How Much Does an HVAC Apprentice Make?

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Workers who aspire to become HVAC technicians generally must obtain training to progress beyond assistant status. Training is available by attending a school or by participating in an apprenticeship. As apprentices work in the field on customers’ climate control equipment and systems, they are paid for their labor.

The amounts apprentices earn vary due to several factors that include location, skills, and specialty. Apprenticeships usually take four to five years to complete. An apprentice starts at a low wage, but receives increases in pay at specified levels, so that by the end of their apprenticeship they are earning journey-level wages (or close to those amounts).

Read on to discover typical HVAC apprentice salaries, including information about how they are typically determined.

HVAC Apprenticeships From A Variety Of Organizations

Apprentices are generally thought of as part of unions, and many are. However, other industry organizations or trade associations sponsor also apprenticeships. One of the best-known is offered by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

Occasionally, a local business may offer training that they refer to as an apprenticeship. Some educational institutions offer apprenticeships that require participants to work in their facilities; workers may have to work for the institution for a specified number of years after their training is complete. Large utilities also offer similar training that may require a specified number of years during and after the completion of training. There are no standard pay rates for non-union apprenticeships.

The North American Building Trades Unions, which has resources for both workers and employers, funds and operates registered apprenticeship programs. Their statistics show that 74 percent of apprentices are part of union apprenticeships and 26 percent of workers participate in non-union apprenticeships. Their members include the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), which are both unions for HVAC technicians.

Contracts for HVAC Apprenticeships

Each source of HVAC apprentice training has different ranges of pay. Regardless of the sponsor, workers should expect to sign a contract before the apprenticeship starts. Contracts serve to define the terms of the training and the obligations of the apprentice. Part of the terms includes:

  • The initial pay rate
  • How often and by what criteria pay will be increased
  • The amount by which the pay level is expected to increase

A true apprenticeship is based on the “earn as you learn” principle. Apprentices receive hands-on training, technical instruction, and are paid for the hours they work. The beginning pay level is about half that of an experienced worker (Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Apprenticeships: Occupations and Outlook,” Nov. 2017). Pay levels are increased at specified times as an apprentice’s skills grow.

Employers sign contracts with unions to specify the wages they will pay apprentices and set the criteria for increases. Contracts are unique for each union local, which results in variances across the U.S. Typically, as apprentices master the fundamentals, which may take six months to a year, they start receiving benefits, such as health insurance and pension contributions, as well as scheduled pay raises.

HVAC Apprentice Pay Scales (December 2019)

Employers that belong to UA Local 364 (Colton, CA) pay new apprentices $20.98 or $22.47 an hour. Apprentices are eligible for the same opportunities for overtime and travel/subsistence pay as experienced technicians. Apprentices in UA Local 364 receive annual raises, too.

Apprentices with UA Local 290 (Tualatin, OR) start at $18.38 per hour, which is 40 percent of journey-level wages. In six months, their pay is raised to $22.98 per hour, which is 50 percent of what journey-level workers earn. Apprentices with UA Local 290 receive raises approximately every six months, as they complete specified hours of training and school. During the last six months, they earn 90 percent of journey-level wages, or $41.36 per hour.

A sheet metal apprentice in Arizona starts at $16.31 an hour, which is 55 percent of journey-level wages. Their six-month raise is 57 percent of journey wages, or $16.90 an hour. By the end of their third year of apprenticeship, workers begin receiving $20.76 per hour, which is 70 percent of journey-level earnings. They finish in five years at $25.50 an hour and are then eligible to seek entry-level jobs at the full journey-level rate of $29.75 an hour, as well as full benefits.

HVAC Apprentice Salaries By Region

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) reported that the average annual wage for experienced HVAC technicians nationwide was $50,160. Based on the analysis above, entry-level apprentices nationwide would earn an average of half that amount ($25,080 annually). The median wage for HVAC techs was $47,610.

Average and median salaries can vary widely from state to state and even within the regions of a state. Because of that, apprentice earnings will vary in proportion to the lowest and highest wages in the areas in which they are working. The following table shows the average and median salaries in the highest-paying states (BLS Dec. 2019):

Average Annual Salary of HVAC Professionals Annual Median Salary of HVAC Professionals
Alaska $66,290 $66,760
Connecticut $64,180 $62,270
Hawaii $61,670 $60,070
Massachusetts $59,890 $58,800
New York $59,780 $57,820

The highest-paying metropolitan areas are not necessarily in the highest-paying states, as shown below:

Average Annual Salary of HVAC Professionals
Barnstable Town, MA $72,720
Springfield, IL $72,620
Mt Vernon-Anacortes, WA $71,680
Peoria, IL $71,090
Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI $69,330

The highest-paying nonmetropolitan areas are:

