HVAC Trade Schools
HVAC technicians dedicate their careers to keeping indoor temperatures regulated in homes and businesses. These associates work long hours installing and maintaining heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. They also set up and service refrigeration units and air filtration devices. Their dedication provides the luxury of climate-controlled indoor spaces with clean air circulation.
Nearly all of America’s homes and buildings have heating and cooling units attached. These modules require upkeep which gives HVAC mechanics more than enough opportunity to find steady work.
Why Should You Go to a Trade School?
Education can help you advance your career in many ways:
Earn a certificate or degree that validates your skills and knowledge. If you already have some experience but want to move up in your field or switch careers entirely, then getting an education might be the best way to do it.
Get hands-on experience with new technologies and equipment before having to use them on the job. This can help reduce mistakes and training time once you’re out on the job site.
Learn new skills that will make you more valuable as an employee or contractor by giving you access to new tools or technologies that weren’t available before now.
How Long Does it Take?
How long it takes to complete an HVAC trade school course will depend on two main factors: your previous experience and whether or not you choose to attend full-time or part-time.
You Are a Professional
For example, if you already have some experience working with electrical systems, plumbing, and heating/air conditioning systems, then you may be able to complete the course in just 1 year.
You Are a Beginner
However, if you’re starting from scratch, then it could take up to 4 years before graduating from an HVAC trade school program.
Study Tracks or Degree Options
Certificate or diploma programs
These programs can be completed in a year or less and may offer training for entry-level positions. To enroll, students must have a high school diploma or GED and fill out an application form.
Associate degree programs
These programs take two years to complete (or four semesters) and usually require at least 60 credit hours of coursework. To enroll, students must have a high school diploma or GED, submit an application form, and pay tuition.
Many employers prefer to hire apprentices who have successfully completed formalized training programs that teach hands-on skills as well as classroom instruction. Apprenticeships are often paid positions that also offer on-the-job training.
Skills You Will Learn
The following is a list of skills you will learn at an HVAC trade school:
- Basic electricity
- Basic plumbing
- Mechanical principles
- Safety and OSHA Regulations
- Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems
- How to troubleshoot HVAC systems
- How to perform maintenance on HVAC systems
License and Certification
Most states require HVAC technicians to be licensed or certified before they can begin working on systems in homes and other buildings. These licenses are usually obtained through training programs offered at vocational schools or community colleges, though some states offer them directly through their state licensing agency website.
Once you’ve completed your coursework and passed your exam(s), you’ll receive a certificate or license that must be renewed every few years.
HVAC Excellence and NATE are two of the most recognized providers of professional-level certifications in the American HVAC/R industry.
What Do HVAC Techs Do?
The responsibilities of an HVAC tech are varied. They must carefully follow specs or blueprints to install and maintain equipment. Workers seal air gaps, affix replacement parts into units, and run tests to ensure systems properly operate. There are times when technicians work after-hours or answer emergency calls in between shifts.
Technicians are in high demand across the country, which means an employee-friendly job market exists for those with passion and the proper skills. Most trade students put their HVAC education to use quickly upon graduation. Prospects should be optimistic while also understanding that there are a lot of rules and details to learn in order for success.
Techs often advise clients on how to best upgrade an old system or improve its efficiency. Professionals must not only be up-to-date on hardware technology, but they need to know about government regulations and laws surrounding the industry.
What Are HVAC Job Duties?
HVAC mechanics interact with customers in many ways. They take phone calls from people having issues with their heating and cooling units. Associates also schedule appointments in order to perform inspections and give cost estimates.
Colleagues are responsible for the installation and repair of electrical wiring, fuel lines, and water supply pipes. They join air ducts with climate control systems and install wall-mounted remotes for temperature adjustment. While connecting, disconnecting, or purging AC units, they must use low-loss fittings to reduce the quantity of refrigerant released.
Other HVAC duties include inspecting home insulation for draft areas and making sure plant growth does not interfere with outdoor units. Techs also replenish refrigerant and replace dirty or aged air filters. They may do yearly checks and cleanings on evaporator coils as well.
HVAC mechanics perform the following tasks:
- Lifting, pushing, and moving objects over 75 pounds
- Using process of elimination to determine issues with heating and cooling units
- Reading through and understanding wiring schematics and electrical ladder diagrams
- Running ducts and piping through crawl spaces, walls, and attics
- Retrofitting old furnaces and AC units with newer models
- Recapturing refrigerant
- Safely disposing of unusable refrigerant
What Types of Rules Surround the Use of Refrigerant?
