Steps to Becoming an HVAC technician
Here is an example of a possible path to becoming an HVAC technician:
Step 1: Earn a high school diploma or GED (four years).
Aspiring HVAC technicians should have strong skills in chemistry, physics, and other physical sciences. Additionally, competitive candidates may also have volunteer or work experience assisting HVAC technicians.
Step 2a: Join and complete an accredited HVAC program (six months to two years).
Candidates may apply for certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree programs that feature coursework in HVAC system design; refrigeration; energy management; load calculations, industry code standards; ductwork and piping systems; and air quality and conditioning. Prospective HVAC technicians in these programs learn HVAC theory and practice, and may also work with HVAC technicians for hands-on training.
Two institutions offering accreditation for HVAC classes are HVAC Excellence and Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). The process of accreditation establishes academic standards and recognizes programs that meet or exceed the criteria. Learn more about accredited programs in different states by visiting the HVAC schools page.
Step 2b: Complete an apprenticeship (optional, three to five years).
Some HVAC technicians choose to acquire their skills through an apprenticeship, where they perform 2,000 hours of hands-on HVAC training annually and 144 hours of technical education. Some organizations provide HVAC apprenticeships, including the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Inc., the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the US Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship USA program. HVAC apprenticeships are typically paid positions; the exact salary will vary based on experience, location, and employer.
Step 3: Become an HVAC technician and continue to work in the field (one to two years).
Prior to becoming a certified HVAC technician, it may be advisable to get some empirical professional-level (i.e., beyond apprentice-level) experience. Please note that there are some “job-ready” HVAC programs that may bypass this step. As described above, one may obtain an entry-level HVAC technician position without professional certification, although technicians working with regulated refrigerants are required to have a basic EPA 608 certification.
Step 4: Achieve professional certification (timeline varies).
While HVAC technician requirements vary by state, there are some popular certifications in this industry such as those offered by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA), and HVAC Excellence (partnered with the Esco Group).
For instance, NATE offers several specialty certifications (e.g., air distribution, HVAC efficiency analyst, HVAC performance verifier), whereas HVAC Excellence offers more generalized certification exams for air conditioning, light commercial air conditioning, and basic refrigeration and charging procedures. In addition, RETA offers two American National Standards Institute accredited certifications, including a certified assistant refrigeration operator (CARO) and a certified industrial refrigeration operator (CIRO).
To learn more about the wealth of certifications available, check out the main HVAC credentials page.