Average Annual Salary of HVAC Professionals
Alaska nonmetropolitan area $64,820
Connecticut nonmetropolitan area $64,820
Nevada nonmetropolitan area $56,640
Western Washington nonmetropolitan area $55,410
Northwestern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area $54,710

The lowest-paying states include:

Average Annual Salary of HVAC Professionals Annual Median Salary of HVAC Professionals
Arkansas $40,270 $39.300
Mississippi $40,890 $38,840
Alabama $41,020 $39,730
West Virginia $41,220 $37,630
Georgia $41,940 $40,490

Calculating 50 percent of the average salaries for experienced technicians in the above tables yields entry-level wages for apprentices in each area. For example, experienced HVAC technicians in the Barnstable, MA area earn an annual average salary of $72,720. An entry-level apprentice there generally will earn half as much ($36,369 annually). Experienced HVAC technicians in Georgia average $41,940 annually. An entry-level apprentice in that state will only earn $20,970 annually.

ZipRecruiter (Dec. 2019) includes a table of salaries by state, which shows the following states as having the highest pay for HVAC apprentices: New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maryland. Their statistics vary slightly from those of the BLS partly because the ZipRecruiter statistics are newer. Their statistics also reflect job postings, whereas the BLS numbers are based on data collected from employers.

The climate in the region in which the apprentice lives and works also affects the direction the training will take and the pay scale. For example, an apprentice living where winters are bitterly cold and snowy will receive training that focuses on heating. Those living in desert climates will need to know more about cooling, and those in humid areas have to understand ventilation. Any adverse weather will also affect earnings, especially in emergency situations where overtime pay may be available.

HVAC Apprentice Salaries By Experience

Statistics from ZipRecruiter (Dec. 2019) indicate that the average salary for HVAC apprentices nationwide is $31,929 a year. They report a range of $27,000 to $34,000, and their percentile calculations indicate that most technicians must work for several years before they see significant advancement or pay raises.

The value of gaining experience is further confirmed by PayScale (Dec. 2019), which relies on self-reported statistics from technicians. Their statistics show that entry-level technicians tend to earn 29 percent less than experienced workers. Technicians who are mid-career earn 3 percent more than average wages. And technicians who have many years of experience can earn 30 percent more than average.

According to PayScale, HVAC service technicians earn $21.04 hourly on average, or $51,497 annually. That’s based on 8,669 technicians reporting as of November 2019. Entry-level technicians earned an average of $14.93 per hour, or $38,814 annually, based on 1,189 technicians reporting as of October 2019.

HVAC Apprentice Skills & Specialties

Salaries for HVAC technicians nationwide can also vary according to their specialties. Although all apprentices begin with the basic principles of climate control, they typically choose a specialty before their training is complete. Specializations include areas of expertise, such as:

  • Air testing and balancing
  • Building automation
  • Designing HVAC systems
  • Ducting and other sheet metal skills
  • Estimator
  • Installing solar or other alternative energy systems
  • Installing traditional systems
  • Instruction or education
  • Project management
  • Sales representative for equipment and supply vendors
  • Servicing, repairing, or maintaining traditional systems
  • Servicing, repairing, or maintaining solar or other alternative energy systems

Additionally, technicians may choose to work only on residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional systems. Each area of expertise will affect earnings while working as an apprentice as well as throughout the technician’s career. Obtaining advanced certifications in the areas of choice can also increase earnings potential. Some certifications are available to entry-level apprentices, and others require experience.

PayScale statistics include the skills that are most valuable. Technicians who are able to work on commercial systems and understand controls receive up to 13 percent higher pay rates than those without those skills. Troubleshooters earn 5 percent more than technicians without that ability. Other skills that can increase wages include expertise with system repair, technical services, and electronic troubleshooting. Apprentices who make sure to acquire those skills during their training can potentially earn more than other entry-level workers.

Overall, how much an HVAC apprentice makes varies widely. One of the factors mimics the real estate industry: the importance of location, location, location. As detailed above, workers in certain regions earn much more than their counterparts in other regions.

Specific skills affect earnings, too. The BLS ranks troubleshooting and electronic literacy as the most desirable skill sets. However, as noted above, technicians who can work on commercial systems and understand HVAC controls report higher earnings to PayScale.

Another factor is the apprentice’s personal preference for a specialty or opting to “do everything.” Some specialties, such as climate control systems in new structures, may result in periods of unemployment due to a lull in construction. Any factor that affects the employability and earnings of a journey-level technician will also affect an entry-level apprentice’s employability, initial earnings, and progress toward higher rates of pay.

Barry Franklin

Before co-founding Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, Barry Franklin was a VP at a Silicon Valley software company, and is an investor in and advisor for Impellia. Barry believes that education and lifelong learning are paramount. Barry met his wife at Carnegie Mellon University and they have two beautiful daughters. He also volunteers for various committees at his kids’ high school.

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