An HVAC technician helps to ensure that a home or building's climate control system is functioning as desired to maintain a comfortable temperature and humidity level. Becoming an HVAC technician requires finding the right training programs and mentorship to master the craft and learn how to handle different materials. In this article, you'll learn what you need to do to become an HVAC technician.
What does an HVAC technician do?
An HVAC technician is responsible for a wide range of duties related to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning of a building. In addition to installing new units, an HVAC technician replaces existing units, repairs damaged units or performs regular maintenance to keep units operating correctly. They may work on units in finished structures or install them in buildings under construction. HVAC technicians can work as individuals or with maintenance companies.
Average salary for an HVAC technician
The average salary for HVAC technicians in the United States is $23.45 per hour, with some salaries ranging from $7.25 to $50.90 per hour. This average is determined by Indeed salary information, with 18,838 salaries submitted by employees, users and job postings. The span of the data gathered is the past 36 months.
HVAC technicians are commonly paid hourly and work full-time hours. Additional work at overtime or holiday rates may be required. Experience is a significant factor in determining an HVAC technician's wage. HVAC technicians usually work with a company for one to three years.
How to become an HVAC technician
If you're considering a career as an HVAC technician, here are the steps you will need to complete:
1. Earn your diploma
An aspiring HVAC technician must first complete high school or earn a GED. If you are preparing for a career as an HVAC technician while still in high school, attending a vocational school or taking courses that teach you mechanical skills can provide you with valuable instruction which will aid you in your future career.
Related: Jobs That Don't Require a Degree
2. Enroll in a training program
Following high school, an HVAC technician must complete a training program. The fastest route to certification is with a certificate program, which can be completed in as little as 10 months. Some HVAC technicians opt to attend a college or university to earn a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree.
College degree programs include additional general education and elective study, while certificate programs focus only on HVAC knowledge and skills. Higher degrees provide additional work opportunities following training.
3. Complete an apprenticeship
Although not required, most employers prefer a beginning HVAC technician to complete an apprenticeship lasting between three and five years. Provided by trade unions and associations, an apprenticeship allows an aspiring HVAC technician to continue their education in the field while also getting on-the-job experience with a more experienced HVAC professional.
Some apprenticeships can also serve as a substitute for training programs, with apprentices earning a nationally recognized certification upon completion.
Apprentices receive pay for hours of practical experience when observing and assisting on jobs. This is an effective way for a new HVAC professional to learn how to apply their skills in a real-world setting.
4. Get state approval
To work as an HVAC technician, you must be licensed by the state where you will be working. Although specific requirements for state licensure vary, there is one certification required by the EPA in all states: the Section 608 Technician Certification. It allows a technician to work with refrigerants, which is an essential job duty.
The Section 608 Technician Certification comes in three levels:
- Type I certification covers small appliances
- Type II certification covers high-pressure heating and cooling units
- Type III certification covers low-pressure heating and cooling units
The exam for each consists of 25 questions, with 18 correct answers required to pass. A technician can receive the universal certification if they pass all three exams, which is recommended to maximize their professional options.
5. Consider additional certification
Earning additional certifications is not required to work as an HVAC technician, but they can be useful in distinguishing yourself from your peers. North American Technician Excellence is a national nonprofit organization for HVAC professionals and offers four optional certificates to pursue. Each test is a proctored exam consisting of multiple-choice questions:
The first level certificate tests a candidate's knowledge and skills for entry-level work as an HVAC technician. It covers components, tools, measurements and units, electrical safety, basic heat transfer and general safety. The test is designed for technicians in their first six months in the profession and has 50 questions that you can answer in 90 minutes.
HVAC Support Technician Certificate
The second level certificate is designed for early-career HVAC professionals, commonly with six months to one year of professional experience. Topics covered on the exam include safety, tools, basic construction terms, using basic science, achieving desired conditions and taking temperature and humidity measurements. The test is two and a half hours long and has 100 questions.
Core & Specialty Tests Certificate
This test is for professionals with over two years of experience and is required before attempting any NATE specialization certifications. The test covers safety, tools, basic construction, using basic science, achieving desired conditions, taking temperature and humidity measurements and basic electricity. Test takers have 90 minutes to complete the 50-question test.
Senior Level Efficiency Analyst Certification
This certification is designed for senior-level technicians with at least five years of professional experience. A technician must also hold at least two NATE specialty certifications as well.
The test covers load calculation, equipment selection, air distribution, hydronic distribution, system performance, indoor air and environment control and planned maintenance. The test has 100 questions with four hours to complete it.
6. Write your resume
Crafting a strong resume is a crucial part of finding work, particularly when starting out in an industry where you are less likely to have a strong network of contacts to help you find a position.
If you do not have any prior experience in the industry, consider using either a functional resume that focuses on skills and minimizes the prior experience or a combination resume which provides equal prominence to both your skills and prior work. Focus your resume's skills section on abilities that are directly useful for HVAC technicians, such as attention to detail and technical knowledge.
If you completed an apprenticeship, you can add it to your work experience section. An apprenticeship is useful on an entry-level resume as it shows both education and practical experience.
7. Customize for each listing
In order to maximize your chances with each application you send out, you should customize your resume to match the job posting. Not all HVAC technician jobs are the same, and the required skills and responsibilities may vary between two similar job listings. Altering your resume to match the exact job listing increases the chances of impressing the potential employer because you have called attention to relevant skills and qualifications.
Read more: How To Make a Resume (With Examples)
Frequently asked questions about being an HVAC technician
If you're interested in becoming an HVAC technician, here are answers to some of the most common questions prospective technicians ask:
What is the difference between HVAC and HVACR technicians?
While HVAC and HVACR technicians perform similar duties, they differ based on specialization. While an HVAC technician works with many facets of heating and cooling systems, HVACR technicians have a specialized focus on installing and repairing refrigeration systems.
What are the most common HVAC technician job responsibilities?
An HVAC technician is primarily responsible for the installation and maintenance of heating and cooling systems. An HVAC technician may travel to a building experiencing heating or cooling problems in order to diagnose and fix the system.
In addition to repairs, technicians commonly provide routine service for HVAC systems. Maintenance includes cleaning vents and ducts, changing filters and testing basic functions on the unit.
What is an HVAC technician's workplace?
HVAC technicians can work in a variety of settings. For repairs and routine service work, technicians may travel to both homes and workplaces. New installations may take place in an existing structure, replacing a previous system or adding one to a building that lacked a system, or as part of a new construction process.
An HVAC technician will commonly work on units spread throughout a large working territory, however, large buildings or multi-building facilities may retain an HVAC technician to handle all HVAC concerns on the property.
Why do all states require a refrigerant certification?
The primary purpose of a Section 608 Technician certification is protecting the health of the HVAC technician. Refrigerant gases can cause severe damage and frostbite on exposed skin. Releasing refrigerant gases into the air can also lead to low levels of oxygen in the air which can lead to lightheadedness and a loss of coordination.
Requiring all technicians to possess the proper certifications reduces the rate of workplace injury by ensuring that they understand the dangers of handling refrigerant gases and know the correct methods of completing their job safely.