Pros and Cons of a Career as a Furnace Technician
Furnace technicians are heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals with specialty training in heating, but they are not limited to working in that area. In fact, employers of furnace technicians often look for individuals with a full range of HVAC skills.The work environment of an HVAC technician is rather hazardous, but with the correct training and the right attitude, you might find that the benefits of this occupation outweigh the risks. Below is a list of pros and cons to help you decide if this is the career for you.
|Pros of a Career as a Furnace Technician|
|Entrepreneurial opportunities (about 9% of HVAC technicians go into employment for themselves)*|
|Relatively low barriers to entry into the field (you can gain entry-level employment as a technician with as little as 6 months of formal training)*|
|Job security (with the additional specialization and training in other HVAC areas you might be able to weatherproof your career against economic slumps)*|
|Strong job outlook (national employment of HVAC technicians is expected to grow 21% from 2012-2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations)*|
|Cons of a Career as a Furnace Technician|
|Irregular hours (during peak times of the year, technicians may work erratic hours)*|
|Hazardous work environments (the rate at which technicians get hurt and sick is higher than that of other professions, particular since the job exposes you to a host of hazards, such as electrical wiring and toxic fumes)*|
|Physical strain (technicians are often required to work in uncomfortable positions and handle heavy equipment)*|
|Pay is in the average range (the median annual salary for all HVAC technicians was $44,630 in 2014)*|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*
Job Description and Duties
As an HVAC technician, your job is to install and/or maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in commercial and residential buildings. Clients can often call you out to sites to look for system malfunctions, inspect systems compliance, make repairs, check piping for leakage and lay electrical wiring. You might also be required to coordinate your professional activities with those of other professionals, such as construction foremen.
Job Prospects and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), national employment of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers was projected to grow by 21% through 2022. This growth would, in part, be fueled by the construction industry's gradual recovery from the recession of 2007-2009. In addition, the demand for advanced climate-control technology was also expected to increase (www.bls.gov).
Since the employment status of HVAC technicians varies widely, it's difficult to track down a precise salary figure. According to PayScale.com, the annual salary of most HVAC technicians, with overtime, bonuses and commission included, ranged from about $26,000 to $64,000 in 2015.
Career Paths and Specializations
You have many different pathways to gainful employment once you've completed the requisite HVAC technician training. The BLS reported that more than half of HVAC technicians were employed with building equipment contractors. The rest were employed with direct selling firms, equipment wholesalers and commercial repair businesses. About 16% of HVAC technicians are self-employed.
While furnace technician is one specialization available for HVAC technicians, you can select other routes as well. Niche positions include engineering laboratory assistant, HVAC equipment salesman, stationary engineer and HVAC installation technician.
Career Skills and Requirements
Employers typically prefer applicants with at least some kind of formal HVAC training, whether from a certificate or associate's degree program. These programs can provide students with basic training and knowledge in a range of areas, such as safety regulations, energy management, electrical circuit analysis, heat pumps and refrigeration fundamentals. Although they're not as common as HVAC certificate or associate's degree programs, you can also find certificate programs tailored to furnace fundamentals.
In addition to, or in place of, formal training, you can complete a paid 3- to 5-year apprenticeship program with an HVAC business. These programs are typically administered by various professional organizations, such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Some states might require you to acquire one or more licenses before selling your services to the public. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all individuals who purchase and work with refrigerants to be certified in handling it.
You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These can include:
- The ability to think critically and creatively about pressing technical problems
- The ability to contort and adjust your body in tight, awkward spaces
- The ability to recognize and remember patterns
- The ability to coordinate the movement of your fingers during the assembly of tiny objects
- The ability to visualize parts and pieces before you've actually moved them around
Job Postings from Real Employers
An April 2012 job search on CareerBuilder.com turned up several postings looking for HVAC professionals to work in a variety of capacities. The experience and education required of applicants varied with each position, but most required applicants to hold some type of license and to already own the tools appropriate for the job. The following list summarizes several job postings from that search:
- A Missouri heating and cooling company advertised for an HVAC technician to conduct installations, repairs and upgrades on a range of the company's products. The successful applicant would have at least 5 years of HVAC experience, a valid driver's license and already own a set of tools.
- A Maryland HVAC servicing company looked for an HVAC technician with at least 3-5 years of experience in heating and air conditioning, a Maryland HVAC license, a valid driver's license and a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) license.
- An HVAC repair and maintenance business in Dallas advertised for heating and air conditioning service technicians to present company products and services to homeowners. The successful applicant would have at least 2 years of residential HVAC experience, hold an EPA license, hold a driver's license and own a set of tools.
How to Stand Out
Three effective ways to distinguish yourself as an HVAC professional are to increase your knowledge base through professional training, acquiring certification and joining a professional organization. Some professional organizations offer all three of these paths to distinction under one roof.
Organizations such as the ACCA, the MCAA and the NAHB offer many different ways to gain more training and greater expertise as an HVAC professional. Opportunities include conferences, virtual classes, professional seminars, leadership institutes and professional literature. Gaining a membership with these organizations not only allows you access to the training and education opportunities they provide, but also to the legitimacy and prestige that they lend.
Employers typically require HVAC technicians to hold at least one type of certification, whether attained through a state agency, the federal government or both. Many different certifications are available to the HVAC professional. The one you go after should be determined by the particular nature of your employment.
Other Careers to Consider
If you're reconsidering employment as an HVAC technician, but are still interested in a career with similar functions and responsibilities, there are several routes you can take. Boilermakers, like HVAC technicians, are responsible for installing, repairing and maintaining heating devices. The difference is that they work exclusively with boilers, vats and other large containers that store liquids and gases. Another career that's similar to HVAC technician is electrician. Electricians also work with their hands and are called on-site to repair, maintain and install complex equipment. The difference is that they work exclusively with electrical systems, such as circuit breakers, lighting systems and transformers.