HVAC Installer Career Info

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Imagine that you are building your dream home. While some people may prefer a kitchen island and some a swimming pool, everyone will want a home that is able to maintain a comfortable temperature. Of course, this is true not only for residential buildings, but also for offices, restaurants, and warehouses. Whenever a new building goes up, climate control comes into play.

The teams that work to make buildings safe, sturdy, and comfortable is a large one and the HVAC installer plays a pivotal role. Typically working alongside an HVAC engineer for new construction projects, the HVAC installer will plan and build the ventilation system for the building to the project’s specifications. HVAC installers will have to take into consideration efficiency, costs, and often sustainability in these projects.

While the fluctuation of the construction industry means that demand for HVAC installers can also fluctuate, current demand and the overall outlook for this profession looks good. Keep reading to learn more about what an HVAC installer does and how to join this growing 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 keep building hot in cold weather and cool in the warm summer months, meaning they are often the key to 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 new, greener technologies are developed for heating and cooling efficiently, HVAC installers will find themselves tasked with performing even more complex and demanding jobs for both new and renovated buildings.

Career Outlook

The future for HVAC installers is bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 332,900 jobs for HVAC installers and mechanics in 2017 (BLS 2017). The demand for these highly trained individuals is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average for all positions (just 7 percent). This means there are expected to be an additional 48,800 jobs for HVAC installers and mechanics in the next 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 the two positions.

It is also important to note that new HVAC systems are becoming even more advanced, with many based on computer technology that was not available in the past. This means that HVAC installers with computer expertise, who can adapt to new advancements 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. This can make the job 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. When construction projects slow in leaner time, 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. The two main paths that people follow into the career are generally 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 initial position. In order to attend one of these programs, a high school diploma or GED is necessary. It is also a good idea to begin training preparation in high school with classwork in math, shop, and physics. HVAC installer classroom programs can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years and may lead to either an HVAC certification or an associate’s degree.

Those that 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 classroom training route.

An HVAC installer apprentice must be at least 18 years old and also must have a high school diploma or equivalent. In order to be an apprentice, the applicant 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 3 and 5 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.

HVAC Installer Salary Data

As with any occupation, an HVAC installer 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) shows the average hourly rate at $23.81, which comes out to an annual salary of $49,530. The most qualified HVAC installers can make more than $75,000 per year, while the lower end of the pay scale sits near $29,000 annually.

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, the average annual wage for an HVAC installer in Alaska is $64,040. At the other end of the spectrum are states with a lower cost of living, such as West Virginia, where HVAC installers only make an average salary of $40,520 (BLS 2017).

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 on-the-job experience will ultimately work in his or her favor.

Steps to Become an HVAC Installer

People can and do take many different paths to ultimately become HVAC installers, but the following is one of the most common career trajectories for entering the career.

1. Earn a high school diploma or GED (4 years)

Although there are no specific educational requirements, legally speaking, to become an HVAC installer, ONet Online 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 courses and should enroll in vocational HVAC training where available.

2A. Pursue post-secondary training (option A, 2 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, Northwest Wisconsin Technical College offers a two-year associate of applied science degree in HVAC with courses in math, circuitry, and the fundamentals of HVAC systems.

Although the vast majority of HVAC programs are two-year associate degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs are also available from schools such as Ferris State University.

2B. Apply for apprenticeship opportunities (option B, 2 to 5 years)

Those HVAC installers that want to join a 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 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.

3. Obtain EPA Section 608 certification

All technicians who will work with refrigerants must earn the EPA section 608 certification. Section 608 training and certification is typically part of any HVAC training, but it is essential that HVAC installers earn this before beginning work.

4. Apply for state or local licensure

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

5. Pursue further certifications (optional)

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 HVAC Excellence.

Licensure & Certification

For HVAC installers, licensing requirements vary from state to state. In some areas, it is necessary to complete a licensing exam before you are able to do any HVAC work. For instance, in California an HVAC installer must have an HVAC license before he or she can work on their own. But in order qualify for that license, the installer must first work under the supervision of a licensed contractor for at least four years. Therefore, it is possible to work in HVAC installation without a license, as long as the overall project is properly licensed. Anyone planning to engage in work as an HVAC installer should be sure to look up the specifics of licensing laws in that state.

Even in states where no explicit licensing requirements are on the books, it can be very helpful for HVAC installers to take professional examinations in order to prove their fitness for the job. Some 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 can demonstrate overall competence. The more an HVAC installer is able to prove his or her experience and depth of knowledge, the more likely they are to get jobs that pay well and generate referrals.