Studying HVAC Engineering: Degrees at a Glance
Individuals interested in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) engineering may be interested in two types of programs. At the associate's degree level, HVAC technology (or engineering technology) programs can prepare aspiring HVAC technicians for repair and installation work. Similar programs may also exist at the bachelor's degree level, but an aspiring engineer wouldn't enroll in an HVAC program. Instead, you would enroll in a mechanical engineering program, which may offer the opportunity to study HVAC systems through projects or concentration options.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC mechanics and installers were expected to see a 34% increase in employment from 2010-2020, which is much faster than the average for all occupations nationwide. For the same time period, mechanical engineers were expected to see a 9% increase in employment, which is slower than the national average for all occupations.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals interested in becoming HVAC mechanics and installers||Individuals interested in becoming engineers who design HVAC systems|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| HVAC mechanics and installers ($46,000)* |
Sales representatives ($86,000)*
|Mechanical engineer ($84,000)*|
|Time to Completion||Two years||Four years|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - General education courses |
- Hands-on HVAC repair work
- HVAC coursework
| - Core science and mathematics courses |
- Independent study or research
- Possible concentration track or senior project
|Prerequisites||High school diploma||High school diploma|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Associate's Degree in HVAC Technology
Associate's degree programs in HVAC technology include classroom study and hands-on experiences covering the installation, maintenance and repair of HVAC systems. These programs may also prepare aspiring HVAC mechanics for refrigeration certification, which can be earned through a number of independent organizations or the Environmental Protection Agency. Associate degree programs can include study of general mathematics and science, as well as industrial or electronic engineering technology, and you can gain hands-on experience working with electronics, refrigeration and heating systems.
Pros and Cons
- These professionals are expected to see faster-than-average growth from 2010-2020*
- You can be prepared to begin work after only two years, or you can be prepared to transfer into a related bachelor's degree program in a related subject, like construction management
- You can be prepared for certification or licensure to work with refrigerants
- While you can study some engineering topics, you won't be qualified to work as an engineer upon graduation
- Online options are rare
- HVAC mechanics may work in uncomfortable conditions and may be injured on a more regular basis than other occupations
Common Course Topics
HVAC associate degree programs commonly include general education coursework, as well as core courses in mathematics and science courses. In addition to hands-on experience working with HVAC systems, students in these programs will take courses in areas dealing with electronics systems, industrial engineering technology and system management. You may also take courses to prepare you for refrigeration certification examinations. Other topics may include:
- Building codes
- Refrigeration systems
- Gas heating systems
- Pneumatic controls
- Heat pumps
- Electric motors
Online Degree Options
Online degree programs in HVAC technology are rarely offered, but could be available through for-profit institutions. As of October 2012, HVAC technology may be best studied through on-campus programs. Studying this subject on-campus would also be the best way to gain hands-on experience through an approved and accredited postsecondary program. If you're interested in online courses because of a busy professional or personal schedule, you may check with your college to see if certain coursework, such as general education topics, are available for study online.
Stand Out with this Degree
In some locations, including certain cities or states, an HVAC technician must be licensed. Before seeking employment, you'll need to look into the regulations of your locality and meet them. Additionally, if you're interested in working with refrigerants, you'll need to be certified by the EPA, which offers three levels of certification. Additionally, voluntary certification through an organization such as the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute could demonstrate your dedication to the field. Being qualified to work in refrigerants could broaden your employment opportunities.
Bachelor's Degree in HVAC Engineering
Bachelor's degree programs in HVAC engineering are not available, but there are programs that can help you accomplish your goals if you're interested in this field. Mechanical engineering bachelor's degree programs can prepare you to work in HVAC system design, and can even allow you to specialize in HVAC systems through projects, electives and concentration options. Additionally, some colleges do offer HVAC engineering technology bachelor's degree programs, but these programs won't prepare you for engineering work. Instead, they'll prepare you for the same installation and repair work that an associate degree program in HVAC technology would.
Pros and Cons
- Unlike an associate's degree program, you'll be prepared to work as an engineer after completing such a program
- Online programs are available
- Mechanical engineers earn a greater-than-average mean annual salary in comparison to the national mean for all occupations*
- A program in HVAC engineering specifically will not typically be available
- Mechanical engineers are expected to see slower-than-average job growth from 2010-2020*
- Engineering programs may take up to five years to complete
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Common Course Topics
In addition to general education coursework in areas like composition, English and the humanities, engineering students will take courses in mathematics and science topics, like chemistry, calculus and statistics. In some cases, you may have the opportunity to select a concentration area, which could be in HVAC technology. If such a concentration option is not available, you could also study HVAC systems through undergraduate projects or research options. Basic mechanical engineering coursework will include subjects like:
- Fluid mechanics
- Material science
- Heat and mass transfer
- Circuit analysis
Programs in mechanical engineering are available online as well as on campus at both public and private for-profit schools. These programs may be designed for working professionals who are interested in advancing their careers, and will typically include a similar set of coursework as an on-campus program. Additionally, online programs could hold the same accreditation through ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) as on-campus programs, so you'll have the same professional opportunities open to you upon graduation as you would if you completed a more traditional program.
Stand Out with this Degree
If you're specifically interested in working to design and engineer HVAC systems, you'll want to find a program that offers the best options when it comes to choosing a concentration, research emphasis, undergraduate project or set of courses that relate to HVAC. Additionally, you may want to be sure that the program you intend on enrolling in has been accredited by ABET Inc. A program that is properly accredited is typically required for licensure as an engineer, and may also be preferred by employers. If you're an engineer who is offering services directly to the public, you'll need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (PE) in the state you work in. This will typically require several years of experience and the successful completion of an exam.