HVAC Installer Career – Education, Certification & Salary

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When people imagine constructing their dream home, most dream of spacious kitchens or meticulously landscaped yards perfect for backyard barbecues and pool parties. Whether people prefer smaller cottages in a walkable neighborhood or a larger home surrounded by several acres of land, everyone wants a home in which they can live at a comfortable temperature.

Of course, the quest for the perfect temperature is not only for residential buildings, but also for offices, restaurants, and warehouses. No matter the structure, wherever people are living, working, and congregating together, there will be a need for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). Whenever a new building goes up or an old one undergoes remodeling, HVAC climate control technology is a major factor in all construction sectors.

The responsibility to make buildings safe, sturdy, and comfortable is shared by architects, engineers, and vocational tradespeople alike and HVAC installers play an essential role. Typically working alongside an HVAC engineer for new construction projects, an HVAC installer will plan and build the ventilation system for the building to the project’s specifications. HVAC installers have to take into consideration efficiency, costs, and mechanical sustainability in these projects.

While the ebbs and flows of the construction industry mean that demand for HVAC installers can also fluctuate, the overall occupational outlook for this profession is positive.

Read on to learn more about the career of an HVAC installer and how to join this thriving field.

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What Does an HVAC Installer Do?

An HVAC Installer works with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, primarily installing new systems in homes and offices. These systems are the key to keeping buildings hot in cold weather and cool in the warm summer months, which means they are integral to people’s happiness and comfort.

Additionally, some HVAC installers may also work as HVAC technicians, troubleshooting and repairing systems that are not functioning correctly.

A career as an HVAC installer can be a great choice for someone who is self-motivated and wants to learn more about the construction and HVAC industries overall. Indeed, installation projects are the jumping-off point for many experienced HVAC technicians, who go on to work in the service end of things, making maintenance and repair calls.

As newer and greener technologies are developed for heating and cooling efficiently, HVAC installers will find themselves tasked with performing even more complex and demanding jobs for new construction projects and renovated buildings.

Career Outlook for HVAC Installers

The future for HVAC installers is bright. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 394,100 jobs for HVAC installers and mechanics in 2021 (BLS 2022). The demand for highly trained HVAC professionals is expected to grow 5 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is on par with the 5 percent national average anticipated for all occupations. In fact, this growth statistic translates into an estimated 20,200 jobs for HVAC installers and mechanics around the country in the coming decade.

The BLS tracks data for HVAC installers and HVAC mechanics (who typically assist more with service and maintenance) together, but the growth projections are likely to be similar for both positions.

It is also important to note that new HVAC systems are becoming even more advanced, with many based on cutting-edge computer technology, which was not available in previous years. This means that HVAC installers with computer expertise, who can adapt to new advancements and commit to learning new technical skills, will continue to be in high demand.

HVAC installers, who have a career focus on installing new units rather than repairing them, often work on construction sites or renovation projects. HVAC installation jobs are somewhat more appealing since these professionals will not be required to fix the heat in the dead of winter, for example. However, this also means that the job outlook for HVAC installers is more dependent on the economy’s whims. When construction projects are slow in leaner times, there will be less demand for HVAC installation, though the need for HVAC repair generally remains the same.

HVAC Installer Job Requirements

Because installing HVAC equipment is a highly technical process, specialized training is necessary. HVAC installers typically prepare for their careers through one of these two pathways: post-secondary education or apprenticeship.

Many technical colleges and community colleges offer HVAC installer courses. This type of training can be massively helpful in securing an entry-level HVAC installer position. In order to attend one of these programs, applicants must earn a high school diploma or GED. High school students aspiring to become HVAC installers should take courses in math, wood and metalworking, and physics. HVAC installer classroom programs can last anywhere from six months to two years and can lead to an HVAC certification or an associate’s degree.

Those who choose not to pursue post-secondary courses can still train as an HVAC installer by securing an apprenticeship. While this was once the industry standard for training, apprenticeships are now more difficult to find, with most new HVAC installers opting for the vocational educational training route.

To become an HVAC installer apprentice, a person must be at least 18 years old and also must have a high school diploma or equivalent. The applicant typically must pass a basic math test as well as a substance abuse screening and have a valid driver’s license. HVAC installer apprentice programs tend to last between three and five years, at the end of which the apprentice will have completed 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of technical education work. More details about the steps necessary to enter the HVAC installer profession are available below.

