In the past, HVAC and HVAC/R technicians began their careers as helpers and learned their skills through hands-on training. It is still possible to do so, but most workers now attend formal classes or participate in apprenticeship programs.
Apprenticeships include specified hours of on-the-job training (typically 2,000) and classroom work (at least 144 hours) for three to five years. ApprenticeshipNC is the state agency in North Carolina that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is part of the community college system.
The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of North Carolina also sponsor an approved apprenticeship program. Over the course of four years, participants annually receive 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and complete 146 hours of classwork online. Applicants with two years of HVAC or HVAC/R experience may “test out” of the first year. Tuition is $1,395 annually. Graduates are awarded journey-level status.
When choosing a formal training program, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and by which organization. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the program, including both the curriculum and the instructors.
Two organizations evaluate HVAC programs: HVAC Excellence has awarded accreditation to NC’s Guilford Technical Community College, and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has accredited Pitt Community College. Although neither of these schools is located in Charlotte, they are profiled below due to their accreditation status. All other local programs have regional accreditation.
North Carolina Community College
The North Carolina Community College system has 58 campuses throughout the state. Central Piedmont Community College is the only one located in Charlotte. The HVAC and HVAC/R programs closest to Charlotte are at the following schools:
Not all programs are available at all colleges at all times. Certain credits earned in a certificate program may be applied to the HVAC diploma or degree program, and certain credits earned in the diploma program may be applied to the degree program.
Coursework for all programs may be completed during day classes or evening classes. Students may attend part time or full time. Because participating in labs is required, the technology courses are on-campus. After consulting with their advisor, students may be able to complete some general education coursework online.
Several types of HVAC certificates are available. The types offered and curriculum details vary from school to school and are available as demand warrants. A sampling includes comfort cooling, commercial building automation, heat pumps, HVAC design and installation, residential technician, and servicing.
The certificate programs are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions. Students take introductory courses in refrigeration, electricity, and HVAC, and job safety, as well as courses specific to their chosen certificate. Coursework involves classroom lectures and hands-on training in labs. Certificate programs require 12 to 18 credit to complete.
The HVAC technology diploma program builds on the certificate programs with additional coursework in the basics of HVAC and HVAC/R, electronics, reading blueprints and schematics, math, building codes, air quality, and energy management. Students attend classroom lectures and receive hands-on training in labs. They also complete coursework in customer relations and general education electives for a total of 36 to 48 credit to graduate.
General education courses in the associate of applied science (AAS) in air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology program include oral and written communication, electives from the humanities (e.g., workplace values and ethics), electives from behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology), and electives from the natural sciences. The technical coursework includes the basics covered in the certificate and diploma programs, with the addition of HVAC and HVAC/R technology, system design, controls, hydronics, thermodynamics, computers, and ducting.
Students attend classroom lectures and receive hands-on training in labs. The degree program requires the completion of 62 to 76 credit. Graduates are prepared to take the EPA Section 608 exam and other industry exams.
- Location: As noted above
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for all colleges; HVAC Excellence at Guilford only; PAHRA at Pitt only
- Tuition: $76 per credit
- Program length: 6 to 12 months for the certificate; 12 to 18 months for the diploma; two years for the degree
Students who are unable to attend on-campus schools may find that distance-based, or online, institutions can better meet their needs. Several accredited online schools offer HVAC and HVAC/R programs. Two of them are profiled below.
Excelsior offers an associate in applied science (AAS) degree in technical studies with a concentration in electronic and instrumentation technologies. This fully online program prepares graduates for the electronics involved in HVAC/R systems. The curriculum includes classes in electricity and digital circuits, microprocessors, power systems, programmable controllers, and computer programming. Students must complete 60 credits, which include 20 hours of electives. Graduates are qualified to seek positions as skilled electronics technicians.
- Location: Albany, NY
- Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- Format: Online
- Tuition: $510 per credit
- Program length: Self-paced
Ferris State University
Ferris State offers a distance-learning bachelor’s degree in HVAC/R engineering technology and energy management. While most of the coursework can be completed online, students are required to attend three week-long on-campus labs. Applicants must already have an associate’s degree in HVAC/R technology or equivalent, and they need to have taken algebra, English, and lab science, and have maintained a GPA of 2.5 in their undergraduate classes.
Coursework is designed to prepare students to advance beyond servicing equipment to designing, retrofitting, and balancing systems. Students learn how to evaluate the efficiency of different types of HVAC/R systems and adjust computerized control systems. Upon completion, students are qualified to seek employment as project engineers, in-plant engineer, systems control, and similar occupations.
- Location: Big Rapids, MI
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)
- Format: Online with on-campus requirements
- Tuition: $610 per on-campus credit; $622 per online credit
- Program length: Two years