Installing climate-control systems and maintaining existing equipment is the job of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians. Because they must work with environmentally hazardous substances including Freon and pressurized gases, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires HVAC technicians to obtain air conditioning certification. Working on climate-control systems is a growing occupation. If you want to enter this field and be AC certified, you need postsecondary training or a successfully completed apprenticeship.
Some HVAC technicians install new air conditioning, heating or refrigeration systems. Others maintain and repair existing equipment. They also install and repair related electrical equipment and wiring. As part of their job duties, HVAC technicians inspect equipment and discuss options with clients. They make recommendations about maintenance and suggest a suitable maintenance schedule. They upgrade or replace worn-out systems and components when needed and keep maintenance records. Some HVAC technicians specialize in specific areas such as solar heating, radiant heating or refrigeration. Technicians who work on air conditioning and refrigeration equipment must follow government safety and environmental rules regarding handling and disposal of chemicals called refrigerants.
If you want to become an HVAC technician and get AC certification, you need postsecondary training. You can get a head start by taking high school courses in math, physics and vocational subjects such as plumbing and electronics. Some people attend programs at vocational schools or community colleges that take six months to two years. Another option is an apprenticeship sponsored by a trade union or contractors association, which takes three to five years. You earn money and learn on the job, starting with simple tasks like cleaning equipment and installing wiring and then progressing to more complex duties like inspection and soldering. Some states and local governments mandate licensing for HVAC technicians. In addition, the EPA requires HVAC technicians to attain AC certification that meets the requirements of Section 608 of the Clean Air Act. You can become certified through your school or by taking online tests.
Plumbing and HVAC contractors employ 64 percent of HVAC technicians. About 9 percent are self-employed. Educational services and the wholesale and retail trade also employ HVAC installers and repairers. HVAC technicians may go to an assigned work location or spend the day responding to service calls at homes, businesses, offices, schools or factories. Most of the work is done inside, but they have to work outdoors at times. A technician sometimes has to work in a cramped space to get at hard-to-reach equipment. Safety is a priority due to the risk of electric shock, burns and muscle strain. Special care is necessary when working with refrigerants, which can cause skin injuries, frostbite, and eye or lung damage. Because climate control systems can break down unexpectedly, HVAC workers sometimes work overtime or at irregular times.
Based on 2017 salary data, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says HVAC technicians had an annual median salary of $47,080. "Median" means half made less than this amount and half made more. The best-paid 10 percent earned more than $75,330, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $29,120. Entry-level HVAC technicians averaged $39,829 in 2018. Experienced technicians averaged $55,016 and those late in their careers averaged $60,122.
Job Growth Outlook
Job opportunities for HVAC technicians with air conditioning certification are excellent. This occupation is expected to grow by 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. New commercial and residential construction will create many jobs. In addition, customers want greater efficiency and air quality control. Technicians with the computer and electronics skills to work on sophisticated systems will fare especially well.