How Much Do HVAC Installers Make?

As with any occupation, an HVAC installer’s salary can vary greatly from state to state, as well as depending on the installer’s experience and training. The most current data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average hourly rate at $26.29, which comes out to an annual salary (annual mean wage) of $54,690 (BLS May 2021).

The BLS (May 2021) reported the following salary figures:

United States
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 356,960
Annual mean wage $54,690
10th Percentile $34,320
25th Percentile $38,450
50th Percentile (Median) $48,630
75th Percentile $62,000
90th Percentile $78,210

Another source, Indeed (2022), stated that HVAC workers in the United States make $70,778 per year on average. Also, Salary.com found that HVAC mechanics made an average of $58,803 annually as of September 2022.

The national figures were a bit different according to another source of data, PayScale (2022), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the United States:

  • 10th percentile: $48,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,500
  • 90th percentile: $78,000

Also, keep in mind that location can play a large role in salary ranges for this type of occupation. States that have more extreme temperatures and robust construction industries coupled with a higher cost of living generally offer the highest salaries for HVAC installers, as the skill is quite invaluable in these climates. For instance, occupational employment statistics from the BLS states the average annual salary for an HVAC installer in the District of Columbia is $70,130 (BLS May 2021).

At the other end of the spectrum are states with a lower cost of living, such as West Virginia, where HVAC installers make an average salary of $44,920 (BLS May 2021). Regional and state-specific cost of living data is an important factor to consider when researching employment opportunities and more information can be found at the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2022).

HVAC installers with more experience will likely have opportunities to earn higher wages and work as supervisors, or as small business owners who can make a higher percentage of profits on each installation job. An HVAC installer in training will be paid less than the professional doing the training, but the on-the-job experience will ultimately work in his or her favor.

Steps to Become an HVAC Installer

While it’s true that there are specific career pathways to becoming HVAC installers, the following steps exemplify a common career trajectory for entering the HVAC installer career.

Step 1: Earn a high school diploma or GED (four years)

Although there are no specific educational requirements, legally speaking, to become an HVAC installer, ONet Online (2022) indicates that more than 80 percent of HVAC professionals have at least a high school diploma or GED. Students should be sure to excel in math and science courses and if available should pursue vocational job-shadowing opportunities in the HVAC industry.

Step 2, option A: Pursue post-secondary training (two to four years)

After high school, many prospective HVAC installers choose to enroll in a post-secondary training program. These programs typically cover all HVAC technician roles, including installation.

For example:

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College offers an associate of applied science (AAS) degree and a technical diploma in HVAC/R technology preparing students for developing, starting, servicing, repairing, and troubleshooting HVAC/R systems. Students will also be prepared for the EPA Refrigerant Handling Exam and will be able to earn certifications such as OSHA 10, CPR, and AED.

Admission requirements for the program include a completed application, high school transcript or equivalent, high school algebra or equivalent, and a cumulative high school or college grade point average of 2.6 or higher.

The AAS degree is made up of 65 credits, while the diploma comprises 53 credits. All credits from the technical diploma may be applied toward the associate degree. Sample some of the courses in the curriculum: HVAC/R refrigeration fund; HVAC/R electrical fundamentals; HVAC/R heating fundamentals; HVAC/R control circuits; HVAC/R systems service; HVAC/R design applications; and HVAC/R heating systems, among others.

Graduates from this program are prepared to begin careers in HVAC/R (refrigeration) as mechanical contractors, technicians, wholesale service representatives, commercial systems technicians, and industrial and residential systems technicians.

  • Location: Green Bay, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: AAS ($11,568); diploma ($9,637)

University of Northwestern Ohio

UNOH offers an associate’s degree and a diploma program in HVAC/R technology. Combining classroom lectures with hands-on training in labs, these programs prepare students for entry-level positions in the HVAC/R industry by providing them with the necessary skills currently applicable to the industry.

The diploma consists of 61 credits, while the AAS degree comprises 88 credit-hours. As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as electronics and electrical; heat pumps; HVAC/R systems and controls; services and procedures; digital documents & spreadsheets; and customer relations automated management.

