Become an HVAC Technician. Your Country Needs You
The best reason to become an HVAC technician is that the country needs you. Americans depend on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems throughout the year to provide comfort and safety in extreme temperatures. Properly installed and maintained, HVAC systems remain a critical component in the operations of public and private hospitals, schools, commercial buildings, and residences. Colleges and trade schools offer HVAC education programs leading to certificates and degrees to qualify graduates for jobs as installers, technicians, and mechanics.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that prospects should be "excellent" during the 2006-2016 decade for HVAC jobs, with employment in HVAC installation in new construction and repair/maintenance jobs with facilities already under operation. Of the nearly 300,000 HVAC professionals in the country, more than half work for plumbing, air conditioning, heating, and ventilation contracting firms.
HVAC Jobs: Training and Specializations
Employers increasingly seek HVAC job candidates with formal training. Education programs may include courses in heating and cooling systems, environmental regulations on systems and refrigerants, blueprint reading, electrical codes, heating design principles, tools and shop safety. Students should have a strong foundation in high school mathematics, physics, mechanical drawing, or electronics.
Classes include training in thermodynamics, fluid flow and fluid dynamics, compressors, refrigeration oils, motor theory, electrical and mechanical valves, and more. Education can also include studies in residential or commercial system design, North American Technician Excellence test training, Environmental Protection Agency Refrigerant Certification training, appliance repair, service management, and commercial contracting.
Students may choose to enroll in certification training or additional courses to prepare for emerging specializations in renewable resources, green energy, or alternative fuel systems. Depending on where you choose to work, you'll find unique state licensing, registration, or certification requirements. Many HVAC training programs include apprenticeship or internship opportunities with contractors or agencies where students may apply their training in a work environment.
HVAC grads may also work with pipefitters, duct construction and installation technicians, or other trade professionals. They may take entry level shift jobs maintaining commercial or industrial HVAC plants, or service refrigeration units, recycling toxic refrigerants according to environmental laws.
Putting Your HVAC Education to Work
Most entry level or apprentice HVAC technicians work under direct supervision of a licensed technician or other professional. Initial work can be physical, as new employees take on roles of cleaning out furnaces, carrying tools and maintenance materials while they observe procedures and learn company policies. With increasing experience, graduates of HVAC training programs move on to practice sheet metal and pipe fabrications, soldering, and electrical tasks.
Additional experience can lead to higher pay, advancement into specialties, or into management roles. Only about 14 percent of HVAC professionals are members of a union, with the greatest number belonging to the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada. The BLS reports the 2008 median annual wage for HVAC installers and mechanics was $39,680, with top earnings around $63,630.