HVAC Training Schools in Chicago, Illinois – Degrees & Certifications

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There are few things that bring a community together quite like a harsh winter. And no one knows a harsh winter like the citizens of Chicago. With temperatures dipping below zero and an unimaginable cold wind blowing in from Lake Michigan, Chicago winters are the stuff of legend.

People who have never experienced the frigid reality cannot even begin to imagine what it would mean for your heating to malfunction. Chicago weather means that HVAC technicians will always be in demand in this city, ensuring that people stay warm in the winter and cool in the hot, humid midwest summers.

Mechanically-oriented individuals who are interested in a sustainable career path in the Chicago area might consider a career in HVAC. An HVAC professional works to maintain comfortable climates in both residential and commercial buildings. The right HVAC training program will teach students about repair, maintenance, and installation of HVAC systems. Postsecondary education in HVAC may be useful as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employers may be most interested in hiring those with formal education and/or apprenticeship experience.

HVAC technicians and installers in Chicago have varied responsibilities such as maintaining or repairing system components (for example humidifiers, motors, hermetic compressors, fans, filters, controls, water pumps, split systems, economizers, etc.), laying electrical pipes and wiring, calculating heat losses and loads, keeping detailed service records, brazing and soldering parts, engaging in training, being fluent in versatile system types, making recommendations to clients for improving the cost-effectiveness or energy-efficiency of systems, and performing all types of HVAC work to manufacturer specifications.

Furthermore, any HVAC professional who works with refrigerants must maintain active EPA Section 608 Certification, failing to do so is a violation of the law.

In reality, starting a new job in the HVAC field demands a thorough comprehension of the industry, an interest in the subject matter, and on-the-job training or another type of education. This guide covers accredited HVAC schools in Chicago, IL, as well as wage expectations in the industry, certification and licensure requirements, and other relevant information.

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Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Chicago

HVAC is a high-growth industry in Illinois and beyond. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) predicted a 4 percent increase in openings in this field nationwide between 2019 and 2029, which is as fast as the average for all occupations (4 percent).

There’s evidence that Illinois is predicted to need new technicians at a slightly slower rate. Projections Central (2020)—a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 2.2 percent increase in HVAC positions across Illinois between 2018 and 2028. That said, with the predicted 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession across the country.

The HVAC industry is growing for varied reasons. The primary reason is the increasing complexity of climate control systems and the need to replace, retrofit, or upgrade older systems. Industries based on technology, such as those driving the growth in Chicago, rely on sophisticated systems. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution is another factor leading to the installation of new equipment and systems. And finally, HVAC systems must be replaced every 10 to 15 years, requiring routine maintenance in the interim to continue functioning properly.

According to the BLS (2020), 7 percent of HVAC workers nationwide were self-employed, and 66 percent worked in the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contracting industry. The remainder was employed by institutions and in the retail and wholesale trades. Some of them work normal business hours, and others may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, or holidays, especially in the summer when demand for air conditioning and refrigeration services peaks.

Even a quick glance at job postings for this industry in Chicago makes clear the high demand for skilled HVAC workers in the area. A search for HVAC job postings in Chicago on Monster (Oct. 2020) produced 337 results, including opportunities with Emcor, Hollub Heating, Skilled Trades Services, and many other employers. A similar search on Indeed (Oct. 2020) yielded 311 results with employers such as Trane Technologies, White Castle, Sears Home Services, AMS Mechanical Systems, Building Service of America, CBRE, and many others. In short, there’s a projected wealth of job opportunities for HVAC professionals in Chicago.

HVAC Worker Salary in Chicago

According to the BLS (May 2019), HVAC professionals can earn a fairly high salary, especially compared to other careers requiring similar levels of education. It reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730 as of May 2019. Technicians in Chicago, IL received an annual median salary of $60,780.

The table below is a comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

The BLS (May 2019) reported the following salary figures in the Chicago area:

United States Illinois Chicago, IL
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 8,840 6,450
Average annual salary $51,420 $60,350 $63,360
10th percentile $30,610 $28,480 $28,140
25th percentile $37,660 $38,910 $40,560
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $57,250 $60,780
75th percentile $62,070 $80,400 $85,980
90th percentile $77,920 $99,540 $102,010

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (Oct. 2020), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $30,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,963
  • 90th percentile: $74,000

Lastly, it’s important to add that the cost of living in Illinois is significantly more affordable than a majority of U.S. states. As proof of point, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) reported that Illinois had the 9th lowest cost of living in the United States for 2020.

HVAC Apprenticeships in Chicago, IL

As in many of the construction trades, HVAC workers in the past took jobs as helpers and learned their craft through on-the-job training. Opportunities for finding work without prior training have significantly declined. Appropriate training is available by participating in an apprenticeship program or by attending classes. In addition to providing more employment opportunities, training potentially means higher beginning wages and greater career earnings.

Apprenticeship programs vary but typically require a three- to five-year commitment. All provide on-the-job training averaging 2,000 hours annually, and an average of 144 hours of classroom work each year.

