HVAC Training Programs in Illinois

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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 & diagrams; calculating heat loads & 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 & 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 Services in IL

As mentioned in the introduction, the HVAC industry is currently booming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) projected a 15 percent increase in openings for HVAC professionals across the country between 2016 and 2026, more than double the average growth expected across all occupations during that time period, which is just 7 percent. This equates to 48,800 fresh opportunities in HVAC nationwide, and there is evidence that the prospects in Illinois nearly as bright. In fact, Projections Central (2017) reported that there would be a 12.7 percent increase in HVAC positions in Illinois between 2016 and 2026, resulting in 900 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 2017, around one in ten HVAC workers were self-employed, and 64 percent worked in the contracting industry (BLS 2017). 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 us abundant evidence that business is booming for Illinois HVAC workers. Indeed (Oct. 2018) had a healthy 869 job posts calling for HVAC workers in cities across IL, including openings at Repair Masters, Goodwin Tucker Group, UnityPoint Health, and Cahill Heating & Air Conditioning, to name a few. Additionally, Monster (Oct. 2018) had 61 posts with opportunities at Randstand, Illinois Wesleyan University, Underwriters Laboratories Inc., ModSpace, and others.

Illinois 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 (2017) found that the 307,060 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide boasted an annual average salary of $49,530. And in IL, people in the industry fared even better.

First, here were the detailed salary percentiles among HVAC workers across the country (BLS 2017):

United States (307,060 HVAC workers): $49,530 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $29,120
  • 25th percentile: $36,150
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,080
  • 75th percentile: $60,270
  • 90th percentile: $75,330

Here were the same figures expressed in hourly salaries:

US: $23.81/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $14.00/hr
  • 25th percentile: $17.38/hr
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.64/hr
  • 75th percentile: $28.98/hr
  • 90th percentile: $36.22/hr

Before jumping into the comparison with Illinois, it’s worth noting that these percentiles differed based on source of data. By illustration, Payscale (Oct. 2018)—a site relying on self-reported data—had 879 HVAC respondents with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 25th percentile: $36,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,402
  • 75th percentile: $56,000
  • 90th percentile: $71,000

Another 4,809 HVAC workers gave their hourly wages, resulting in the following figures (Payscale Oct. 2018):

  • 10th percentile: $13.00/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.00/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.26/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $24.00/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $30.00/hr.

As mentioned above, the HVAC workers in IL fared much better than people in this industry nationwide, regardless the source of data. In fact, the BLS (2017) reported that there were 7,680 HVAC mechanics and installers across IL with an average annual salary of $62,430, more than 30 percent higher than the national salary average in this occupation. Furthermore, Illinois is one of the cheaper states to live in across the country. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2018) found that the Prairie State was the twenty-third most affordable, boasting savings in housing and utilities relative to most of the country. Please keep this in mind while evaluating the following regional figures for HVAC workers.

According to the BLS (2017), here were the salary percentiles for HVAC professionals in Illinois:

Illinois (7,680 HVAC workers): $62,430 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $33,530
  • 25th percentile: $46,300
  • 50th percentile (median): $60,140
  • 75th percentile: $79,040
  • 90th percentile: $96,330

Here were the same figures expressed as hourly wages:

Illinois: $30.02/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $16.12/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $22.26/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $28.91/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $38.00/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $46.31/hr.

Lastly, these figures also varied by region within IL as well. While the Chicago metropolitan region employed the highest number of HVAC workers in the state, Peoria paid the highest average annual salary at $72,570, 16.2 percent higher than the average salary for these workers in IL. Here were the numbers of HVAC workers employed, mean salaries, and wage percentiles among the 15 BLS-designated regions across Illinois (2017):

Bloomington, IL (130 HVAC workers): $50,940 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,470
  • 25th percentile: $36,780
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,460
  • 75th percentile: $62,000
  • 90th percentile: $76,640

Carbondale-Marion, IL (number employed unreported): $44,420 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,040
  • 25th percentile: $31,510
  • 50th percentile (median): $38,360/li>
  • 75th percentile: $54,920
  • 90th percentile: $64,980

