Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina (NC) have humid climates with four seasons. The hot and muggy summers bring temperatures into the high 80s and more than four inches of rain each month. Summer nights average about 20 degrees cooler than during the day. Winter daytime temperatures hover in the high 50s and low 60s, with nighttime temps dropping to freezing during December, January, and February. The precipitation continues throughout the winter, with Raleigh receiving a few inches of snow most years. Freezing rain and sleet are the norm for Raleigh winters, and both cities are subject to spring and summer thunderstorms.
Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and the Wake County seat. Durham is the Durham County seat. Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are combined into a single statistical area by the Census Bureau. The three cities anchor the Research Triangle Park, which is one of the largest American research consortiums. The area is home to the renowned universities located in each city and hundreds of companies engaged in high-tech and biotech research and development.
The cities have transformed their early reliance on tobacco and textiles to “modern, cutting-edge” economies. As well as life sciences, companies that provide financial services, informatics, transportation products, and electronic products contribute to the growth and economic strength of the area. Education and medical care also contribute substantially to the economy.
For businesses and residences alike, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) are essential for comfort in Raleigh and Durham. The universities, medical facilities, and research centers often require the addition of large-scale refrigeration (HVAC/R) as well. The electronic equipment supporting much of the business development usually makes climate-controlled rooms and buildings a necessity.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2,920 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in Raleigh, and 720 were employed in Durham-Chapel Hill in May 2018. State and local chapters of industry organizations provide training and support to the technicians. These include:
Read on to discover the occupational outlook and salary for HVAC professionals in this area, as well as to learn about accredited training programs and local credentialing.
Opportunities for HVAC technicians are growing nationwide. According to the BLS (2018), the demand is expected to increase by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. That represents growth that is more than double the 7 percent increase projected for all occupations in the U.S. The demand in North Carolina exceeds the national average, as Projections Central predicted a 16.4 percent statewide increase for the same decade.
Several factors contribute to the rapid growth of the HVAC industry in NC. Older equipment and systems must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet industry standards and environmental concerns. The complexity of modern climate-control systems requires trained technicians to install, service, and maintain equipment. Also, economies based on technology, such as those driving the growth in Raleigh and Durham, require sophisticated installations. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution is another reason for the increased installation of new equipment and systems.
The best job prospects are available to technicians with superior troubleshooting skills as well as those who are computer- and electronics-literate. Those who specialize in new installations may experience seasonal unemployment if construction declines, although that is not anticipated to happen in the foreseeable future in either Raleigh or Durham. The bustling economy, high-tech industry, and growing population are generating ongoing construction of new office buildings, warehouses, hospitality venues, and residences.
The BLS (May 2018) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $47,610 annually. Technicians in Raleigh received an annual median salary of $44,990, and those in Durham-Chapel Hill received $49,440 annual median salaries. The wages are competitive in view of the low cost of living in North Carolina as compared to some other states.
Below is a comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:
|United States||North Carolina||Raleigh, NC||Durham-Chapel Hill, NC|
|Number of HVAC Professionals Employed||324,310||14,370||2,920||720|
|Average Annual Salary||$50,160||$43,190||$46,130||$52,680|
|50th Percentile (Median)||$47,610||$41,820||$44,990||$49,440|
In the past, HVAC and HVAC/R technicians could start as helpers and learn their skills through hands-on training. Some still do so, but most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Formal training and apprenticeships can open up more employment opportunities.
Apprenticeships include around 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of classroom work annually for three to five years. Apprenticeship programs in North Carolina are managed by ApprenticeshipNC, which is part of the community college system. Although several building trades offer programs, HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeships are not currently available. Employers may add those programs in the future.
The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of North Carolina sponsors an approved apprenticeship program. Apprentices receive 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and complete 146 hours of classwork online each year for four years. Applicants with two years of HVAC experience may “test out” of the first year. Annual tuition is $1,395 and graduates are awarded journey-level status.
Workers seeking HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs can find several available through national industry associations such as:
Check their websites for details.
When choosing a school, 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.
HVAC programs are evaluated by two industry organizations. HVAC Excellence has awarded accreditation to Guilford Technical Community College (Greensboro Campus). The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has accredited Pitt Community College. Although attending either school would require Raleigh and Durham students to commute, they are included in the profiles provided below due to their accreditation status. All other schools profiled have regional accreditation.
The North Carolina Community College System has 58 campuses throughout the state. Wake Technical College is located in Raleigh, and Durham is the home of Durham Technical College. The community colleges offering HVAC and HVAC/R programs that are the closest to Raleigh and Durham are:
The specific programs at the colleges vary, and not all are available at all times.
Credits earned in a certificate program may be applied to the diploma or degree program, and some credits earned in the diploma program may be applied to the degree program.
The colleges offer their programs in day and evening classes. Students may attend part-time or full-time. After consulting with their advisor, students may be able to complete some general education coursework online.
The certificate programs offered and curriculum details vary from school to school and are available as demand warrants. A sampling includes:
Students take introductory courses in refrigeration, electricity, HVAC, and job safety, as well as courses specific to their chosen certificate. Coursework is divided between classroom lectures and hands-on training in labs. Certificate programs require 12 to 18 credit-hours to complete and prepare students for entry-level employment.
The air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology diploma program builds on the certificate programs with additional coursework that includes HVAC and HVAC/R basics, electronics, reading blueprints and schematics, technical math, building codes, air quality, energy management, customer relations, and general education electives.
The coursework includes time in classroom lectures and hands-on training. Graduates complete 36 to 48 credit-hours to earn their diploma.
General education courses in the associate of applied science (AAS) in HVAC/R technology program include oral and written communication and electives from the humanities, behavioral sciences, and natural sciences. The technical coursework includes the basics covered in the certificate and diploma programs, with the addition of instruction in HVAC and HVAC/R technology, system design, controls, hydronics, thermodynamics, computers, and ducting. Students complete 62 to 76 credit-hours to earn their 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. For details on programs available, visit the online HVAC training page on this site.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain EPA Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. The four certifications are:
Practice exams are available on the website.
Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. These include the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and HVAC Excellence. These organizations and others offer Section 608 testing and certification. Details are available on their websites.
HVAC technicians are regulated by North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors. The three types of licenses are:
Technicians must obtain the appropriate license before starting work. Applicants need to pass an exam, submit a background report, complete an application form, and pay a fee. To qualify to take the exam, technicians must have 18 months (3,000 hours) of full-time on-site experience.
Technicians seeking a contractor’s license 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. Technician and contractor 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) in excess of $30,000 per project must also be licensed by the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. Applicants must complete an application, pay a fee, and submit other required documents. Licenses expire on December 31 of each year.
In addition, anyone who installs, repairs, services, or maintains any refrigeration equipment must be licensed, or supervised by a licensed person, by the North Carolina State Board of Refrigeration Contractors. The licensing requirement also applies to systems using ammonia. Applicants must have 4,000 hours experience working on refrigeration equipment, 2,000 of which can be from education, pass an exam, and pay a fee. Licenses expire on December 31 of each year.
As a final note, Wake County does not require HVAC technicians or contractors to obtain a license. However, a contractor must establish a tax account with the county. The City of Raleigh Mechanical Examining Board “examines all those seeking mechanical engineering, heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and ventilation journeyman’s licenses.” Details are not provided on their website. And the County of Durham and the City of Durham do not require HVAC technicians or contractors to obtain a license.
All HVAC professionals are encouraged to ensure that they have all the necessary credentialing prior to beginning any projects.