Those who are not able to participate in a local apprenticeship program can find HVAC and HVAC/R programs through national industry associations such as:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc (ABC)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details are available on their websites.

HVAC Training Schools in Chicago, IL

Those planning to attend a school should first determine if the chosen school is accredited. Accreditation is the process by which an independent agency evaluates the curriculum and instructors presenting the program.

Two industry organizations provide accreditation for HVAC programs. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has provided accreditation to the following colleges in Illinois:

  • College of Lake County, Grayslake, IL
  • Elgin Community College, Elgin, IL
  • Illinois Central College, East Peoria, IL
  • John A. Logan College, Carterville, IL
  • Oakton Community College, Des Plaines, IL

And HVAC Excellence has accredited the following programs in Illinois:

  • HVAC Technical Institute, Chicago, IL
  • Midwest Technical Institute, Springfield, IL
  • Richland Community College, Decatur, IL
  • Waubonsee Community College, Sugar Grove, IL

Elgin Community College and College of Lake County are included in the schools profiled below, because of their accreditation, although attending would probably require students to temporarily relocate as they will have to commute.

HVAC Technical Institute

The HVAC Technical Institute, which was first established in 1994, is located in Chicago. The school offers courses in HVAC, HVAC/R, LCR, and Electrical topics. Graduates of the HVAC program will earn a certificate through both classroom and hands-on training.

The HVAC course outline involves the following seven modules:

  • Module 1: Electricity

Covering all aspects of electricity, this module includes parts such as AC & DC circuits, electrical circuit tracing, schematic reading, relays, motors, transformers, thermostats, gas valves, and switches

  • Module 2: Heating

Along with exploring all phases of heating, it also offers detailed overviews of forced air systems. Products include high-efficiency furnaces, condensing furnaces, and standing pilots

  • Module 3: Basic air conditioning

Students in this module will get an overview of the operation and theory of residential air conditioning. An in-depth explanation of electrical circuits will be covered along with recovery, vacuum pumps, charging, superheating, and troubleshooting

  • Module 4: Advanced air conditioning

The module prepares students for the EPA section 608 exam (refrigeration license) and the R-410A Safety Certification Exam

  • Module 5: Ventilation and installation

Covers ventilation (duct sizing and fabrication requirements) and installation procedures ( such as soldering, brazing, ductwork installation, and pipe threading)

  • Module 6: Hydronics

Both steam heating systems and hot water will be covered

  • Module 7: Career readiness

In this module, students will acquire tools that are needed to succeed in a competitive job market. It culminates in students conducting an exit interview with the job developer to discuss next steps in the employment process and outline a career strategy.

When students complete this HVAC certification course, they receive an R-410A safety certification and an EPA section 608 universal license. These certifications allow them to put their skills to work and build a career as soon as they leave the doors. HVAC Technical Institute’s hands-on training provides students with technical skills and knowledge necessary for repairing, maintaining, and servicing HVAC equipment. All in all, students get a rigorous understanding of the inner working of each HVAC system.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Accreditation: Commission of the Council of Occupational Education (COE); HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: Contact the school for a customized assessment
  • Estimated Tuition: $15,000

Elgin Community College

Just outside of Chicago is Elgin, Illinois, the home of Elgin Community College. This college offers an associate of applied science (AAS) degree program in HVAC and the following certificates:

  • Sheet Metal Mechanics – Vocational Specialist certificate (34.5 credit-hours)
  • Light Commercial HVAC Service Tech – Vocational Specialist certificate (38.5 credit-hours)
  • Residential HVAC Service Technician – Basic Vocational Specialist certificate (26.5 credit-hours)
  • Residential HVAC Systems – Basic Vocational Specialist certificate (12.5 credit-hours)
  • HVAC Facilities Maintenance Tech – Vocational Specialist certificate (46.5 credit-hours)
  • Refrigeration Service Technician – Basic Vocational Specialist certificate (18.5 credit-hours)

The AAS degree program is made up of 62.5 credit-hours. The curriculum includes courses such as air conditioning and refrigeration I and II, basic electricity and HVAC/R controls, basic heating gas/oil, basic sheet metal, refrigerant recovery certification, advanced heating hydronics/steam, blueprint reading for heating & AC, heat pumps & electrical heat, and commercial air conditioning, among others.

These programs will prepare students to pursue a high paying career in the HVAC industry. Students will be able to work in fields that provide a crucial service in both commercial and residential settings. They will gain practical knowledge and skills from faculty members who have years of experience in this industry. Well-equipped labs with the latest equipment, such as roof-top units and heat pumps, further help students in getting hands-on experience with actual systems.

