HVAC technicians, who install and repair heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, earn a higher median wage than the average U.S. worker, which is $34,750, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also, their field is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, 10 percent quicker than the average for all U.S. jobs. These positive attributes are offset by sometimes hazardous working conditions.
The BLS reports a median annual wage for HVAC technicians of $43,640 or $20.98 per hour as of May 2012. The lowest 10 percent of workers earned less than $27,330 or $13.14 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $68,990 or $33.17 per hour. While apprentices are some of the lowest paid workers in the field, the more experience they gain, the more they will earn.
To install, troubleshoot and repair HVAC systems, technicians perform a variety of duties. They read detailed blueprints or design specifications on various models of machinery. They may sell service contracts to their customers, which prescribe regular maintenance on things like ducts, refrigerant levels and filters. They also use a number of basic and advanced tools, like screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters, carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters and combustion analyzers. As they work with hazardous liquids and pressurized gases, they are required to follow government regulations regarding recycling and disposal of these substances.
Most HVAC technicians work full time, and during peak heating and cooling times of the year, they may accrue overtime or work on the weekends. Technicians often work in cramped spaces with potentially dangerous chemicals, tools and machinery, and the field has a high incidence of on-the-job injuries, including electrical shock, burns and muscle strain due to heavy lifting. Refrigerant is poisonous and highly flammable, and it must be handled properly to protect against blindness, skin or respiratory damage.
Although some technicians learn their trade on the job, many enter formalized training through apprenticeship programs or postsecondary education from trade school or community colleges. Apprenticeship programs last three to five years and entail hands-on practice with blueprint reading, tool usage and safety protocols. Trade school or community college programs may last from six months to two years and lead to a certificate or associate degree. Some states and localities require HVAC technicians to pass a licensing exam testing various competencies, and some employers seek candidates with specific certifications granted by industry organizations.