HVAC Technician Career Information

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There is nothing that can ruin a cozy winter evening or a lazy summer afternoon faster than a climate control malfunction. When something goes wrong with the mechanisms that keep our environments comfortable, it needs to be addressed immediately by a skilled professional who can get things up and running fast. That is where an HVAC technician steps in.

An HVAC technician is someone who is trained in servicing, maintaining, and repairing HVAC systems in homes, office building, schools, and any other structure that features climate control. This means being able to repair many types of heating units, ventilation systems, and air conditioners on a large scale. An HVAC technician may be employed by a property management company, a general contractor, or may work independently as a small business owner.

No matter what the employment situation, most HVAC technicians will not always work regular hours, since there is no predicting when an essential system might break down. HVAC technicians not only need to be well-versed in the systems that they repair, they must also be able to work in uncomfortable conditions, particularly extreme temperatures, and to interface effectively with their customers. This means pleasant people skills along with the ability to explain concepts, repairs, and cost estimates to budget conscious consumers. For the right individual, HVAC technician can be a rewarding and sustainable long-term career.

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Career Outlook

The job market for an HVAC tech is quite good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for HVAC technicians and installers will grow by 21% over the next decade, which is a rate that is faster than that of an average occupation (BLS, 2012).

As the economy continues to strengthen, particularly in the construction sector, even more jobs may be created for HVAC technicians since they will be required to install, upgrade, and service the systems in new and renovated buildings. Furthermore, because HVAC systems generally must be replaced every 10 to 15 years, houses built during the housing boom at the beginning of the 2000s will soon need complete overhauls, which could create even more growth for the HVAC tech sector.

Finally, advancements in technology and an emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendly climate control solutions will likely lead to many older systems being upgraded or replaced entirely. This means that the market for HVAC techs who are freshly educated in these new technologies and ready to tackle more advanced projects will likely be in very high demand in the coming years.

HVAC Tech Salary Data

Salary is an important consideration for any career path and a well-trained HVAC technician should have no trouble earning a living in virtually any part of the country. The median HVAC technician salary in the U.S., as of 2012, is $43,640 per year, which calculates out to nearly $21 per hour (BLS, 2012).

With more experience, salaries and hourly rates can climb quickly. The highest earners in the HVAC technician profession can take home more than $68,000 annually, which is well above the average.

Of course, an HVAC technician starting salary is generally lower than the overall average, since new technicians are inexperienced. The lowest pay ranges for HVAC technicians sit around $27,000 per year.

Geographical considerations are also relevant here since cost of living can have an impact on an HVAC tech salary. A technician in a state where the cost of living is lower than average will likely earn a smaller salary. The median hourly rate for an HVAC technician in Arkansas, for instance, is only $17.17 per hour, or $35,700 per year.

After gaining experience and hands on training as an HVAC technician, it is possible to earn further certifications, which can push salaries higher as well. Technicians with experience working with greener systems, and with new technology including computerized HVAC systems can command a higher rate that those with only the most basic skills.

While salary can be dependent on a great many factors and is never guaranteed, the average salary for an HVAC technician in the U.S. should be a contributing factor when considering this career path.

Job Requirements – Education & Experience

The proper education is essential in order to be a successful HVAC technician. Whereas it was once usual for an HVAC technician to start on-the-job training immediately after high school, most technicians these days move from high school to a post-secondary program where they can learn the basics of HVAC installation and repair. Often, these HVAC education programs are available at local community colleges or trade schools and can last anywhere from 6 months to two years, depending on whether the goal is a certificate or an associate’s degree. In order to apply and attend, prospective students must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Anyone with a goal to be an HVAC technician can begin to prepare in high school by succeeding in math courses and taking classes in physics, electronics, and shop.

For those that do not wish to go the route of formal education, there are also still some apprenticeship programs available. Generally, these positions also require a high school diploma, but they can also be a way to gain experience and knowledge while also earning a wage (although nothing comparable to what an experienced HVAC tech would make). A new apprentice must pass a basic math test along with a substance abuse screening. Apprenticeships last for 3 to 5 years, at the end of which the apprentice should have amassed 2,000 hours of hands-on experience and 144 hours of technical education.

No matter which path you choose, an HVAC technician’s education never truly ends. These professionals are constantly learning new skills and asked to test the limits of their knowledge with new systems on a regular basis.

Licensure & Certification

Licensing requirements for HVAC technicians varies widely from state to state. In some states, no official license is necessary in order to work with HVAC systems, while other states require passing a licensing exam. Any HVAC technician planning to work in a new state should be sure to check on the local laws governing HVAC installation and construction contractors in their area.

As an HVAC technician gains more experience in a specific field, he or she may want to take exams in order become certified in certain types of systems or scenarios. For instance, there are specialized exams for different types of furnaces, and for environmentally sound HVAC practices, through the government’s Energy Star program.

Certifications in different specialties can open up possibilities for different types of jobs. Many clients are willing to pay more for those HVAC techs with more specialized knowledge. Furthermore, those that are able to demonstrate mastery will likely be able to start their own businesses and join the 9% of self-employed HVAC technicians more easily. (BLS, 2012).

It is also worth noting that any HVAC technician who will work with refrigerants must have an EPA certification in handling these toxic substances. Obviously many refrigeration systems and air conditioners use refrigerants, so this licensing is required in every state.