HVAC Training Programs in Illinois – Degrees, Certifications & Salaries

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The Prairie State has a continental climate marked by cold winters and hot humid summers, making it a thriving environment for climate control professionals.

In fact, Illinois (IL) not only has a high demand for workers in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R), but it also boasts a wealth of professional organizations that support men and women in this line of work. By illustration, the Illinois Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association has been around for more than 120 years, striving to “protect the environment, health, welfare, and safety of the residents of Illinois.” The group provides legal representation with government regulatory agencies, networking events, educational training, scholarships, federated insurance, business discounts, and many other resources. The PHCC also has a Southwestern IL chapter, which exists among other professional HVAC contractors associations in the state.

HVAC workers in the Land of Lincoln and beyond take on varied responsibilities such as reading blueprints and diagrams; calculating heat loads and losses; installing, repairing, troubleshooting and maintaining HVAC components (e.g., refrigeration circuits, controls, hermetic compressors, heat pumps, split systems, package units, electric motors, relays, starters, water pumps, intake and exhaust fans, economizers, humidifiers, etc); keeping detailed client service records, vendor packing slips, and other paperwork; and offering customers recommendations on increasing energy efficiency of their HVAC systems.

Some of these skilled professionals focus on one type of equipment, manufacturer, or method, while others choose to become generalist technicians with more broad-based training and abilities. Regardless of one’s chosen path, all workers nationwide who handle refrigerants must achieve the EPA Section 608 certification, which is discussed in the last section of this guide.

This piece examines the thriving employment climate for HVAC workers in Illinois and nationwide, as well as the accredited training programs, salary potential, and credentialing requirements within the state.

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Demand for HVAC Workers in Illinois

As mentioned in the introduction, the HVAC industry is currently booming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) projected a 13 percent increase in openings for HVAC professionals across the country between 2018 and 2028, more than double the average growth expected across all occupations during that time period, which is just 5 percent. This equates to 46,300 fresh opportunities in HVAC nationwide.

There is evidence that the prospects in Illinois are nearly as bright. In fact, Projections Central (2020) reported that there would be a 13.1 percent increase in HVAC positions in Illinois between 2016 and 2026, resulting in 920 new jobs in the state.

There are various reasons for this explosion in opportunities for trained HVAC workers. Not only do maintenance and service contracts guarantee a steady stream of work, but HVAC systems also need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. In States like Illinois with marked temperature extremes during the winter and summer and in areas with high growth and rates of construction such as Chicago, the demand for HVAC services is strong. Additionally, old systems sometimes need to be retrofitted, particularly as legislation on environmental protection evolves. Furthermore, many businesses depend on climate-control systems and rely on the availability of skilled professionals to maintain all equipment and ensure it is in working order.

As of 2019, around one in ten HVAC workers were self-employed, and 64 percent worked in the contracting industry (BLS 2020). It is important to note that people in this profession experience a higher-than-average risk of injury compared to other occupations. This is due to the physical nature of the work, which can involve lifting heavy objects, changing out electrical wiring, and dealing with flammable substances. With the proper training and use of safety equipment, however, these problems can generally be kept to a minimum.

Some HVAC professionals in IL work normal business hours, but especially during the busy seasons, they may be called upon to work weekends, evenings, or holidays to meet the needs of clients.

There is abundant evidence that business is booming for Illinois HVAC workers. Indeed (2020) had a healthy 278 job posts calling for HVAC workers in cities across IL, including openings at Cahill Heating and Air Conditioning, Dependable Building Services, Inc., Williams Stoker and Heating Co., and Bratcher Heating and AIr, to name a few. Additionally, Monster (2020) had 348 posts with opportunities at Brines Refrigeration, Centurylink, Johnson Controls, Henkel, and Cybercoders, amongst others.

Illinois (IL) HVAC Technician Salary Data

Not only is the employment climate fertile for HVAC workers in Illinois, but it is also a relatively lucrative profession, especially for a job requiring only one to two years of postsecondary training. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) found that the 342,040 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide boasted an annual average salary of $51,420. The following chart examines how the salaries of the 8,840 HVAC technicians in Illinois compared to national averages (BLS May 2019)

United States Illinois
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 8,840
Average annual salary $51,420 $60,350
10th percentile $30,610 $28,480
25th percentile $37,660 $38,910
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $57,250
75th percentile $62,070 $80,400
90th percentile $77,920 $99,540

 

With the exception of those earning in the 10th percentile, the HVAC workers in IL fared much better than people in this industry nationwide. What makes this salary point particularly interesting is the fact that Illinois is one of the cheaper states to live in across the country. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that the Prairie State was the twentieth most affordable, with below-average costs for everything except for transportation

Accredited HVAC Schools in Illinois (IL)

Prior to joining this high-growth, high-paying industry in Illinois, it is important to get the proper training. There are currently two main organizations which approve HVAC programs and schools nationwide: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

As of May 2020, there were ten HVAC schools in IL with accreditation from one of these two entities. To learn more about how institutions and programs are approved, please visit the websites for each organization or the main HVAC schools page for a breakdown of criteria.

