Charlotte, North Carolina (NC) is a major U.S. financial center. It boasts the second largest banking center after New York City, according to Forbes. Charlotte, however, does not rely on one single sector for economic health. The Queen City also has a thriving tech industry, which includes several data centers, and is a booming insurance hub. It now holds the number two spot in the recent Business Facilities report of the economic growth potential of metro areas.
“Charlotte is on fire with companies from across the country—and the world—considering relocating or expanding here,” according to the Chamber of Commerce, adding that “this is just the beginning of an impressive upswing.” Even Apple and Amazon have added to the local business infrastructure.
Although the Chamber touts great weather in Charlotte, others might argue this point. Summers are hot and muggy and winters are wet and cold. Residents work and play under cloudy skies most days. Heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) are essential for comfort in Charlotte as all businesses and homes require climate-controlled facilities. The tech industry also requires additional ventilation and air conditioning for electronics, increasing the local need for skilled HVAC professionals.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 2,960 HVAC and HVAC/R mechanics and installers worked in the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia area. State and local chapters of industry organizations that provide training and support to the technicians include:
These organizations coordinate with government organizations and others in the industry to put in place educational and licensing standards and serve all elements of the HVAC and HVAC/R industries, including safety, performance, and promotion.
Read on to discover how to become an HVAC worker in Charlotte, NC, including the training, career outlook, and credentialing information.
Demand for HVAC technicians is growing nationwide. According to the BLS (2018), the demand for technicians is expected to increase 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. That is much faster than the average 7 percent projected for all occupations across the country. Demand for technicians in North Carolina, specifically, is growing at a slightly higher rate the national average. By illustration, Projections Central predicted a 16.4 percent statewide increase for the same decade.
The growth of the HVAC and HVAC/R industry has several components. The primary factor is the increasing sophistication of climate control systems and the need to replace, retrofit, or upgrade older systems. Industries that rely on technology, such as those driving the economic growth in Charlotte, frequently require specialized climate-controlled facilities. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution also contributes to an increased demand for new installations.
The BLS reports that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally receive a median salary of $47,080 annually. Technicians in the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia area receive an annual median salary of $41,170, but the cost of living in NC is substantially less than the national average. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (2018) reported that NC was the 19th most affordable state in the country, enjoying particular savings in housing and transportation.
Here are the HVAC salary comparisons of the U.S., North Carolina, and the Charlotte area as reported by the BLS:
|United States||North Carolina||Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC|
|Number of workers||307,060||13,890||2,960|
|Average annual salary||$49,530||$42,580||$44,140|
|50th percentile (median)||$47,080||$40,560||$41,170|
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.
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.
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.
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.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects technicians who work with refrigerants to be EPA Section 608 certified. The certification involves passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. There are four types of certifications according to the systems on which technicians work:
Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations, which also offer Section 608 testing and certification. These include, but are not limited to:
As a final note, HVAC technicians in NC are regulated by North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors. The three types of licenses are:
Applicants will need to pass an exam, submit a background report, complete an application form, and pay a fee.
To qualify for a contractor’s license, applicants must have two years (4,000 hours) of full-time experience in the category of license sought. Up to 2,000 of those hours can be from technical or academic training.
Applicants seeking a technician’s license must have 18 months (3,000 hours) of full-time experience in the category of license requested. All licenses expire on the last day of December each year and must be renewed. Continuing education is encouraged but not required.
Anyone contracting to provide construction services (including HVAC installations) costing $30,000 or greater must apply for a license from the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. Obtaining a license requires completing an application form, paying a fee, and submitting any required documents, such as evidence of financial responsibility. Licenses expire on December 31 of each year.
In addition, anyone who installs, repairs, or maintains any refrigeration equipment must be licensed, or supervised by a licensed person, by the North Carolina State Board of Refrigeration Contractors. The requirements were updated effective January 1, 2018, to include systems using ammonia as a refrigerant, and the servicing of refrigeration equipment. Applicants must have 4,000 hours experience working under a licensed contractor or engineer on refrigeration equipment (2,000 hours of which can be from education), pass an exam, and pay a fee. Licenses expire on December 31 of each year.
Overall, all HVAC professionals are advised to contact their local government offices to ensure they have all necessary credentials prior to beginning work.