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Hot summers with rain and thunderstorms and cold, snowy winters define Iowa’s weather. No wonder Iowans rely on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) and refrigeration (HVAC/R) for comfort. Two national trade organizations have Iowa (IA) chapters: the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Iowa Association (PHCCIA) and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Iowa (MCAI). These and other industry associations provide support and training for HVAC/R technicians.

HVAC/R technicians install, test, and service systems designed to control air quality and temperature. Their work takes them to commercial and residential job sites, where they use a variety of basic and specialized tools. Technicians know how to install and maintain systems that include heat pumps, water pumps, boilers, economizers, compressors, humidifiers, and other equipment. They troubleshoot and repair or replace defective parts. Repairs can include brazing or soldering leaking pipes or replacing broken wires. They have to know how to adjust valves, motors, fans, belts, and other components in large and small HVAC/R systems. When installing new equipment, technicians follow blueprints, install pipes or wiring, and test the system. Technicians also test circuitry and calibrate controls. If necessary, they perform heat loss and load calculations. The job includes helping customers practice energy conservation. Customers receive complete service records. HVAC/R workers travel to their job sites and are responsible for keeping their certifications and licensing current.

Career Outlook for HVAC Workers in Iowa

The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Oct. 2017), the number of openings in HVAC for the period 2016 – 2026 is expected to grow by 15 percent nationally. That’s more than double the expected average growth of all U.S. occupations in that same decade. And Iowa is experiencing even faster growth in the demand for technicians. By illustration, Projection Central predicts an 18.8 percent statewide increase for the decade ending in 2024. Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC/R industry:

  • New commercial buildings and residences
  • Increasing sophistication of climate control systems
  • Contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution
  • Replacing, retrofitting, or upgrading older systems

Technicians who have computer, electronics, and troubleshooting skills may have the best job prospects. According to the BLS (Oct. 2017), 64 percent of HVAC/R technicians work for contractors. Nine percent are self-employed. The remaining workers are employed by schools or retail and wholesale organizations. Technicians usually work full time, with overtime hours during peak seasons.

Although the work is often indoors, some systems require technicians to work outdoors, even in adverse weather. Indoor work doesn’t guarantee comfort, as buildings can be too hot or too cold when systems stop working. Technicians may also need to work in awkward or cramped spaces. It’s important to note that technicians experience a relatively high rate of injuries such as:

  • Electrical shock
  • Burns
  • Muscle strains
  • Injuries from moving heavy equipment
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals

All training includes safety procedures to minimize injuries.

There’s perhaps no better evidence of the thriving HVAC industry than an examination of local job postings. A company in Des Moines has a listing on Indeed (December 2017), for example, for a technician with a certificate of completion from a technical school. They’re paying $31.00/hr. An Ames company wants an apprentice. Hundreds of companies in different locations throughout IA are looking for experienced HVAC/R technicians. Monster (December 2017) has a listing for an entry-level technician in Davenport. Johnson Controls in Sioux City wants an intern, and Des Moines has several listings for experienced HVAC technicians.

HVAC Salaries in Iowa

The BLS (May 2016) reported that nationally, HVAC/R mechanics and installers receive a median salary of $45,910 annually. Iowa technicians receive a median salary of $48,580 annually. The cost of living index for Iowa is 87.50, which means that Iowans pay $87.50 to buy what it would cost them $100.00 to buy elsewhere. The hourly and annual salary comparisons as calculated by the BLS (May 2016) include these percentiles:

United States (294,730 HVAC workers): $48,320 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,440
  • 25th percentile: $35,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,910
  • 75th percentile: $58,960
  • 90th percentile: $73,350

U.S.: $23.23 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $13.67/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.04/hr.
  • 50th percentile median): $22.07/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $28.35/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.26/hr.

Notably, the average salary for HVAC workers within IA was higher than the national average. Here were the state data on HVAC mechanics and installers within Iowa:

Iowa (4,300 HVAC workers): $50,100 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,390
  • 25th percentile: $37,760
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,580
  • 75th percentile: $62,080
  • 90th percentile: $74,240

$24.09 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $14.61/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.15/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $23.36/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.84/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.69/hr.

Finally, the BLS designated 12 regions within Iowa. Here were the numbers of HVAC workers, average annual salaries, and all percentiles:

Ames (180 HVAC workers): $47,230 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $31,240
  • 25th percentile: $39,160
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,560
  • 75th percentile: $56,490
  • 90th percentile: $61,610

$22.71 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $15.02/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.83/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $23.35/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.16/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.62/hr.

Cedar Rapids (320 HVAC workers): $56,060 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,380
  • 25th percentile: $42,580
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,120
  • 75th percentile: $69,630
  • 90th percentile: $79,330

$26.95 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $14.60/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $20.47/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $27.46/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $33.38/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $38.14/hr.

Davenport-Moline-Rock Island (690 HVAC workers): $51,590 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $29,840
  • 25th percentile: $41,270
  • 50th percentile (median): $50,480
  • 75th percentile: $64,850
  • 90th percentile: $74,560

$24.80 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $14.35/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $19.84/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $24.27/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $31.18/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.85/hr.

