Steps to Becoming an AC Technician
As with any career, not every person who pursues the AC technician career will take exactly the same steps. Following is the most common path toward the job, including a few optional steps that will depend on personal preference and the availability of opportunities such as apprenticeships:
Step 1: Complete high school diploma or GED (four years). There are no strict educational prerequisites to becoming an AC technician in most cases, but the vast majority have earned at least a high school diploma or GED. High school students who are already interested in a career as an AC technician may even take vocational training courses during high school to have a head start upon graduation.
Step 2a: Enroll in a technical training program (two years). The majority of AC technicians also have some type of post-secondary education. Some examples include:
Los Angeles Trade-Tech College
Los Angeles Trade-Tech College (LATTC) offers an associate of science (AS) degree and a certificate of achievement in heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC), and refrigeration preparing students with the necessary skills and knowledge for a career in commercial, industrial, and residential repair and service of air conditioning, refrigeration, and heating systems. Students will also be prepared for certifications such as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) section 608 and North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
Made up of 48 credits, the certificate includes courses such as refrigeration fundamentals, indoor air quality, principles & practices of electrical circuits & controls, compression systems of refrigeration, and gas heating systems, among others.
The associate degree program comprises 60 to 69 credits, including coursework in applied calculations and measurements, pipe and tube joining processes, refrigeration electrical circuits & controls, refrigeration system components, applied refrigeration and air conditioning principles, and air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics.
A program like the LATTC option will prepare AC techs well for an entry-level position. Electrical controls, compressor installation & repair, and piping installation are just some of the skills that graduates would master during this program.
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College, Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (less than a year); AS degree (24 months)
- Estimated Tuition: California residents ($46 per unit); non-resident ($289 per unit)
Houston Community College
According to the BLS (May 2020), Houston, Texas has the fourth-highest (8,220) employment for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers. Houston Community College is well aware of this market and has created an AC technician program that offers the required skills and knowledge necessary for air conditioner repair and maintenance. Introducing students to new and emerging technologies, these programs allow students to efficiently operate systems.
The college offers one associate of applied science degree and two certificates HVAC/R for aspiring HVAC workers. The basic certificate is made up of 21 credits, while the advanced certificate comprises 42 credits. The AAS degree consists of 60 credits.
The curriculum includes courses such as electrical calculations, air conditioning control principles, refrigeration principles, residential air conditioning, gas & electric heating, advanced air conditioning controls, commercial air conditioning, and air conditioning troubleshooting to name a few.
All programs prepare students for the section 608 EPA recovery certification. Graduates of these programs will be able to service, maintain, repair, and troubleshoot almost every type of HVAC equipment, while also learning about safety and regulations rules surrounding this industry.
- Location: Houston, TX
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC)
- Expected Time to Completion: AAS (24 months); certificates (12 months each)
- Estimated Tuition: In-district ($84.50 per credit); out-of-district ($180.50 per credit); out-of-state ($227 per credit)
Mount San Antonio Community College
Mount San Antonio offers an AS degree and a certificate in air conditioning and refrigeration technology. Both programs combine classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab preparing students for a high-paying career in HVAC/R. This college is one of the very few in the US, whose HVAC programs have received accreditation from both PAHRA and HVAC Excellence.
Comprising 31.5 credits, the certificate program includes courses such as technical mathematics, AC codes and standards, welding, electrical fundamentals, refrigeration fundamentals, heat load calculations and design, gas heating, commercial systems, and air properties and management.
The degree program comprises 63.5 credits including all courses from the certificate with the addition of public speaking and freshman composition, art and humanities, science and math, social science, lifelong understanding, and electives.
Graduates will be able to take up positions in areas such as design, operations, manufacturing, sales, installation, distribution, repairs, controls, and maintenance.
- Location: Walnut, CA
- Accreditation: PAHRA; HVAC Excellence; Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (12 months); degree (24 months)
- Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit
Step 2b: Apply to an apprenticeship program (two to five years). Many AC technicians choose to go the apprenticeship route, gaining immediate hands-on, paid experience under the supervision of more experienced technicians.
Depending on the sponsoring organization, an apprenticeship can take up to five years to complete, during which apprentices earn a percentage of an experienced technician’s salary. In California, for example, the California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association sponsors a five-year, 8,000-hour apprenticeship program for air conditioning technicians.
While not every state will have the exact same program, most metropolitan areas have similar offices or unions that have apprenticeships for new technicians. The US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Finder has resources.
Step 3: Complete EPA Section 608 Certification. Anyone in the US who works with refrigerants must have the EPA Section 608 certification, which deals with the handling and disposal of these potentially harmful chemicals.
Many technical training programs and apprenticeships will have this certification built-in to the program, but prospective AC techs must verify this. If certification is not offered as part of their chosen program, they must pursue the certification on their own before entering the AC workforce. A full list of approved section 608 technician certification programs is available from the EPA.
Step 4: Obtain locally required licensure (timeline varies). Aside from the Section 608 certification, there are no nationally required licenses for AC technicians. That said, individual states and municipalities do have their requirements. Typically, obtaining this type of licensure will require proof of training and/or experience, an application fee, and often a competency exam.
Step 5: Pursue advanced certification (timeline varies). The AC technicians that wish to continue to develop their skills and professional advancement may choose to pursue certification through an organization such as HVAC Excellence or North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
Several industry organizations, such as Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), also provide training and certifications. These types of certifications are not required by law but can demonstrate advanced skills for those looking to progress in their careers.