What to Know About Being an HVAC Technician

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By Stefanie Grodman

With advice from Lester Mclaughlin

Published on August 20, 2021

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In an age of climbing tuition costs and unpaid internships, vocational trainingcan provide an accelerated, comparatively affordable alternative to a college education. Skilled trades offer rewarding career options for those looking for results-driven work and in-demand employment opportunities.

One of the most popular skilled trades is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). Read on to learn more about being an HVAC tech, including what HVAC tech training you'll need, what the HVAC tech career outlook is like, and what you can expect from an HVAC tech salary.

What Is an HVAC Tech?

HVAC technicians install and repair equipment that regulates the air quality and temperature in indoor spaces, such as heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and ventilation systems. These professionals work in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings, including private residences, commercial buildings, schools, and hospitals.

HVAC professionals may assemble tubing during installation projects, drill holes in adjacent structures, and test existing electrical circuits to set up equipment. They may also connect equipment with user-friendly control devices like thermostats and timers. HVAC techs might also perform maintenance duties like replacing filters and refrigerants. During these projects, technicians must adhere to government-mandated safety regulations.

This field encompasses a diverse array of positions and specializations. Some technicians specialize in different niches and equipment types, such as solar energy, radiant heating, and commercial refrigeration.

What Training Does an HVAC Tech Need?

Before HVAC professionals begin their careers, they must complete technical education and on-the-job training. HVAC tech training can be faster and more cost-effective than many other career paths.

Lester Mclaughlin, vice president of operations at Blue National HVAC, believes one of the best selling points for becoming an HVAC tech is the low cost of schooling. "I didn't have to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans," he says.

Aspiring techs usually attend trade schools, community colleges, or technical colleges that offer relevant programs. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration programs generally take 6-24 months to complete, though exact program length depends on state regulations and institutional requirements.

HVAC techs generally begin their careers as apprentices, working under more experienced technicians for about 3-5 years. During this early stage of their careers, these professionals learn integral skills like soldering pipes, insulating systems, reading blueprints, and setting up systems that function with existing electrical circuitry.

Technicians must also complete HVAC certification licensing programs, though exact requirements vary based on state and local regulations. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency mandates that HVAC professionals who handle refrigerants earn licensure.

What Is the Career Outlook for HVAC Techs?

The temperature and air quality in buildings must be controlled throughout public and private buildings, so demand for HVAC services is steady. As of 2019, there were a total of 376,800 jobs available for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 4% job growth for these professionals between 2019 and 2029, which translates to 15,100 new jobs.

As technology becomes more widespread across all industries, computer literacy will be an important skill for these professionals. Those who are familiar with tablets and other devices may enjoy better job prospects in their HVAC tech careers.

What Is an HVAC Tech's Salary Potential?

According to the BLS, HVAC technicians earned a median annual salary of $50,590 in 2020, exceeding the national median of $41,950 for all occupations.

HVAC techs earn higher salaries as they progress through their careers, with experienced professionals typically earning about twice as much as apprentices. According to PayScale data from August 2021, early-career HVAC techs earn an average annual salary of $41,740; mid-career technicians earn $51,700; and late-career technicians make $63,230 per year.

The median annual HVAC tech salary varies by industry. According to the BLS, techs who worked for public and private educational institutions earned a median annual salary of $54,260 in 2020, while those working in wholesale trade made $53,310 that year.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being an HVAC Tech

true Is being an HVAC tech a good job?

Many HVAC technicians enjoy working with their hands, troubleshooting practical problems, and taking on a variety of daily tasks. According to a PayScale survey, the profession received a job satisfaction rating of four out of five. Being an HVAC tech allows some professionals to work as independent contractors and dictate their own schedules and business operations.

true Is being an HVAC tech hard?

Being an HVAC technician can be physically demanding and sometimes dangerous. These professionals must handle heavy equipment, risking muscle strain. Technicians may be exposed to extreme heat or cold, electrical wiring, tight spaces, flammable substances, and hazardous chemicals. Fortunately, using proper techniques and safety equipment can help prevent excessive strain and accidents.

true Can HVAC techs make 100K?

Some HVAC professionals are able to turn their trade into a lucrative business. The BLS reports that the top 10% of earners working as HVAC technicians make over $80,820 per year. Often, HVAC professionals who earn six-figure salaries maximize their upward mobility by starting their own HVAC repair and installation businesses.

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