With the help of compressors and evaporators, refrigerant fluid makes modern refrigeration possible. The liquid is explosive, highly toxic, and a contributor to ozone depletion. Because of this, the EPA has set strict guidelines regarding its use.
Only approved HVAC companies can legally purchase refrigerant. Due to its dangerous nature, technicians must closely follow the EPA standards, as infractions will result in daily fines of over $35k.
Residents should have refrigerant leaks repaired immediately to prevent health effects such as shortness of breath or dizziness. Refrigeration and air conditioning units carry their own unique disposal guidelines due to the toxic chemicals contained within.
Home AC units labeled R22 use particularly dangerous, out-of-date refrigerants. While it’s not required by law to upgrade to a modern R410A system, doing so results in cleaner air quality and decreased energy consumption.
What's It like near an HVAC Tech's Workspace?
Even though HVAC techs visit a variety of job sites, the working conditions are largely similar. Associates find themselves in dirty, cramped areas of buildings, such as crawl spaces and wall voids. These places are often dusty and moldy, containing bugs, spider webs, and exposed nail or screw points.
Technicians maneuver and perform dangerous actions while in dark places like attics and boiler rooms. When team members service broken units, HVAC equipment isn’t regulating air temperature, meaning extreme hot or cold conditions for workers.
Why Do HVAC Technicians Need People Skills?
HVAC techs are always meeting new people at a diverse range of job sites. In order to put customers at ease, associates should be friendly and considerate. Lack of eye contact, disinterest, or pushy sales tactics annoy clients and discourage repeat business.
Team members work with a wide variety of complex equipment. At times, they may explain to colleagues how to use these tools. Since improper use can lead to serious injury, good communication skills and thorough explanations are vital.
When appropriate, HVAC techs may upsell customers on add-ons and enhancements. Workers must remain friendly and approachable even if called into emergency jobs during off-hours. There might be instances where technicians need to collect money from previous clients behind on their payments.
What Are Useful Skills and Traits for People in This Field?
- Troubleshooting abilities when things go wrong
- Handyman and repair skills
- Experience in electrical work
- Basic knowledge of plumbing
- Independent, motivated attitude
- Positive response to criticism
- Honesty and integrity when dealing with customers
- A desire to learn
- Computer proficiency
- Experience in brazing and soldering
How Do HVAC Requirements Affect Students?
On-the-job training is common, however trade programs or other HVAC classes can give prospects an advantage. Certificates from reputable institutions are often enough to land jobs. However, employers especially appreciate applicants that have associate’s degrees or higher. Bachelor’s HVAC degrees are held by just over 5% of technicians.
Graduation from an accredited HVAC school takes about a year or two. While certificate courses may cost around $1k, an associate’s degree program can carry a price tag upwards of $35k. Those with formal schooling regularly earn more than those without.
Some employers require pre-employment background checks or drug tests before hiring. Others even ask prospects to show proof of apprenticeship training on their HVAC resume. In order to get hired, hopefuls might need to possess valid driver’s licenses and pass basic math tests.
Many companies will provide HVAC training and education to inexperienced new hires. This is due to the high demand for workers in the industry. However, recruits with some prior knowledge usually get jobs over those with zero HVAC skills. In certain states, prospects need a special license to work legally.
What Is the Outlook for
Job seekers typically have no issues finding full-time HVAC careers in their area. Employment growth is at an extremely healthy 15%. Demand for new associates is on the rise, and over 330,000 people work in the industry.
Pay rates vary based on experience, ability level, and other factors. For most workers, the average yearly salary package exceeds $47k. Employees who work for large construction or HVAC firms usually receive better salary options than those at mom-and-pop operations.
Successful employment often includes the following HVAC benefits:
- Medical insurance
- A generous 401(k) retirement plan
- Sick leave
- Company vehicle, phone, and uniform
- Paid vacation
- Allowance program for purchasing HVAC tools
What Should Workers Expect?
HVAC jobs require a great deal of physical and mental strength. Candidates should expect a new challenge every day, as job sites contain environments of varied terrains and temperatures. Commercial HVAC techs often find themselves working on units high atop buildings and skyscrapers.
While on the clock, HVAC mechanics might remain alone for many hours at a time. This doesn’t mean they can slack, as techs need to stay alert and focused to avoid error and injury. Sometimes workers go home with sore muscles from operating heavy equipment and moving large air conditioning units.
Associates often work near unstable surroundings or in hazardous conditions. They operate heavy, powerful tools around hot pipes or other precarious elements. Night or weekend shifts may be required, and staff usually puts in overtime hours during peak seasons.
What Are Common Injuries for HVAC Installers?
