Do you want to be a HVAC technician? If YES, here is a guide to becoming a HVAC technician, how much it cost to get trained and a list of the best HVAC schools.
What is a HVAC Technician?
HVAC technicians are experts that are trained to install, repair, and replace HVAC systems. The acronym stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, although some technicians and training programs tend to use the acronym HVAC/R because repairing refrigeration systems can also be a major part of the job.
These technicians may also work on construction sites, as a part of a general contractor’s team, or as an independent repair person. But have it in mind that a HVAC technician is different from a general contractor or any of the other specialties in the construction industry. “HVAC technician” is however used as an umbrella term for other HVAC specialists.
Duties of a HVAC Technician
Note that since HVAC technicians are trained in all HVAC systems in a general way, as their career progresses, most of them become much more specialized in the types of work they take on. For example, a HVAC installer may work for contractors who build new homes or buildings and therefore specialize only in installation of new systems rather than repairs.
Some HVAC experts choose to specialize in air conditioning or refrigeration, steering away from heating and ventilation. But no matter the niche you choose to specialise on, as a HVAC technician, there are a few important questions to answer when considering this career path.
First, HVAC technicians are expected to be thoroughly educated in the specifics of HVAC systems in order to perform repairs. This requires mechanical skills, a detail-oriented personality, and the physical fitness necessary to lift, move, and repair large equipment.
It’s also very necessary to state that although technical skills needed to complete HVAC repairs are very crucial, there is also a certain personality trait that gives you more chance of success in this career. HVAC technicians are expected to be reliable, as many are called to jobs at odd hours, including weekends.
Reports also have it that HVAC technicians may also need to sell service contracts to their customers. It simply means that HVAC technicians must be able to convince the customer that the repairs are indeed needed and necessary.
Note that to become a successful HVAC technician, one must have strong interpersonal skills and be able to communicate clearly and directly. Beyond the personal reasons for becoming an HVAC tech, it’s also a growing industry. The potential for career growth is only growing every year as the industry grows. Industry growth means a good pay check that will look even better as your experience increases.
If you’re interested in joining this profitable industry, below are the needed steps on becoming a well trained HVAC Technician.
A Detailed Guide on How to Become a HVAC Technician
- Obtain A High School Degree Or Equivalent
The very first thing any employer is going to look at is your high school diploma or GED. A lot of states in the US require you to have either a high school diploma or GED to get your HVAC certification. Also, HVAC is an information- and communication-heavy field. The experience you gain in high school with math, science, and writing will all be very helpful in your career.
So, if you’re still in high school and considering this career, then there are options for you. High-school-level trade schools and apprenticeships can teach you the trade while you get your diploma or GED. They will get you started and prepare you for certification.
Also, if you’re older than 18 and haven’t yet gotten your high school diploma or GED, look into local classes. Almost all community has some form of GED prep class for the test. See what nearby community colleges or high schools offer. Once you’ve passed the test, you’re ready for the next step.
- Start and Finish A Training Program
Note that initial training programs for HVAC technicians conclude with the award of a certificate or college degree. The main distinctions between the options include the time commitment, the cost of the program, and the subjects covered during the training. Diploma or certificate programs can be completed in as little as 10 months.
Associate degrees take two years to complete, and baccalaureate degrees require four years of study. Coursework can include studies in residential systems, HVAC controls (such as voltage, air quality, and resistance, and tools (such as calibration instruments).
You may apply for certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs that feature coursework in HVAC system design; refrigeration; energy management; load calculations, industry code standards; ductwork and piping systems; and air quality and conditioning. Prospective HVAC technicians in these programs learn HVAC theory and practice, and may also work with HVAC technicians for hands-on training.
Some institutions offering accreditation for HVAC classes is HVAC Excellence and Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). This process establishes academic standards and recognizes programs that meet or exceed the criteria.
- Complete an Apprenticeship Program And Get Experience
Apprenticeship programs are offered by both trade unions and privately owned businesses. Apprentices must complete approximately 8,000-10,000 hours of training, and in some cases are also mandated to attend related instruction courses.
During this time, apprentices learn the ins-and-outs of the HVAC trade. They are sometimes paid for their work at an apprentice rate and work their way up to a journeyman’s rate throughout the course of the program. Also note that apprenticeship is limited to those who are 18 years of age and older, have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, perform the physical tasks required of HVAC technicians and pass an entry examination.
Meanwhile, apprenticeship used to be the main way people got involved in HVAC training. They also used to be unstructured time spent assisting a master on the job learning bit by bit. Apprenticeships is a bit more streamlined now. They actually often combined classroom work with actual paid, on-the-job experience. The expectations are clearer and you will learn a wider variety of trade information.
It often takes 3-5 years before an apprentice can start as a full-time HVAC tech. Also, prior to becoming a certified HVAC technician, it is advisable to get some empirical professional-level (i.e., beyond apprentice-level) experience. But note that some “job-ready” HVAC programs may bypass this step.
- Earn the Necessary State Licenses and Industry Certifications
Every state in the United States requires HVAC technicians to have some kind of licensure. It’s very advisable you research and look at the requirements in the state where you want to work. In some states; you even need to register as an apprentice. But it’s important to know what licensures or certificates are commonly required to start working beyond that.