The HVAC Technical Institute is a unique, minority-owned trade school which opened in 1994. The Institute offers a 433-hour, seven-module HVAC course; a 649-hour, 12-module HVAC/R course; and a 216-hour, four-module light commercial refrigeration (LCR) course (designed for current HVAC technicians).

With an emphasis on guided, hands-on learning, the facility comprises 7,500 square-feet of offices and classrooms, as well as over 10,000 square-feet of lab space. In its certificate program, students receive preparation for the aforementioned EPA Section 608 certification and the R-410A safety certification, as well as training in electricity; heating; basic and advanced air conditioning; ventilation and installation; hydronics; and career readiness.

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Duration: Up to 48 weeks, (depending on the program, and full- or part-time status)
  • Tuition: $15,000 (HVAC/R), $10,500 (HVAC), $4,500 (LCR)

The Midwest Technical Institute offers a 28-credit-hour HVAC/R and major appliance repair program (HVAC/R-MAR). In its 35-week program, students receive 735 hours of training and 185 outside hours, with courses offered in the daytime or evening hours. Students gain proficiency in basic electricity; air conditioning and heat pump service installation; gas and electric heat; and major appliance repair. The program prepares students for EPA section 608 certifications type I and type II.

  • Location: Springfield, Moline, and East Peoria, Illinois, and Springfield, Missouri.
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Duration: 35 weeks
  • Tuition: $15,500 for the program

Richland Community College provides a 61-credit-hour associate of applied science (AAS) degree in HVAC/R with instruction in occupational safety; refrigeration fundamentals; electricity fundamentals; control applications; troubleshooting air conditioning systems; motors and controls; and technical mathematics, among other courses.

For those who do not want to commit to a degree program, Richland also provides a 21-credit HVAC residential installer certificate; a 33-credit commercial HVAC certificate; and 30 credit-hour residential HVAC certificate.

  • Location: Decatur, Illinois
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $153 per credit-hour (in-district); $207 per credit-hour (out-of-district); $479 per credit-hour (out-of-state)

Kaskaskia College offers a 65-credit-hour associate of applied science (AAS) and a 29-credit-hour career and technical certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Coursework in both programs includes concepts of basic refrigeration, environmental control mechanisms, heat pump systems, and HVAC blueprint reading. While both programs prepare students to install, service, and repair residential or commercial refrigeration systems, the AAS program may be more appropriate for those who see themselves in management or self-owned HVAC businesses.

  • Location: Springfield, Moline, and East Peoria, Illinois, and Springfield, Missouri.
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $13,506 (AAS); $6,215 (Certificate)

Waubonsee Community College offers a 60-credit associate in applied science (AAS) and 20-credit certificate of achievement in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Coursework in both programs includes HVAC/R electrical systems, basic sheet metal fabrication and print reading, refrigerant EPA certification and HVAC safety, and residential heating systems. Students enrolled in the certificate program will be qualified to work on residential systems, while those who graduate from the AAS program will be qualified to work on residential or commercial systems.

  • Location: Sugar Grove, Aurora, and Plano, Illinois
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $132 per credit-hour (in-district); $378 (out-of-district); $411.82 (out-of-state)

As of May 2020, there were also five PAHRA-accredited programs in Illinois:

College of Lake County has several programs, including an 63- to 67-credit-hour associate of applied science (AAS) in HVAC/R engineering technology and various 14- to 29-credit specialized certificates (e.g., installation technician, service technician, commercial refrigeration, residential heating, residential energy auditing, etc).

In its AAS program, students complete courses such as blueprint reading; refrigeration (commercial appliances); air movement and ventilation; installation and service; and metal fabrication, among others. Students graduating from the AAS and certificate programs at the College of Lake Country will be prepared to sit for a national exit exam. Those who pass will be placed on an Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute national registry which is given to HVAC employers.

  • Location: Grayslake, Illinois
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $125 per credit-hour (in-district); $322 (out-of-district); $436 (out-of-state)

Elgin Community College offers an 62.5-credit associate of applied science (AAS) in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR); three vocational specialist certificates in sheet metal mechanics (34.5 credit-hours), light commercial HVAC service (38.5 credit-hours), and HVAC facilities maintenance (46.5 credit-hours); and three basic vocational specialist certificates in residential HVAC service (26.5 credit-hours), residential HVAC systems (12.5 credit-hours), and refrigeration service (18.5 credit-hours).

Coursework in the various programs include load calculations and duct systems design, codes and standards, blueprint reading for heating and AC, and survey of renewable energy systems.

