affecting building codes and the type of HVAC equipment available.

Proprietary Controls: Although there’s a general move toward increased integration of HVAC systems, in order to preserve market dominance, some companies continue to create proprietary components that do not integrate seamlessly with other company’s products.

The Latest from the HVAC Blog

Students and graduates of HVAC training programs can turn to the HVACClasses.org blog to explore information on apprenticeships, certifications, HVAC colleges, HVAC professors, and more. Information posted on our blog will be updated on a regular basis so that ideas for careers, education, and continuing HVAC classes are right at your fingertips. Our aim is to make the information on our blog practical, informative and user-friendly and of significant help to students considering an HVAC education. To top it off, we link to many of the resources mentioned within our blog posts so that readers don’t have to spend their time doing that research.


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