Also, it is worth knowing before you start an apprenticeship or technical program that although you may not need to have that certification yet, there are crucial programs you should prepare for. To get certified, you may be mandated to undergo some kind of testing. Your apprenticeship or trade school should cover everything that will be on the test.
Aside from the technical certification, every tech in the US needs federal EPA Section 608 certification. This certificate shows you know how to safely handle refrigerants and other chemicals. There are other popular certifications in this industry such as those offered by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) and HVAC Excellence (partnered with the Esco Group).
For example, NATE offers a number of specialty certifications (e.g., air distribution, HVAC efficiency analyst, HVAC performance verifier), whereas HVAC Excellence offers more generalized certification exams for air conditioning, light commercial air conditioning, and basic refrigeration and charging procedures.
In addition, RETA offers 2 American National Standards Institute accredited certifications, including a certified assistant refrigeration operator (CARO) and a certified industrial refrigeration operator (CIRO).
How Much it Cost to Get Trained as a HVAC Technician
With the construction industry gradually getting back on its feet, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians are set to be in high demand. The relatively short educational preparation needed to become an HVAC technician has also attracted those who possess the technical savvy and interest to work in this profession. But before you venture into this industry fully, you need to go to a HVAC technician school to get the necessary training.
A certificate or associate’s degree program will teach you how to read blueprints to install, maintain or repair HVAC systems, connect wirings and controls and repair defective parts. It will also prepare you to take the certification exams that will measure your competencies and skills so that you can become certified or licensed.
Note that just like going to college, HVAC technician school is going to cost money. You will be expected to pay your tuition, fees, books and supplies as well as the expenses associated with room and board. How much you pay for college will depend on where you go to school and whether you attend a public or private school and the kind of degree that you will be taking.
It will also matter if you will be taking your degree online or on-campus. Don’t forget that attending a public school as an in-state student will help you save money because of the substantial discounts that are usually given by public colleges to residents.
But, out-of-state students won’t receive this benefit. While private colleges, on the other hand, charge the same fees to all students regardless of residency. Certificate programs that last for only a year or less will certainly be cheaper compared to associate and bachelor’s degrees in HVAC technology. Getting your degree online will also be more cost-effective since the flexibility will provide you with the opportunity to work while you’re studying.
An HVAC certificate costs $1,200-$15,000 and may be completed at a technical school or community college in 6-12 months. Northwest HVAC/R in Spokane, WA, offers a one-year certificate program for $6,500. Dorsey Schools with multiple Michigan locations offer HVAC training for $13,500 for the nine-month program, EPA examination fees and a basic tool kit.
Also, HVAC certificate programs offer basic training in refrigeration, motor controls, heating systems, applied physics and technical math to get students started on the field. Note that an associate’s degree in HVAC Technology costs $15,000-$35,000 and can be completed in two years.
The Refrigeration School in Phoenix, AZ, offers HVAC training via a one-year certificate program for $19,125 or a two-year associate’s degree for $29,420. HVAC apprenticeships typically cost $500-$2,000 and may last 3-5 years.
The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of America provide a home-study course for apprenticeships at around $512 to $732 per year of the four-year program. Note that the self-study coursework is equivalent to classroom training and should be completed in conjunction with an on-the-job training from an approved employer.
Meanwhile, the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America offers apprenticeships that cost $1,300-$2,000 to cover coursework over the four years. Apprentices may also work under the supervision of an HVAC technician while earning a percentage of a typical wage. Local chapters of national home-building organizations, like the Associated Builders and Contractors, also sponsor HVAC apprenticeship programs. Licensing fees for HVAC technicians are $75-$300.
In Virginia for instance, license fees are $90 and exam fees cost $30- $90. While in Texas, there is a $50 application fee, $90 exam fee and a $115 license fee. After one year, the license must be renewed for $65. Certifications are offered by North American Technician Excellence, with an exam cost of $155 -$205.
The fee and content of this exam varies by state. Some states require HVAC technicians to have completed an apprenticeship program or 2-5 years of work experience to be licensed.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certifies technicians to handle refrigerants, with a cost of $40-$240. Additional costs for HVAC students range from $500 to $1,000 for books and supplies and $5,000-$10,000 per year for housing and food.
Best HVAC Schools in the United States
- Altierus Career College
- Cabell County Career Technology Centre
- University of Cincinnati-Main Campus
- Northern Michigan University
- Ferris State University
- Pickens Technical College
- Trenholm State Community College
- Orange Coast College
- Lurleen B Wallace Community College
- State University of New York at Canton
- Moraine Park Technical College
- Southeast Technical Institute
- North Dakota State College of Science
- Bevill State Community College
- Gadsden State Community College
- Wallace Community College
- Pennsylvania College of Technology
- Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
- Chippewa Valley Technical College
- University of Alaska Anchorage
- Copiah-Lincoln Community College
- Baker College
- Lawson State Community College-Birmingham Campus
- CUNY New York City College of Technology
- J F Drake State Community and Technical College
HVAC engineering according to statistics is now a booming and exciting field. HVAC engineers are known to help design and improve upon the types of equipment you work with every day. And who could be more prepared to advance the field’s technology than the technicians themselves?
Note that the path through a career in HVAC is never as linear as it sounds, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be confusing or difficult. Have the right preparation and the right experience, will ensure you’re never confused of what your next step should be. Take your time to analyse your skill set and the needed requirement in your area.