HVAC Programs in Nebraska

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Eastern Nebraska (NE) is humid, while the western region is semi-arid with windy winters. Statewide, the summers are hot and the winters are cold, and not surprisingly, Nebraskans depend on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) services for comfort when the weather keeps them indoors. It’s also worth noting that agriculture dominates in many areas, creating a constant demand for refrigeration (HVAC/R) services as well.

Three local chapters of national HVAC associations provide Nebraska technicians and contractors with resources: the Heating and Cooling Contractors Association – Omaha (HACCA), the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of Nebraska (PHCCA), and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Omaha (MCA). These organizations not only work to establish and maintain professional standards for workers, but also offer educational resources, legal advocacy, and even some discounts on work related expenses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Oct. 2017), 1,990 Nebraskans were employed as HVAC installation, mechanical, and maintenance workers. This guide explores the abundance of HVAC training schools in Nebraska, as well as the salary prospects, career outlook, and how to become certified.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Nebraska

The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the BLS (Oct. 2017), the number of openings in this field is expected to grow 15 percent nationwide between 2016 and 2026. That’s more than double the anticipated average growth among all fields in that time period Furthermore, Nebraska is experiencing an even more robust growth in its demand for HVAC professionals. In fact, Projection Central (2017) predicted a 19.3 percent statewide increase in positions for the decade ending in 2024.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC industry:

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

Technicians in NE who understand electronics and have superb troubleshooting skills are likely to enjoy the best job prospects.

HVAC mechanics and installers held 332,900 jobs nationwide in 2016. The BLS (October 2017) reported that nationwide, the largest employers of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers were contractors. About nine percent of technicians were self-employed. Most technicians work full time and often have overtime during peak seasons.

While the employment growth prospects both across the country and NE are promising, the profession is not easy. HVAC equipment is installed indoors and outdoors. Technicians must service the outside equipment, regardless of the weather. Additionally, indoor work can be uncomfortable when the equipment malfunctions, and repairs sometime must be made in awkward or cramped spaces. Therefore, technicians have a relatively high rate of job injuries. They may suffer electrical shock, burns, or muscle strains from moving heavy equipment. Training includes safety procedures to minimize injuries.

That said, the demand for qualified HVAC workers is strong in Nebraska. By illustration, Indeed (Jan. 2017) had 348 listings for technicians of all experience levels. Two companies, one in Omaha and one in Lincoln, wanted to hire apprentices, while another service company in Omaha was willing to pay up to a $5,000 sign-up bonus for an experienced technician. Lennox International in Omaha wanted a technician experienced with commercial HVAC. Johnson Controls, also in Omaha, needed an experienced journey-level chiller mechanic. Also, Monster’s (Jan. 2017) 243 Nebraska-based listings included a company in Doniphan, which was willing to pay a sign-up bonus for an HVAC service technician. In another listing, the State Capitol in Lincoln was planning to replace the HVAC system, and the building commission needed an HVAC/R specialist.

Not only is there a wide range of opportunities for people employed in this field, but also the salary prospects look bright in a state known for its relative affordability.

HVAC Worker Salary in Nebraska

The BLS (Oct. 2017) reported that HVAC/R mechanics and installers received a median salary of $45,910 annually around the country. Nebraska-based technicians, by contrast, received a $44,010 annually, roughly on par with the national figures. Although Nebraskans earn marginally less than their counterparts in other states, their wages go farther. The cost of living index for Nebraska is 88.40. That means that Nebraskans only pay $88.40 for what costs $100.00 in other states. Additionally, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2017) found that NE was the thirteenth most affordable state in the country, boasting particular savings in utilities.

More granularly, the BLS (May 2016) found the following average salaries and percentiles among American HVAC professionals:

United States (332,900 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

Put into hourly figures, these became:

US: $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.

