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For many residents, a Montana (MT) winter would be unbearable without having a heater in their homes. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of homes and other buildings throughout the Treasure State are equipped with some type of climate-control system. And, for this reason, among others, Big Sky Country is an excellent place to start a new career in the field of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).

HVAC technicians in Montana enjoy a wide array of other benefits as well. For one, many organizations and unions operate throughout Montana, offering support to HVAC professionals. One example is the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 30 of Billings. This union offers a myriad benefits for HVAC technicians in the area, including continuing education and training, professional advocacy, and a health and pension plan, among other perks. There are other unions throughout Montana. Some are affiliated with the renowned Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders & Service Techs, including the Local 41 in Butte and the Local 459 in Missoula. HVAC technicians in these areas can pursue membership with these unions to help secure various benefits and privileges.

In reality, the reasons to start a career as an HVAC technician in Montana are extensive, but before taking the first steps, it is important for all aspiring HVAC professionals to understand the scope of the job, as well as potential responsibilities. Here’s a brief overview of daily tasks held by many technicians in the state:

  • Make sure that HVAC equipment is properly calibrated
  • Perform calculations on equipment when necessary
  • Maintain records
  • Read blueprints
  • Make sure that projects have all necessary permits in compliance with local laws
  • Travel to various work sites
  • Provide education to customers on energy conservation and use
  • Maintain all required licensure and credentialing

In addition to the responsibilities listed above, technicians in Montana who work with refrigerants need to maintain active EPA Section 608 Certification prior to performing any work.

Ultimately, working as an HVAC technician in Montana can be truly rewarding. This guide details the state of the HVAC industry in Montana and across the United States, including the salary expectations, available training programs, and licensure requirements in order to start working in the field.

Career Outlook for HVAC Technicians in Montana

The robust growth in the HVAC industry—both in Montana and across the country—signals that this may be the perfect time to start a new career in this field. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (October 2017) reported that there were 332,900 HVAC technicians nationwide. This number is expected to grow by 49,100 positions between 2016 and 2026—an increase of 15 percent in opportunities in this field. To put this into perspective, openings in all industries nationwide were expected to grow by only seven percent during the same time.

So why is the HVAC industry expanding at more than twice the average of all occupations in the U.S.? A number of factors are at play. For one, regulations governing the HVAC industry are constantly changing, requiring educated technicians to stay abreast of these modifications and help ensure customers remain in compliance with the law. Furthermore, new buildings are being constructed in Montana at a rapid pace—nearly all of which will contain some form of climate-control system. Here, HVAC technicians are required to participate in and oversee this process. And finally, both existing and new climate-control systems require routine maintenance by an HVAC technician, and must generally be replaced every 10 or 15 years.

An online search for available HVAC positions in Montana highlights the demand for these skilled professionals. Monster (Dec. 2017), for example, brought up 173 results with companies including Garden City Plumbing & Heating, Design Air, Bridger Heating, CHS, Inc., and the Goodman Group, among many more. A similar search on Indeed (Dec. 2017) yielded 157 results with organizations such as Glacier Park INC, Morrison-Maierle Inc., Talen Energy, Johnson Controls, and AmeriGas, as well as a number of others.

HVAC Salaries in Montana

The BLS (May 2016) found that HVAC technicians can make a relatively generous wage throughout their career. The median salary for HVAC workers was approximately $45,910 per year, or $22.07 per hour, with the following percentiles:

United States (332,900 HVAC workers): $48,320 annual average salary

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

In hourly figures, these salaries amounted to:

United States: $23.23/hr. average

  • 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.

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, Payscale (Dec. 2017), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:

United States: 835 HVAC workers responding

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 25th percentile: $35,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,933
  • 75th percentile: $55,000
  • 90th percentile: $70,000

An additional 4,369 HVAC workers gave Payscale their hourly salary figures, resulting in these percentile wages:

  • 10th percentile: $13.00/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.00/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.07/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $24.00/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.00/hr.

The salary expectations for HVAC technicians in Montana were fairly similar to that of the rest of the United States. As proof of point, the BLS reported that there were 920 HVAC professionals in Montana earning an average annual salary of $47,880 and these percentiles:

Montana (920 HVAC workers): $47,880

  • 10th percentile: $29,010
  • 25th percentile: $34,350
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,440
  • 75th percentile: $57,840
  • 90th percentile: $69,430

In hourly figures, these equated to:

Montana: $23.02/hour average

  • 10th percentile: $13.95/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.51/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.36/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.81/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $33.38/hr.