In a Bureau of Labor Statistics study of dangerous occupations, this career field was in the top ten. While on the clock, technicians risk the following HVAC work related injuries:
- Electrical shock
- Cuts and smashed fingers
- Neck, shoulder, and arm injuries
- Bruising and blistering from heavy equipment
- Falls from high distances
- Getting hit with improperly secured tools
- Exposure to poisonous chemicals and gases
- Pulled muscles from lifting
- Fatigue-related injuries and mistakes
What Safety Precautions Are Taken by Associates?
During installations and repairs, techs must take precautions and follow strict government regulations. They have to know proper handling methods when dealing with toxic fluids and pressurized gases. Workers need to be informed on how to conserve and recycle refrigerants like CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs.
The following HVAC safety equipment is used to protect worker health:
- Eye protection
- Heat-resistant gloves and arm protection
- Slip-resistant shoes
- Hard hats
Commonly-used HVAC tools often include:
- Clamp meters
- Leak detectors
- Vacuum gages
- Wire strippers
Where Can Prospects Find Work?
Aspiring HVAC technicians can find work with heating and air conditioning companies both big and small. On the other hand, many full-time job seekers gain secure, long-term employment with construction contractors. The industry is shielded from outsourcing, as nearly all work needs to be done on-site.
HVAC mechanics work on heating, cooling, ventilation, and purification systems in:
- Convention halls
Do HVAC Technicians Have Any Other Options?
Many specialized areas of the HVAC trade require particular knowledge. For example, air filtration systems on airplanes have unique components due to the freezing outside air temperature. Other areas of the field, such as commercial refrigeration, deal with industrial-sized HVAC equipment that regulate temperatures in large buildings.
A HVAC certificate can even lead to a career as a solar panel installer. These workers prepare installation sites, deploy underground wiring, and create foundations. They also assemble support equipment like mounts or racks, and troubleshoot when issues arise. With today’s eco-minded outlook, solar panel installers are more in-demand than ever.
What Does It Take to Be an HVAC Engineer?
The responsibilities of an HVAC engineer are fit for someone with experience in the field. These workers differ from techs and installers in that they oversee and coordinate operations on worksites. They concoct solutions for difficult problems and design blueprints for customized systems.
Interview with an HVAC Specialist
Q&A session with Jerry O., a HVAC specialist who owns his own heating and air company in Houston, Texas.
Q: How long have you been a HVAC specialist?
A: I have been in the business for 25 years, but I didn’t start my own business until 10 years ago. Before that, I worked for a few different heating and air companies. Part of that time I was working as an apprentice.
Q: What type of training did you have to become a HVAC specialist?
A: The only training I had at first was my apprenticeship. Back when I got started, that was really the only way to get in the business. But, I later took classes at Austin Community College. I wanted to make sure I had the latest knowledge in the industry and wanted a little help with getting my own business started. Besides, I think customers pay you a little more respect when you can say you went to a certain school to learn the trade.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: I got into this business because I like working with my hands. I like figuring out what is wrong with something and seeing if I can fix it. Some jobs can be a little frustrating and hard to finish – especially when I am working in a tight area or when it is 100 degrees out and I am working on someone’s broken air conditioner. Still, I like the challenge.
I also like that I get to help people out. It is really satisfying to see the look of relief on a person’s face when I show up and get their unit fixed on the same day it broke down.
Q: Describe your typical day on the job.
A: I usually have some kind of schedule for the day, but I also take on emergency calls. This means that some days can be really long because I might have a large number of people who need me to get there as soon as possible. This sometimes means moving my schedule around so I can take care of the emergency situations. Every job is like a new adventure since I can’t know what is wrong until I get to the customer’s house. After I figure out what is wrong with the unit, I then have to order the part if I don’t have one in stock.
Q: What traits do you feel are necessary to be successful as a HVAC specialist?
A: I’d say being flexible is the most important trait. You might start off the day with what looks like an easy schedule. Before you know it, you are throwing your schedule out the window and you are working until 9:00 at night. You have to be able to go with the flow and not get frustrated when your schedule changes. I guess you have to be pretty organized too. Otherwise, you won’t be able to fit all of your customers in and you’ll waste a lot of time that could be used fixing someone’s unit.
Q: Would you recommend this career to someone else?
A: Yes. It is a good paying job. And, even with the problems we are having with our economy, I am still working steady. No matter how bad things get, people still need their heating and air guy.
Q: What is your next career move, if any?
A: Getting my own business going was always my dream and I have achieved that. I guess I could try to become a franchise or something, but I am pretty happy with where things are now. Really, for me, the next major goal is retirement!