By comparison, HVAC workers in Nebraska enjoyed the following wages, which were similar to national figures:

Nebraska (1,990 HVAC workers): $47,590 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,990
  • 25th percentile: $35,120
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,010
  • 75th percentile: $58,950
  • 90th percentile: $74,120

NE: $22.88 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $13.94/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.88/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.16/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $28.34/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.64/hr.

It’s important to note that these figures differed by region of the state as well. The BLS designated

Central Nebraska Non-Metropolitan Area (240 HVAC workers): $42,180 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,360
  • 25th percentile: $33,850
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,920
  • 75th percentile: $47,160
  • 90th percentile: $66,700

$20.28 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $14.59/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.27/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.23/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $22.68/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $32.07/hr.

Grand Island (220 HVAC workers): $46,780 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $33,170
  • 25th percentile: $38,650
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,060
  • 75th percentile: $53,330
  • 90th percentile: $61,560

$22.49 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $15.95/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.58/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.15/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $25.64/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.60/hr.

Lincoln (320 HVAC workers): $58,550 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $34,710
  • 25th percentile: $43,090
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,450
  • 75th percentile: $75,490
  • 90th percentile: $94,600

$28.15 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $16.69/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $20.72/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $24.73/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $36.29/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $45.48/hr.

Northeast Nebraska Non-Metropolitan Area (number of HVAC workers not disclosed): $34,520 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $19,550
  • 25th percentile: $26,160
  • 50th percentile (median): $32,450
  • 75th percentile: $42,540
  • 90th percentile: $51,130

$16.60 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $9.40/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $12.58/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $15.60/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $20.45/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $24.58/hr.

Northwest Nebraska Non-Metropolitan Area (number of HVAC workers not disclosed): $37,880 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $26,000
  • 25th percentile: $28,220
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,800
  • 75th percentile: $46,160
  • 90th percentile: $49,380

$18.21 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $12.50/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $13.57/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.61/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $22.19/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $23.74/hr.

Omaha, NE-Council Bluffs, IA (920 HVAC workers): $49,600 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $31,280
  • 25th percentile: $36,190
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,980
  • 75th percentile: $63,910
  • 90th percentile: $74,360

$23.85 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $15.04/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.40/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.59/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $30.73/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.75/hr.

Southeast Nebraska Non-Metropolitan Area (110 HVAC workers): $39,090 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,660
  • 25th percentile: $33,960
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,350
  • 75th percentile: $45,540
  • 90th percentile: $48,700

$18.79 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $13.78/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.33/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.40/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $21.89/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $23.41/hr.

HVAC Schools in Nebraska

“The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality,” according to the Department of Education. Various agencies determine whether schools have met the applicable guidelines.

There are two main organizations which evaluate HVAC programs: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

As of January 2018, neither organization has accredited a Nebraska-based HVAC program, but there are plenty of alternatives for training.

Although some HVAC companies in Nebraska hire workers with no experience or training, workers who have served an apprenticeship or attended a formal training program generally are favored in hiring decisions. Trained workers may start at higher wages, advance quicker, and earn more over the life of their career.

An apprenticeship is a paid position that combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Nebraska lists six companies as apprenticeship sponsors: four are in Omaha, one is in Lincoln, and one is located in La Vista. Openings aren’t always available, but there’s more information at the Nebraska Department of Labor Workforce Services web page.

The Metropolitan Community College offers several levels of HVAC training at their Fort Omaha campus. Students can start with earning career certificates in:

  • Heat Pump (AHPSD): Teaches working knowledge of electric heat and gas heat used as backup heat for the heat pump.
  • Refrigeration (ARFSD): Teaches electrical and refrigeration service principles. Shop practice includes soldering, brazing, flaring, and leak checking procedures. Students install and service refrigeration systems for residential and commercial units.
  • Air Conditioning (AACSD): Learn to troubleshoot, repair, and service various types of air conditioning systems, as well as the basics of electrical theory, reading blueprints, and heat loss/heat gain.
  • Heat Systems (AHSSD): Study electrical principles for gas heating, oil burner heating, electric heat. Learn about the insulation and servicing of various systems. Study computer-controlled environments and write computer programs for changing temperature in various locations.