Champaign-Urbana, IL (140 employed): $52,320 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $18,440
  • 25th percentile: $33,860
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,630
  • 75th percentile: $78,640
  • 90th percentile: $94,990

Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, IL Metropolitan Division (3,920 employed): $65,230 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,690
  • 25th percentile: $51,240
  • 50th percentile (median): $62,960
  • 75th percentile: $80,850
  • 90th percentile: $98,850

Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (60,050 employed): $63,860 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,510
  • 25th percentile: $48,290
  • 50th percentile (median): $61,630
  • 75th percentile: $81,920
  • 90th percentile: $97,900

Decatur, IL (120 employed): $54,020 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $36,210
  • 25th percentile: $42,500
  • 50th percentile (median): $50,710
  • 75th percentile: $66,640
  • 90th percentile: $76,210

East Central Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (200 employed): $46,450 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,360
  • 25th percentile: $34,360
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,940
  • 75th percentile: $58,170
  • 90th percentile: $68,350

Elgin, IL Metropolitan Division (890 employed): $72,160 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $38,700
  • 25th percentile: $54,770
  • 50th percentile (median): $74,820
  • 75th percentile: $92,590
  • 90th percentile: $100,510

Kankakee, IL (120 employed): $56,500 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,740
  • 25th percentile: $44,770
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,190
  • 75th percentile: $64,920
  • 90th percentile: $80,000

Lake County-Kenosha County, IL-WI Metropolitan Division (690 employed): $59,290 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,510
  • 25th percentile: $46,310
  • 50th percentile (median): $58,230
  • 75th percentile: $68,070
  • 90th percentile: $90,920

Northwest Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (180 employed): $48,230 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,390
  • 25th percentile: $38,290
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,000
  • 75th percentile: $58,380
  • 90th percentile: $63,490

Peoria, IL (440 employed): $72,570 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $41,850
  • 25th percentile: $58,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $75,830
  • 75th percentile: $90,540
  • 90th percentile: $99,120

Rockford, IL (80 employed): $55,780 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,350
  • 25th percentile: $39,780
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,480
  • 75th percentile: $64,840
  • 90th percentile: $89,510

South Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (number employed unreported): $49,030 avg.

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  • 10th percentile: $30,390
  • 25th percentile: $42,540
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,940
  • 75th percentile: $56,840
  • 90th percentile: $62,310

Springfield, IL (190 employed): $57,170 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $26,790
  • 25th percentile: $30,980
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,000
  • 75th percentile: $81,690
  • 90th percentile: $99,330

West Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area (number employed unreported): $43,700 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $24,470
  • 25th percentile: $35,940
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,750
  • 75th percentile: $53,270
  • 90th percentile: $60,700

 

Accredited HVAC Schools in Illinois

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 2018, there are 10 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.

As of October 2018, there were five HVAC Excellence-accredited programs in IL. For example, the HVAC Technical Institute of Chicago is a unique, minority-owned trade school which opened in 1994. 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 & advanced air conditioning; ventilation & installation; hydronics; and career readiness. This program costs $15,00 total, including tuition and fees.

The Midwest Technical Institute, with campuses in Springfield, Moline and East Peoria (as well as Springfield, Missouri), boasts HVAC Excellence accreditation. In its 36-week program, students receive 750 hours of training and 180 outside hours, gaining proficiency in basic electricity; air conditioning & heat pump service installation; gas & electric heat; and major appliance repair.

Richland Community College of Decatur provides an 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 & controls; and technical mathematics, among other courses. For those who do not want to commit to a degrre program, Richland also provides certificate options with specialization in refrigeration; commercial HVAC; and residential HVAC.

As of October 2018, there were also five PAHRA-accredited programs in IL. For instance, the College of Lake County in Grayslake has several programs, including an AAS in HVAC/R engineering technology and various 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 & ventilation; installation & service; and metal fabrication, among others. Programs cost $119 per credit hour for in-district students, $307 for out-of-district, and $415 for 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 & Certification in Illinois

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 & 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 & 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.