Buffalo, New York (NY) has always made the most of its location on the shore of Lake Erie and proximity to Niagara Falls. Initially, the economic health of New York’s second-largest city depended on manufacturing, particularly in the steel and automotive industries. Those industries, as well as the grain and flour businesses, still contribute to the economy.
Buffalo has diversified its service industries, however, to include finance, research, high-tech, and electronic equipment manufacturing. It now bills itself as the “Byte Belt” because of the hundreds of high-tech companies and fiber optic networks.
The city’s universities are leaders in life science research, and tourism contributes significantly to the economy as well. In addition to Niagara Falls, dozens of structures on the National Register of Historic Places, cultural events, and the nation’s largest park system attract thousands of visitors to the area each year.
The breeze from Lake Erie moderates the summer heat, and the average high in July, the hottest month, is just 80 degrees. Temperatures in the remaining summer months typically remain in the upper 70s, although each one has experienced extremes in the 90s on occasion. August 1948 holds the record high of 99 degrees F. Summer evening temps average in the upper 50s and low 60s, and rainfall exceeds three inches per month. Winters can be frigid; daytime temperatures in January and February hover around freezing and drop into the teens at night. Snow can start falling as early as October and continue until April for an annual total of about eight feet. The majority of snowfall occurs in December and January.
Although the residents of Buffalo enjoy many outdoor activities in their beautiful city, the weather frequently keeps them indoors. They rely on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) to keep them comfortable during the warm summer days in their workplaces and cold, snowy winter nights at home. The high-tech industries and the hospitality venues often need the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) for comfort and to keep their electronics operating efficiently. Manufacturing facilities, healthcare and educational institutions, and research centers frequently require specialized climate-control systems to maintain specific levels of air quality, humidity, and air flow.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles extensive workforce data. The BLS (2019) reports that 1,320 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY area as of May 2018. Industry organizations such as the following provided support and services to the technicians and the companies that employ them:
These organizations work with others in the industry and with government organizations to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards designed to ensure the safety of technicians and the public.
The BLS (2019) projects a 13 percent increase in the nationwide demand for new HVAC and HVAC/R technicians from 2018 through 2028. That’s significantly more than the 5 percent increase the BLS expects for all US occupations during the same decade. The job market is more favorable for New York HVAC technicians. Projections Central anticipates that the statewide demand will increase by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026.
The economy of Buffalo is strong, and the city continues to attract new businesses. New commercial and residential structures require HVAC. As existing buildings are remodeled or put to new use, the aging, climate-control equipment must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet contemporary energy efficiency and pollution reduction standards.
In some cases, technological advances or regulatory changes mean that new equipment must be installed even if the structure was recently built. Climate-control systems and equipment have become increasingly sophisticated, and the technology requires trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians to install, maintain, and service.
The high-tech companies moving into the “Byte Belt” expect climate-control technicians to have the expertise to work on systems in their “smart” buildings. Technicians who are proficient with computers and understand electronics typically have the best job opportunities. They are also expected to be skilled troubleshooters.
Technicians in some areas who work only on new installations may sometimes experience unemployment if construction declines. That is unlikely in Buffalo in the foreseeable future due to the expansion into the high-growth tech industry and the steady development of the research and healthcare industries. Technicians who focus on maintenance and service can expect full employment as businesses and homeowners want to keep their systems in good operating condition year round regardless of the economy.
Workforce data from BLS (2019) shows that HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide received a median salary of $47,610 as of May 2018. Technicians in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY area received an annual median salary of $45,990 during the same period.
The table below compares national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:
|United States||New York||Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY|
|Number of HVAC Professionals Employed||324,310||19,160||1,320|
|Average annual salary||$50,160||$59,780||$47,230|
|50th percentile (median)||$47,610||$57,820||$45,990|
Aspiring HVAC technicians need training. In the past, they were able to obtain employment as helpers and acquire the needed expertise through on-the-job experience. Few opportunities for doing so exist in today’s job market. Contemporary climate-control equipment and systems are complex, and workers must be skilled technicians. Workers now acquire their training by participating in an apprenticeship program or by attending formal classes. Those who do so have more employment opportunities as well as potentially starting at higher wages and earning more throughout their career.
Apprenticeship programs differ by region, but apprentices can generally expect around 2,000 hours of on-the-job training combined with an average of 144 hours of classwork per year during a three- to five-year commitment. Buffalo workers will find apprenticeship information and resources available from the New York State Department of Labor. The New York State Education Department Adult Career & Continuing Ed Services also provides information for apprentices.
UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 22 Buffalo and Western New York offers a five-year HVAC apprenticeship at their headquarters in West Seneca, NY. Buffalo residents may obtain further information from their Career Center in Niagara Falls.
If Buffalo workers are unable to attend a local apprenticeship program, they may obtain training from industry associations such as the following:
Details regarding programs, schedules, and fees are available on each organization’s website.
Workers who opt to receive their training by attending formal classes should confirm that the school they chose is accredited before enrolling. Accreditation is the process by which an institution’s curriculum and instructors are evaluated by an independent agency.
Two industry organizations are responsible for accrediting HVAC programs. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has awarded accreditation to Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning, in Rochester, NY. HVAC Excellence has accredited WSWHE BOCES / Myers Education Center, in Saratoga Springs, NY.
These schools are included in the profiles below due to their accreditation, although Rochester is a lengthy commute, and Saratoga Springs would potentially require Buffalo students to relocate.
The Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) were established by the New York legislature to assist school districts in meeting the educational needs of students. The Erie 1 BOCES includes 19 school districts. They offer the following HVAC programs:
All programs are taught at the Potter Career Center in West Seneca, NY. Coursework varies according to each program, but overall it includes HVAC theory, troubleshooting, controls, tools, installation and servicing, soldering and brazing, and reading blueprints and schematics. Day and evening classes are available.
The emphasis in the basic program is on theory, and students must have already taken the basic electricity program before enrolling in the advanced program. The heating program also focuses on theory, but students do receive limited hands-on experience. They are also required to complete the basic electricity program before enrolling.
Students in the technician program receive classroom lectures and hands-on training in installing, servicing, and troubleshooting residential and commercial HVAC equipment. They are required to complete an external internship as well. They also prepare for and take the Section 608 and Green Awareness certification exams.
Erie Community College – (SUNY Erie) North Campus
ECC offers an HVAC/R certificate program. The curriculum includes tools, HVAC/R principles, electricity, heating systems, refrigerants, commercial A/C systems, and workplace practicum. Students also select at least one technical elective in energy management, plumbing, mechanics of energy, green HVAC, facilities maintenance, industrial refrigeration, or blueprint reading. A total of 31 credit-hours is required to earn the certificate, and graduates are equipped with the knowledge and skills to install, service, repair, and maintain HVAC/R equipment.
Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning is a contractor that provides services in several New York cities, including Buffalo. The company has developed extensive HVAC training programs which are available at their new training and education center in Rochester, NY. Their 20,000-square-foot lab includes all the kinds of equipment that their technicians install, service, or maintain. They have also partnered with Monroe Community College so that coursework their trainees complete is eligible for up to 18 college credits.
Workers may opt for Isaac’s Boot Camp training, which is designed for inexperienced workers. The intensive program takes 12 weeks to complete. Students learn via formal classroom lectures and hands-on training. The program also includes working in the field. Trainees are paid and offered a position with Isaac upon completion.
The complete Isaac University program begins with two years of classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab. Each technician then completes two more years of specialized training. Students complete 21 modules and must pass NATE exams.
This school offers an HVAC/R program as part of its Career and Technical Education division. Students attend classroom lectures as well as receiving hands-on practice in the lab. The curriculum includes job safety, tools, HVAC/R principles and practices, reading blueprints, planning and estimating jobs, commercial refrigeration, codes and requirements, plumbing, electricity and wiring, motors and controls, small appliances, and trade carpentry. The curriculum also includes the Home Performance ENERGY STAR program, and an internship.
Aspiring technicians in Buffalo who are unable to attend one of the above schools may find that online HVAC training through an accredited online school will best meet their needs.
Industry certifications increase a technician’s employability. Although acquiring most certifications is voluntary, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification is mandatory for techs who work with refrigerants. These substances used in HVAC and HVAC/R systems can be harmful to the environment if mishandled, and technicians are required to pass an exam on their safe handling. There are four levels of certification, based on the size and type of equipment on which the technician works. Technicians who work on all HVAC and HVAC/R equipment should take the exam for Universal certification. Further information and practice exams are available on the EPA website.
Technicians planning to obtain other certifications will find a selection at organizations such as the following:
Details as to schedules and fees are available on their websites.
There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.
The State of New York does not require HVAC professionals to obtain a license. HVAC professionals in the City of Buffalo may not need a license; however, if they perform work on a residence, they must complete a City of Buffalo Home Improvement Contract. The fee varies depending on how the project is classified.
As licensing agencies reserve the right to change their guidelines at any time, HVAC professionals are encouraged to ensure that they are in compliance before starting a project.