  • Location: Elgin, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commision; PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (four semesters); sheet metal mechanics (two semesters); light commercial HVAC service tech (three semesters); residential HVAC service technician (two semesters); residential HVAC systems (one semester); HVAC facilities maintenance tech (four semesters); refrigeration service technician (one semester)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-district Resident ($132 per credit-hour); out-of-district resident ($297 per credit-hour); out-of-state ($396 credit-hour)

College of Lake County

In the Chicago suburb of Grayslake, Illinois students can study HVAC at the College of Lake County. The extensive HVAC department includes the following tracks:

  • HVAC/R Engineering Technology A.A.S. (63-67 credit-hours)
  • HVAC/R Installation Technician Certificate (18.5-20 credit-hours)
  • HVAC/R Service Technician Certificate (29 credit-hours)
  • Commercial Refrigeration Technician Certificate (14 credit-hours)
  • Electrical Troubleshooting Technician Certificate (14 credit-hours)
  • Residential Air Conditioning Technician Certificate (14 credit-hours)
  • Residential Energy Auditing Certificate (16 credit-hours)
  • Residential Heating Technician Certificate (14 credit-hours)

In addition, students can choose the FastTrack program, which takes only 16 weeks and prepares graduates to take the HVAC certification exam.

Sample some of the courses in the curriculum: basic refrigeration, HVACR electricity I and II, EPA certification, refrigeration II commercial appliances, HVAC/R load calculation, air conditioning split-systems, sheet metal fabrication, A/C III installation and service, and air movement and ventilation.

These programs provide students with instruction in HVAC/R and prepare them for employment in the HVAC industry. Students learn about electricity, the theory of refrigeration, electric motors, uses of air conditioning, air circulation, humidity and temperature control, and the installation and troubleshooting of equipment.

  • Location: Grayslake, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission; PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (four semesters); certificates (two semesters each)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-district ($122 to $125 per credit-hour); out-of-district ($314.50 to $322 per credit-hour)

Coyne College

Coyne College offers a diploma in heating, air conditioning & refrigeration. The program prepares students for basic, entry-level employment in the HVAC/R service industry. The essentials of the electrical and mechanical systems of contemporary HVAC/R systems are addressed throughout the program. This program prepares students to take the EPA 608 refrigeration certification exams. Students must note that laboratory work carried out in the might occasionally require stooping, lifting loads greater than 50 pounds, and climbing ladders.

Consisting 49 quarter credit-hours, the program includes courses such as introduction to mechanical refrigeration systems, introduction to electrical servicing, introduction to commercial controls, commercial controls and applications, gas heating, air conditioning, electric heat, and heat pumps, troubleshooting systems and installation, and essential workplace skills.

The program helps students acquire real-world skills and know-how, hands-on work experience, and they also benefit from individualized attention. They’ll learn about installing, troubleshooting, and servicing commercial and domestic systems. They can take up entry-level positions as a heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanic, installer, or service technician.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges(ACCSC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 42 weeks
  • Estimated Tuition: $14,956

Accreditation for HVAC Schools in Chicago

As mentioned above, program accreditation for HVAC schools in Chicago is available through HVAC Excellence or the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), the two main organizations offering HVAC accreditation. Because there is no licensure requirement for HVAC technicians in Chicago, accreditation is not essential. However, it is still a good idea to choose an accredited program because it indicates the high standards of the school and the education it offers.

The Higher Learning Commission provides institutional accreditation to schools in Illinois and many surrounding states. This commission looks at the institution as a whole, examining the overall quality of its education. Within Illinois, more than 200 postsecondary institutions are accredited through the HLC and about 20 of these are located within Chicago. Students will want to check to see if any of these accredited schools have HVAC programs.

Chicago, IL HVAC Certification & Licensing

There is no state licensure needed for HVAC work in Illinois, but this may be different in specific cities and municipalities within the state. While Chicago only requires licensure for fields such as electrical and plumbing, the requirements are different across the Indiana state line in East Chicago. There, an HVAC contractor’s license is required to perform HVAC work, with different licenses required for different types of work.

Graduates of HVAC schools in Chicago should be familiar with the licensing requirements that may be required when working or looking for employment in the HVAC field.

There are various types of HVAC certification available in Chicago. Eligibility will vary, but applicants will want to understand that the term “certificate” can be used to mean different things and that there is a difference between a postsecondary academic diploma or certificate, which may be awarded as a result of completing an HVAC program, and professional certification, which attests to proven skills or knowledge. Some of the professional certifications to consider are listed below.

  • HVAC Excellence, founded in 1994, has certifications available for students who have experience as technicians, and for educators. Its employment-ready certifications may be most appropriate for those nearing completion of a Chicago HVAC training program and are available in areas such as air conditioning, electrical, oil heat, and more.
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE), founded in 1997, offers three certification levels that include installation, service or senior level. These can be sought in fields such as air distribution, commercial refrigeration, and hydronics gas.
  • EPA 608 certification is required for those who want to work with refrigerants, which are environmentally regulated because of their impact on the ozone. Four different EPA certification types are available and some schools may specifically prepare students for these exams.

Typically, students have to take written exams to prove their skills, but sometimes a hands-on test may also be required. Some organizations, like the Esco Institute, offer materials to help students prepare for certifications and exams.

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith was introduced to the HVAC industry when she worked as a bookkeeper and secretary for a small air-conditioning contractor. She eventually became a CPA and started her own practice specializing in small business taxes and accounting. After retiring from business, she began writing articles for newspapers, magazines, and websites. She also authored four books. Sandra makes her home in the mountains with a rescue dog that naps on her lap as she writes.