How to Become an HVAC Technician
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Completing HVAC technician training can enable you to secure a lucrative and in-demand career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2020, HVAC technicians made a median annual salary of $50,590. The top 10% earned more than $80,820 per year.
Record-breaking temperatures, an increased need for energy-efficient cooling and heating systems, and staffing and equipment shortages have put pressure on the HVAC industry in recent years. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 5% job growth for HVAC technicians, which would translate to more than 38,500 additional jobs.
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Ready to Start Your Journey?
HVAC technicians complete apprenticeships or training programs at vocational schools or community colleges. Training can take 6-24 months and lead to a certificate or an associate degree. If you want to break into this growing field, read on to learn how to become an HVAC technician and what you need to start your career.
Requirements to Become an HVAC Technician
- Complete High School. You can begin your HVAC career with only a high school or GED diploma. High schoolers can get a head start on their HVAC technician training by taking classes like shop, math, and physics.
- Enroll in an Apprenticeship or Training Program. Get the training you need for a career in HVAC technology through an apprenticeship that provides on-the-job experience or attend a community college or vocational school. Students learn trade skills while earning a certificate or associate degree.
- Earn a License. Many states require HVAC technicians to become licensed. Applicants must often show proof of work experience and liability insurance and pass an exam. Requirements vary by state. In Texas, for example, HVAC technicians need four years of supervised experience to become licensed by the Texas Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors Advisory Board. On the other hand, South Dakota does not require HVAC technicians to become licensed, but cities within the state may have different regulations.
- Gain Certification. Each state maintains different requirements that HVAC technicians need to meet. Some states and specialties require certification. HVAC technicians can gain certification by completing work hours and passing an exam. Common certifications include section 608 certification through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and R-410A certification. HVAC technicians working with refrigerants must get EPA certification.
How Much Does an HVAC Technician Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), HVAC technicians earned a median annual salary of $50,590 as of May 2020. HVAC technicians can expect to earn less at the beginning of their careers and increase their salary the longer they are in the role. The bottom 10% of HVAC technicians earned less than $31,910 as of May 2020, while the top 10% made more than $80,820.
An HVAC technician’s state of residence will also impact their potential earnings. The top five highest-paying locations for HVAC technicians are:
- District of Columbia
What Does HVAC Technician Training Look Like?
After earning a high school or GED diploma, you can get HVAC technician training through a certificate program, associate degree program, or apprenticeship program. Students must complete about 30 credits to earn a certificate and about 60 credits for an associate degree.
Community colleges and trade schools offer HVAC programs that cover practical technical topics like motors and auxiliary controls, refrigeration application and components, tube and pipe fabrication, load calculation and duct design, and industrial safety.
Students pursuing an associate degree must also take general education courses. Programs prepare graduates to become HVAC technicians in their respective states, which may require taking a trade exam if a state mandates licensure and/or certification. Labs provide students with hands-on knowledge that prepares them for apprenticeships, many of which offer competitive pay and benefits.
Apprenticeships and trainee programs offer individuals the chance to get paid while they gain HVAC technician skills working in the field under a licensed professional. Apprentices perform heating and cooling tuneups and installations and learn to maintain tools and supplies, including torches and test equipment. Apprenticeship programs may prefer candidates with HVAC training, but many take applicants with no experience.
How Long Does It Take to Become an HVAC Technician?
The time it takes to become an HVAC technician varies from state to state. HVAC technicians can earn a certificate in as few as 9-10 months. Earning an associate degree in air conditioning, refrigeration, and heating takes up to two years. Apprenticeships offered through unions and companies can last 2-5 years.
When a state requires licensure, HVAC technicians need to show proof of experience as part of the process. States require 2-6 years of work or apprenticeship experience to become licensed. The amount of experience required also depends on the classification.
What License Is Required to Practice as an HVAC Technician?
Licensing regulations vary by state. Generally, to apply for an HVAC technician license, you need to complete an accredited trade program, have work experience, and pass an exam.
Applicants should check with their state for specific rules, as each regulating body differs. For example, in Connecticut, the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection sets licensure standards for HVAC technicians. Candidates may also need to show proof of worker's compensation and/or liability insurance.
Many states do not require HVAC technician licenses at the state level, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. However, some cities and counties may require HVAC technician licenses.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an HVAC Technician
How much does it cost to become an HVAC technician?
HVAC technician certification programs generally cost between $1,200-$15,000. The more expensive programs usually include additional elements like a tool kit and the costs associated with examination fees. Certification programs are usually 6-12 months long.
How much do HVAC tools cost?
Employers may supply many of the more expensive tools needed to perform HVAC work, such as multimeters and thermometers. However, technicians must also invest in their own equipment. HVAC technicians need gauges, screwdrivers, pliers, flashlights, cutters, and gloves in their toolboxes.
Are there online HVAC technician programs?
Yes, there are online HVAC technician programs. Most online programs consist of online classroom instruction followed by hands-on, real-world experience.
Does being an HVAC technician require math?
Yes. HVAC technicians need a solid grasp of basic math, including adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. The job does not typically require more advanced equations used in engineering. However, HVAC technicians often plug data into formulas such as Ohm's law, which can help them troubleshoot electrical issues.
Which trade is better: HVAC technician or electrician?
These occupations offer relatively comparable salaries. According to the BLS, as of 2020, electricians made a median annual salary of $56,900, whereas HVAC technicians earned $50,590 annually. However, pursuing a career as an electrician may lead to more job opportunities. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 9% job growth for electricians and 5% job growth for HVAC technicians.