  • Location: Lima, OH
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; PAHRA; and Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Diploma (16 months); AAS (20 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,700 per six-week session

Although the vast majority of HVAC programs are two-year associate degree programs, there are some bachelor’s degree programs in the United States such as:

Ferris State University

Students in the FSU bachelor of science in HVAC/R program are prepared with solid theoretical knowledge as well as extensive laboratory experience. The four-year degree builds on the coursework from the two-year associate degree in applied science degree in HVAC/R technology offering students the option of graduating with a two- or four-year degree in HVAC/R technology.

The BS degree program consists of 124 credit-hours including courses such as HVAC hydronic system select design; control theory and application; load analysis & energy modeling; direct digital control; commercial HVAC system design; and contracting issues in HVAC/R.

Graduates will be able to design industrial and commercial HVAC systems, program control sequences for specific HVAC systems, perform energy audits, and develop specs, estimates, economic cost analysis, and codes and standards.

  • Location: Big Rapids, MI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $467 to $505 per credit

Step 2, option B: Complete an apprenticeship (two to five years)

HVAC installers who want to join a labor union or who are ready to dedicate more years to hands-on training may choose to apply for an apprenticeship program in HVAC.

For example, the Local Union 25 in Rock Island, Illinois offers a highly selective five-year HVAC apprenticeship which consists of 10,000 hours of hands-on training and 1,250 hours of classroom training. During this time, apprentices are paid a percentage of a fully trained technician’s salary. This program is registered through the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training and the U.S. Department of Labor and upon completion of this program, apprentices earn journeyperson status.

Step 3: Obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification (timeline varies)

All HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants must earn the EPA section 608 certification. Section 608 training and certification are typically included in most HVAC training programs, but it is essential that HVAC installers earn this certification before beginning work.

There are four types of certifications: specializations in servicing small appliances (type I), servicing or disposing of high-pressure appliances (type II), servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances (type III), and servicing all types of equipment (universal). It is worth noting that HVAC apprentices are exempt from EPA certification requirements so long as their work is closely and continuously supervised by a certified technician.

Step 4: Apply for state or local licensure (timeline varies)

Depending on the region where an HVAC installer works, state or local licensing in HVAC may be required before starting work. More details about licensing are available in the next section.

Step 5: Pursue further certifications (optional; timeline varies)

Further professional prospects may be available to HVAC installers who choose to pursue certification beyond what is required. These certifications are available from organizations like ESCO Group. This organization offers “stackable” progressive levels of certification in a pyramid model making certification accessible for professionals who are at different stages of their careers and certification levels. The base of the stackable certification pyramid begins with EPA certifications and the top-level certification offered is certified master HVAC/R educator.

For a full list of available certifications, check out the main HVAC certifications page.

Licensure & Certification of HVAC Installers

For HVAC installers, licensing requirements vary from state to state. In some areas, it is necessary to complete a licensing exam before any HVAC work can be performed.

For instance, in Texas, the Texas Department of Licenses and Regulations (TDLR) states that an HVAC installer seeking licensure must have at least 48 months of practical experience in air-conditioning and refrigeration-related work under the supervision of a licensed air conditioning and refrigeration contractor or have held a technician certification for the past 12 months, plus at least 36 months of practical experience in the 48 months before application.

After submitting an application and proof of qualifications, an applicant can be approved to take the licensing exam. Therefore, it is possible to work in HVAC installation without a license, as long as the overall project is properly licensed and installers are supervised. Anyone planning to engage in work as an HVAC installer should look up the specifics of licensing laws in the states where they reside or work.

Even in states where no explicit licensing requirements are on the books, it can be very helpful for HVAC installers to take professional examinations to prove their fitness for the job. Some specialized exams, which are offered throughout the country, allow HVAC installers to demonstrate specialized knowledge, such as experience working with oil-burning furnaces. Other examinations are more general and demonstrate overall competence.

The more an HVAC installer can prove his or her experience and depth of knowledge, the more likely they are to get jobs that pay well, earn the trust of their clients, and grow a reputable following through client referrals.

To discover the regional certification requirements in specific states and cities, check out the guide to HVAC schools by state.

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).

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