Des Moines-West Des Moines (1,260 HVAC workers): $52,700 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,190
  • 25th percentile: $37,330
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,950
  • 75th percentile: $69,150
  • 90th percentile: $77,590

$25.34 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $14.51/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.95/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $24.02/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $33.25/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $37.30/hr.

Dubuque (150 HVAC workers): $41,950 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $31,800
  • 25th percentile: $34,120
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,980
  • 75th percentile: $49,710
  • 90th percentile: $60,410

$20.17 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $15.29/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.41/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.26/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.90/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.04/hr.

Iowa City (150 HVAC workers): $57,500 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $42,440
  • 25th percentile: $49,610
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,550
  • 75th percentile: $66,070
  • 90th percentile: $77,060

$27.64 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $20.40/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $23.85/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $27.67/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $31.76/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $37.05/hr.

Northeast Iowa Nonmetropolitan Area (210 HVAC workers): $48,130 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $33,170
  • 25th percentile: $37,220
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,080
  • 75th percentile: $57,790
  • 90th percentile: $72,460

$23.14 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $15.95/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.90/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.67/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.78/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $34.84/hr.

Northwest Iowa Nonmetropolitan Area (400 HVAC workers): $47,160 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $33,400
  • 25th percentile: $37,580
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,670
  • 75th percentile: $56,180
  • 90th percentile: $63,630

$22.67 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $16.06/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.07/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.96/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.01/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $30.59/hr.

Sioux, IA-NE-SD (180 HVAC workers): $55,640 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $37,360
  • 25th percentile: $49,060
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,800
  • 75th percentile: $62,670
  • 90th percentile: $72,540

$26.75 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $17.96/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $23.59/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $27.31/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $30.13/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $34.88/hr.

Southeast Iowa Nonmetropolitan Area (580 HVAC workers): $40,310 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $26,700
  • 25th percentile: $31,980
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,450
  • 75th percentile: $48,830
  • 90th percentile: $53,100

$19.38 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $12.84/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.38/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $20.41/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.48/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $25.53/hr.

Southwest Iowa Nonmetropolitan Area (160 HVAC workers): $50,090 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,660
  • 25th percentile: $32,500
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,930
  • 75th percentile: $62,230
  • 90th percentile: $81,380

$24.08 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $13.30/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.63/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.56/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.92/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $39.13/hr.

Waterloo-Cedar Falls (130 HVAC workers): $50,420 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $31,710
  • 25th percentile: $40,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,610
  • 75th percentile: $61,340
  • 90th percentile: $73,920

$24.24 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $15.24/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $19.44/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $23.37/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.49/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.54/hr.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Iowa

Although it’s possible to work in HVAC/R industries without formal training, most companies in Iowa and beyond prefer to hire someone who has completed an apprenticeship or formal course of study. It’s important that any coursework is obtained through an accredited school. Accreditation means that the school has met certain standards in what is taught.
For institutions offering HVAC/R training, accreditation from the following industry organizations may be important:

  • HVAC Excellence
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
  • Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA)

Information on their accreditation process is available on the organizations’ websites.

The Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) offers an HVAC apprenticeship through their Iowa chapter. The program takes four years to complete. It includes 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 576 hours of technical instruction. Applicants with experience may “pass through” the first two levels of training. Students learn the basics as well as how to instal and service specialized equipment. The program is recognized by the United States Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship and the Veterans Administration. Fees are not disclosed on the website; however, qualifying students may be eligible for financial aid.

The Eastern Iowa Community Colleges with three locations offer four levels of HVAC training:

  • Apprenticeship Certificate (26 credit hours)
  • Certificate (22 credit hours)
  • Diploma (37 credit hours)
  • Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) Degree (71 credit hours)

The courses are taught at the Scott Campus in Bettendorf, IA. The curriculum includes relevant coursework as well as hands-on-experience with installation, maintenance, and repair of residential and commercial HVAC systems. Students learn:

  • Safety practices
  • Use of tools
  • System design
  • Trade skills
  • Construction techniques
  • Control systems

The curriculum has been awarded accreditation by HVAC Excellence. The tuition for 2017-18 was $155 per credit hour. Other schools that offer various levels of training include:

Complete information about the curriculum and fees are available on their websites. The schools all have accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

HVAC Certification & Licensing in IA

Federal law requires that all technicians who work with refrigerants obtain the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing exams on the safe handling of refrigerants. Four levels of certifications are available that apply to the size and type of equipment. The Universal certification allows technicians to work on all equipment.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
  • HVAC Excellence

These and others offer Section 608 testing and certification. Technicians working in the state of Iowa in the plumbing and mechanical trades (hydronic, HVAC, refrigeration, sheet metal) or contracting for services in these trades, are required to be licensed by the Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board. Contractors must be licensed by the Board, as well as registered with Iowa Workforce Development – Division of Labor.

The Service Technician HVAC specialty license is a sublicense under an HVAC-refrigeration or mechanical license that “allows licensees to perform work from the appliance shutoff valve to the appliance and any part and component of the appliance, including the disconnection and reconnection of the existing appliance to the gas piping and the installation of a shutoff valve no more than three feet away from the appliance.” Fees and requirements for obtaining licenses are available on the websites.