The heat pump and refrigeration programs require 30 credit hours each to complete. The air conditioning and heat systems programs require 33 credit hours each to complete.

Students completing the heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technology (HARCE) program receive a certificate of achievement. They learn the principles of how HVAC/R equipment is constructed and how systems operate. They gain practical experience in servicing and installing HVAC/R equipment, and the program takes 52.5 credit hours to complete.

Students may also earn an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in the heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technology (HAAAS) program. Curriculum includes coursework and hands-on-training in:

  • Refrigeration electrical theory and application
  • Refrigeration service principles and basic automatic controls
  • Refrigeration shop practices
  • Gas heat
  • Electric heat
  • Commercial refrigeration installation
  • Commercial refrigeration service
  • Air conditioning, domestic refrigeration, and appliance repair
  • All-weather systems (conventional)
  • All-weather systems (heat pumps)
  • Installation and service problems
  • Refrigeration certification
  • Advanced commercial refrigeration
  • Advanced residential air conditioning
  • Air conditioning (commercial)
  • Sheet metal layout
  • Automated building controls
  • Blueprint reading

The program requires 108.5 credit-hours to complete and costs $61.00 per credit-hour. Students also must pay for books, supplies, and tools, as well as other fees. Notably, the Metropolitan Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Southeast Community College offers an AAS degree in heating, ventilation, air conditioning & refrigeration technology at their Milford Campus. Their program is a balance of coursework and hands-on-training. They focus on residential and commercial HVAC equipment and systems, with the addition of food preservation refrigeration. Students can complete the program in six quarters (18 months). One of the quarters gives students an opportunity to learn while doing through the college’s Cooperative Education Experience. Students are paid for their work during this quarter.

The program takes 132 credit-hours to complete at $65.50 per credit-hour, plus additional expenses for the required tools, books, and supplies. Southeast Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Central Community College offers three HVAC programs at their Hastings Campus. The basic refrigeration certificate teaches the skills students need for entry-level employment in basic refrigeration service. It takes 12 credit-hours to earn the certificate. Students earning the 32-credit-hour heating, air conditioning & refrigeration diploma learn the following:

  • Orientation safety & hand tools
  • Principles of refrigeration cycle
  • Basic refrigeration components
  • Basic service operations
  • Universal R-410A safety & training
  • Electrical theory
  • EPA 608 certification exam
  • Soldering & brazing practices
  • Hermetic system servicing
  • HVAC lab applications

The curriculum for the heating, air conditioning & refrigeration AAS degree adds courses in:

  • Introduction to sheet metal
  • Fuel gas code & piping
  • HVAC lab applications
  • Heat pump theory
  • Troubleshooting HVAC
  • Electricity for HVAC
  • Heating service

Students must complete 62 credit-hours to earn a degree at $88.00 per credit-hour. Supplies, books, tools, and fees are extra. Central Community College is also accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Nebraska

Federal law requires all HVAC technicians who work with environmentally sensitive refrigerants to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. Four levels of certifications are available based the size and type of equipment, and the universal certification (Type IV) 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

Finally, all HVAC professionals in Nebraska must ensure that they have all necessary licenses and permits before beginning work. While HVAC technicians and apprentices aren’t required to have state licenses, all contractors with one or more employees must have a state-issued contractor license from the Nebraska Department of Labor. It’s important to note that local requirements may vary. For example, the City of Lincoln requires HVAC apprentices and journey-level technicians to be credentialed, and contractors and self-employed technicians must be licensed, bonded, and insured. Journey-level masters and contractors must have completed a minimum number of hours of work experience and pass a written exam. All credentials and licenses are valid for one year and can be renewed following the completion of continuing education hours.

In order to remain in compliance with local laws, all Nebraskans in HVAC are encouraged to contact local offices to ensure they have all necessary documentation.