Air Conditioning Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary

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Air conditioning engineers earn median annual wages of around $82,100. Is this worth the training required? Read the truth about the job description and career prospects to see if becoming an air conditioning engineer is the right career choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an Air Conditioning Engineer

Air conditioning engineers, or HVAC engineers, are the professionals who design heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for office, industrial and other large buildings. Reading the pros and cons of being an air conditioning engineer may help you decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of Being an Air Conditioning Engineer
Average to high salary (around $82,100 median annual salary in 2013)*
Can work in many geographic locations*
Can work in various settings (manufacturing, R&D, engineering, government)*
Variety of duties each day*

Cons of Being an Air Conditioning Engineer
Lower than average job growth (5% expected increase from 2012-2022)*
Long work hours (60+ hours per week)*
Requires four years of training*
May require additional on-the-job or vocational training*
Licensure required*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Air conditioning engineers oversee the design and installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems from the time of creation to the final installation step. With their knowledge of computer-aided drafting and design, they coordinate and layout systems and create fabrication sketches based on the customer's needs. Job duties also include determining the size of the building, airflow capacity and energy consumption. Air conditioning engineers work together with construction crews and architects to determine the type of system they'll design, as well as how it will be installed and maintained. HVAC engineers work mostly with industrial and commercial buildings.

Job Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that mechanical engineers - which is the category that includes air conditioning engineers - were predicted to see an employment growth of 5% between 2012 and 2022. Since mechanical engineers can work for many industries, their employment outlook can vary by industry, training and location. In 2013, mechanical engineers earned median annual wages of around $82,100, although this also varies by industry and specialty.

What Are the Requirements?

To be an air conditioning engineer, you typically must have a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. HVAC engineering is not a degree program in itself, but rather a concentration of mechanical engineering. As such, it requires specific training, as well as work experience. Work experience often comes in the way of workshops, cooperative education or internships. While the academics teach students the theoretical side of HVAC engineering, the internships prepare them to actually work in the industry.

HVAC programs include coursework and extensive hands-on training in laboratories where students learn important aspects of air conditioning engineering. Course topics may include mechanics of materials, engineering physics, heating and cooling systems, AutoCAD, HVAC of buildings, pipe sizing for hydronic and steam systems, thermodynamics and energy estimating methods.

Licensure

Engineers who offer their services directly to the public are required to be licensed in all 50 states. Obtaining licensure involves taking and passing a 2-step exam. The first exam, taken right after graduation, earns individuals the title of engineers in training (EITs). Once candidates have some work experience under their belt, they can take the second exam, referred to as the Principles and Practice of Engineering, and earn the credential of professional engineer (PE).

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers typically look for candidates who are experienced in air conditioning systems, and who have a bachelor's degree. Below are real job postings for air conditioning engineers that were available in April 2012.

  • An HVAC manufacturing company is seeking an experienced and talented HVAC sales engineer to work in its New York location. Applicant must have a 4-year engineering degree, 5 years of experience and extensive knowledge of the design and application of industrial HVAC systems. Applicants must also possess knowledge of communication networks (BACnet, LonWork), BMS and mechanical/electrical software systems.
  • An experienced HVAC engineer is needed to work for an HVAC manufacturing company located in San Francisco. Job requirements include a mechanical engineering degree (or equivalent), 5 years of experience working in duct and pipe design, air conditioning system sales and design and experience in HVAC and MS Office software. Job duties include preparing job proposals based on requirements and technical specs, organizing bid preparation, overseeing ongoing projects, planning and documenting progress and developing customer relations.
  • An engineering consulting firm in New York is seeking an experienced HVAC engineer with a bachelor's degree in mechanical/HVAC engineering and 5 years of experience designing mechanical systems for the build environment.

How to Stand out

While earning a degree and obtaining work experience are often sufficient to find employment, you can take some extra steps to make yourself stand out and be competitive in the workforce. Obtaining licensure, certifications and keeping up with continuing education can be beneficial towards reaching your career goals.

Certification

Although certification may not always be a requirement for employment, it demonstrates knowledge and commitment to the industry. The High-Performance Building Design Professional is one of several certifications offered through the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Initial certification can be obtained by passing an examination. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) also offers certification and training programs for mechanical engineers.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is important because it keeps engineers abreast of the latest technology in mechanical or HVAC engineering. Continuing education is also required for certification renewal. In addition to offering certifications, the ASHRAE also offers training and workshops for candidates interested in HVAC technology.

Other Career Paths

Civil Engineering Technician

Becoming a civil engineering technician only requires 2 years of school, as opposed to the 4 years or more required to become a mechanical engineer. Civil engineering technicians assist civil engineers in designing and building highways, bridges, utilities and other large structures. In May 2011, civil engineering technicians earned median annual wages of around $47,000, according to the BLS. While the income may not be as high as that of a mechanical engineer, the career outlook is brighter. The BLS reported that civil engineering technicians were expected to see an employment growth of 12% between 2010 and 2020.

Petroleum Engineer

A career as a petroleum engineer may be a good fit for you if you enjoy engineering and are interested in a career that pays well and is growing. These workers create and develop techniques for extracting gas and oil from below the earth's surfaces, as well as from older wells. In 2011, petroleum engineers earned a median annual wage of around $122,000. According to the BLS, petroleum engineers can expect an employment growth of 17% between 2010 and 2020. Obtaining this career involves earning a bachelor's degree in engineering or petroleum engineering.

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