The BLS also provided statistics on seven geographic regions throughout the state of Montana, which are listed in the tables below:

Billings (260 HVAC workers): $57,300 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,480
  • 25th percentile: $31,140
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,420
  • 75th percentile: $86,380
  • 90th percentile: $96,390

Central Montana Nonmetropolitan Area (60 HVAC workers): $51,400 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $36,800
  • 25th percentile: $44,630
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,240
  • 75th percentile: $59,680
  • 90th percentile: $62,940

East Montana Nonmetropolitan Area (number of HVAC workers not released): $41,690 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,040
  • 25th percentile: $35,250
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,040
  • 75th percentile: $47,160
  • 90th percentile: $52,990

Great Falls (40 HVAC workers): $50,890 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $33,750
  • 25th percentile: $39,720
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,440
  • 75th percentile: $60,750
  • 90th percentile: $62,400

Missoula (160 HVAC workers): $38,470 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,730
  • 25th percentile: $31,810
  • 50th percentile (median): $36,670
  • 75th percentile: $43,770
  • 90th percentile: $54,870

Southwest Montana Nonmetropolitan Area (270 HVAC workers): $45,280 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,930
  • 25th percentile: $35,990
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,950
  • 75th percentile: $55,760
  • 90th percentile: $60,950

West Montana Nonmetropolitan Area (60 HVAC workers): $39,620 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,030
  • 25th percentile: $31,780
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,610
  • 75th percentile: $46,400
  • 90th percentile: $49,270

Accredited HVAC Schools in Montana

In general, nearly all aspiring HVAC technicians must obtain some type of formal or hands-on training before they are able to work in this capacity. This may come in the form of an apprenticeship, a degree, or a certificate program.

Anyone interested in an apprenticeship may consider a program facilitated by the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. The apprenticeship programs for HVAC technicians last four years, during which the apprentice receives on-the-job training, as well as classroom credits through Flathead Valley Community College. Furthermore, apprentices are compensated for their work, and are often eligible for raises throughout the duration of the program.

Otherwise, aspiring HVAC technicians may pursue a certificate in HVAC through Flathead Valley Community College without taking part in the apprenticeship. Located in Libby, this school offers a 28-credit-hour program that includes instruction in workplace safety, electric motor controls, HVAC systems, and electric meters and motors, among others. The approximate tuition for one semester of study during the 2017-18 academic school year was $1,690, although this does not include additional costs or fees.

The University of Montana – Missoula College also offers a certificate program in HVAC, which only requires students to complete 12-credit-hours on the subjects of electricity and heating and air conditioning—a total of 200 hours. Tuition for the 2017-18 school year was $2,590.92 for 12 credit-hours, not including additional costs.

Finally, future HVAC technicians also have the option to complete a program offered through HVACRedu, located in Heron. This program prepares students to become NATE-certified technicians while covering courses such as HVAC fundamentals, applied mathematics, cooling system troubleshooting, electrical common components, and much more. Tuition for the entire program was $2,645.

Here, it is important to mention that it is common practice now for many aspiring HVAC technicians to enroll in accredited programs, which generally last between six months and 2 years. As of now, two main organizations offer accreditation to HVAC programs: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). As of December 2017, there were no PAHRA- or HVAC Excellence-accredited programs in MT, although as mentioned above, there was NATE-recognized training.

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Montana

HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants in Montana are required to maintain active EPA Section 608 Certification of which there are four categories:

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

Additionally, anyone considering a career in this field may wish to pursue additional skill-specific HVAC certifications. A number of organizations offer these certifications, such as the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (e.g., entry-level Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator); North American Technician Excellence (e.g., Industry Competency Exams or ICE); and HVAC Excellence (e.g., Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology Plus), among others.

As a final note, it’s important to understand the state licensing requirements for HVAC technicians in Montana. To begin, registering as a contractor in Montana is optional for any technicians who work independently and without employees. However, an HVAC technician who hires others must register as a construction contractor with the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. This requires the submission of an application, along with a $53 non-refundable fee. Not only does this provide benefits to contractors—including the ability to participate in the state’s workers’ compensation program—but also non-registered construction contractors can be fined $500 per violation of performing work without a license.

Furthermore, some cities throughout Montana have their own specific licensing requirements for HVAC contractors. In light of this, all aspiring technicians should thoroughly research the criteria in their own cities before beginning any work in this field.