  • Location: Elgin, Illinois
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $132 per credit-hour (in-district); $297 (out-of-district); $396 (out-of-state)

Illinois Central College offers two pathways for students to break into HVAC. The fastest career pathway is the 16-credit-hour HVAC residential installer certificate program. Then, if there is interest in continuing study, students can add an additional 12 credit-hours to earn the 28-credit-hour HVAC technician certificate.

While students will be prepared to sit for EPA section 608 certification and two HVAC Excellence exams at the end of the first course of study, the second course adds additional preparation for a third HVAC Excellence employment-ready exam.

And if the student is interested in more education, they can add 41 credit-hours by enrolling in the 69-credit-hour associate of applied science (AAS) in HVAC/R technology. The AAS prepares students to sit for the four-part HVAC Excellence system performance certification.

  • Location: East Peoria, Illinois
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $155 per credit-hour (in-district); $330 (out-of-district); $390 (out-of-state)

John A. Logan College offers a 70-credit-hour associate of applied science (AAS) in heating and air conditioning and a 46-credit certificate of achievement in heating and air conditioning. Both programs give students the option to complete a one- to three-credit internship. In lieu of the internship at the end of the certificate program, students can also choose to take a college success and career planning course.

Students enrolled in this program will need to provide their own basic toolkit by the fifth week of the first semester. Coursework includes basic sheet metal layout, construction document interpretation, advanced controls and circuitry, and oxy-acetylene fusion welding.

  • Location: Carterville, Illinois
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $125 per credit-hour (in-district); $173 (out-of-district); $209 (out-of-state)

Oakton Community College offers a 60-credit associate in applied science (AAS) of air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology (HVAC/R), and four certificate programs, including a 32-credit commercial buildings energy systems certificate, a 35-credit residential comfort control certificate, a 25-credit residential comfort systems installer certificate, and a 17-credit stationary engineer license preparation course.

Coursework across the programs includes residential hot water boilers and hydronics technology, an introduction to electricity and automatic controls, sheet metal layout and fabrication, heating and air conditioning load calculations, and energy management and DDC controls. All programs prepare students to sit for the EPA Section 608 certification exam (except for the stationary engineer license prep course).

  • Location: Des Plains, Illinois
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Duration: Two years (AAS)
  • Tuition: $136.25 per credit-hour (in-district); $367 (out-of-district); $439 (out-of-state)

Lastly, while an on-campus program is convenient for students located close to accredited programs, those in more rural regions of IL may have difficulty attending a traditional brick-and-mortar institution. Fortunately, there’s also a wealth of distance-based training options available to residents of IL.

To learn more, check out the main online HVAC programs page.

HVAC Licensing and Certification in Illinois (IL)

In addition to seeking out the proper training, aspiring HVAC mechanics, technicians, and installers in IL also must receive the proper credentialing prior to beginning work. As previously mentioned, there is one mandatory national certification for all people who work with refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 certification. Training for this is typically provided in HVAC/R certificate and degree programs. There are four kinds:

  • Type 1 (small appliance)
  • Type 2 (high-pressure appliances)
  • Type 3 (low-pressure appliances)
  • Type 4 (universal)

Additionally, there are several organizations that offer employment-ready credentialing in this field. For example, HVAC Excellence has two main broad-based certifications: Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology (HEAT) and HEAT Plus. It also has various specialty certifications in areas such as green awareness, residential heat load analysis, and combustion analysis, to name a few.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) has several core and specialty certifications in areas such as light commercial refrigeration, hydronics (gas or oil), and oil heating, as well as industry competency exams (ICE).

To learn about the gamut of national certifications available, check out the HVAC certifications page.

Finally, while there is currently no state license required for HVAC workers in Illinois, local permitting and registration requirements vary:

  • For example, the City of Evanston requires all mechanical contractors (including HVAC workers) to seek a license from the city. To qualify, candidates must pass an open book exam on the International Mechanical and Fuel Gas Codes and pay $100. The Evanston license can be renewed annually.
  • The City of Elgin—notably a top-paying metropolitan region for HVAC professionals in IL—requires its warm air heating contractors to register with the city’s Department of Community Development. The qualifying exam takes three to four hours to complete, covering three main areas: duct design, venting and combustion air, and installation parameters. The exam costs $100, and for successful applicants, the registration fee is $25 annually.

In sum, all interested HVAC workers in IL and other states are strongly encouraged to check with local credentialing authorities prior to beginning any work in maintenance, installation, or repair of these systems.

Becca Brewer

Becca Brewer is building a better future on a thriving earth by fostering healing, human wholeness, and next-world building through storytelling help, one-on-one self-awareness workshops, and customized team-alignment sessions. She offers these services at a rate of $0.00 to anyone interested (contact her at rkbrewer@gmail.com for more information). Previously to her journey as an adventurer for a just, meaningful, and regenerative world, Becca was a formally trained sexuality educator with a master of education.