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 airflow.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020) reports that 1,110 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY area as of May 2020. 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 (May 2020) projects a 4 percent increase in the nationwide demand for new HVAC and HVAC/R technicians from 2019 through 2029. That’s as fast as the 4 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 (2021) anticipated that the statewide demand will increase by 10.7 percent between 2018 and 2028.
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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020), HVAC professionals earn relatively competitive salaries, particularly for positions that may require just two years of post-secondary training.
The BLS (May 2020) reported that there were 344,020 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $53,410. Also, there were 16,730 HVAC mechanics and installers in New York—the fourth-most among all states in the nation—with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $63,080. Rochester had 1,110 HVAC mechanics and installers with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $53,730.
The table below is a comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals.
The BLS (May 2020) reported the following salary figures in the Buffalo area:
|United States||New York State||Buffalo, NY|
|Number of HVAC Professionals Employed||344,020||16,730||1,110|
|Annual mean wage||$53,410||$63,080||$53,730|
|50th Percentile (Median)||$50,590||$59,250||$51,710|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (May 2021), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:
It’s worth noting that while HVAC workers in New York State boasted much higher salaries than the national figures, the state also has a significantly higher cost of living, as well. To be sure, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021) asserts that New York is the third most expensive state in the country, behind only Hawaii and the District of Columbia. That is certainly an important consideration.
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.
UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 22 Buffalo and Western New York offer 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.
The heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning technician program comprises 400 clock hours and is taught at the Potter Career Center in West Seneca, NY. Coursework includes HVAC theory, troubleshooting, controls, tools, installation and servicing, soldering and brazing, and reading blueprints and schematics. Day and evening classes are available.
Admission requirements include a TABE score of 8.0 in maths and 9.0 in reading, a valid high school diploma or its equivalent, and a valid Driver’s License.
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.
Upon completion, graduates will have the necessary skills and knowledge needed for obtaining employment as entry-level HVAC/R technicians.
Erie Community College – (SUNY Erie) North Campus
Erie Community College offers an HVAC/R certificate program preparing students to apply technical skills and knowledge in installing, servicing, repairing, and maintaining HVAC/R systems.
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 credits is required to earn the certificate.
Graduates will be able to use diagnostic analysis methods for installing, identifying, categorizing, operating, maintaining, and troubleshooting building electrical and mechanical systems. They will develop an understanding of basic refrigeration theory, basic electrical theory, and proper methods used for refrigerant recovery, reclaiming, and recycling.
Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning
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 the 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.
WSWHE BOCES / Myers Education Center
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. Students receive training in areas such as installation, maintenance, repair, and service of HVAC/R equipment and systems in both commercial and residential applications. Students are also prepared for the EPA section 608 certification.
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.
At the end of the program, graduates will qualify to work as entry-level electricians, HVAC installers, HVAC technicians, plumbers, commercial technicians, job estimators, and service managers.
Monroe Community College, which is affiliated with the State University of New York (SUNY) system offers an AAS degree and a certificate program in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning.
The certificate consists of 31 to 32 credits covering courses such as air conditioning theory, basic refrigeration theory, heating systems, electric & motor controls, commercial air conditioning & heat pumps, HVAC workplace training, preparatory physics, a math elective, and additional HVAC electives.
The AAS degree program comprises 61 to 64 credits. All courses from the certificate are included in this program with additional coursework in college composition, introduction to technical mathematics, personal money management, public speaking, and introduction to sociology, among others.
Graduates will be able to install new equipment, test and adjust HVAC/R systems, service and maintain systems, detect malfunctions, design new systems, and interpret electrical wiring diagrams.
The program opens up several opportunities for graduates. They can take up roles such as installation or service technician, preventative maintenance mechanic, construction field estimator, service representative, sales representative, and systems detailer or designer.
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. This certification is split into four different types: type 1 (small appliances), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal). Many HVAC/R programs ensure that graduates are fully prepared to sit for these certifying examinations.
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 comply with all the guidelines before starting a project.