Becoming an HVAC Repair Technician: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) repair technician's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming an HVAC repair technician.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an HVAC Repair Technician

An HVAC repair technician is commonly responsible for installing, testing and repairing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Read some pros and cons for HVAC repair technicians to determine if it's the right job for you.

PROS of Becoming an HVAC Repair Technician
Minimal education required (apprenticeship, certificate or associate degree program)*
Employment expected to increase much faster than the average (21% from 2012-2022)*
Above-average salary (median annual salary of about $44,630 in 2014)*
Businesses that service air-conditioning and heating stay busy year-round*

CONS of Becoming an HVAC Repair Technician
May work in uncomfortable temperature conditions*
Work in possibly high-stress situations**
Night and weekend shifts may be required*
Hazards include burns, electrical shock and muscle strain*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net Online

Career Information

HVAC technicians are trained to install, maintain and repair heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Locations might include homes, stores or industrial buildings. As an HVAC repair technician, you'd perform regular and seasonal maintenance, as well as repairs on furnaces and air-conditioning systems. Heat pumps perform both heating and cooling and require maintenance year-round. You'll also deal with venting and recycling of refrigerants if you're properly licensed.

According to the BLS in 2012, approximately 61% of the HVAC technicians worked for contractors of heating, plumbing and air-conditioning. Others worked in various industries, like repair shops, stores and schools. Government buildings also employed HVAC technicians, while approximately 9% were self-employed.

Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2014, the BLS reported that HVAC technicians earned a median annual salary of about $44,630. In this same year, it was reported that the top ten percent of these professionals earned over $70,820 annually, while the bottom ten percent earned less than $27,630 annually. From 2012-2022, the BLS reported that HVAC technicians are expected to see a 21% increase in employment, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth can be attributed to the growing number of new climate control systems as well as the need to replace old systems.

What Are the Requirements?

Employers typically prefer to hire HVAC technicians who have completed some kind of formal training, such as a postsecondary program or a formal apprenticeship. Postsecondary programs are offered as certificate and associate degree options that can last from six months to two years, while apprenticeships can last from 3-5 years. Certificate and associate degree programs include classroom education as well as hands-on experiences, while an apprenticeship is commonly completed through on-the-job training.

Regardless of training format, you'll learn a standard set of skills and concepts in your preparation to become an HVAC technician. Subjects of study can include equipment design and construction, electronics and temperature control. You'll also learn the basics of maintenance, repair and installation. Many training programs also include refrigeration systems' installation, repair and maintenance. Workers with refrigeration credentials may be referred to as HVACR technicians. There are special, federal licensure requirements for all technicians who work with refrigerants.

Skills

If you're considering becoming an HVAC repair technician, you probably enjoy problem solving, math, physics and working with tools. You should also be in good physical shape and should enjoy working tactfully with the public.

What Do Employers Look for?

Employers are commonly interested in prospective HVAC professionals who have completed some form of formal training and who have work experience. Additional requirements, like mandatory state licensure, might also be required. Check out the following excerpts from real job listings in March 2012 to see what some employers were seeking:

  • A company in Nevada advertised for ambitious and articulate HVAC technicians. The jobs were full-time and entry-level, with some weekends and evenings required. This company preferred that you have at least one year of experience, have your own tools and be a graduate of an air-conditioning and heating technical program. Drug testing was required. The compensation package included bonuses and benefits.
  • A home services company in Indiana was looking for a residential HVAC service technician to provide quality and timely repairs for systems like heat pumps, gas and oil furnaces, heating ventilation, air-conditioning and boilers. You'd also be expected to sell additional products. This company wanted someone with 1-2 years experience and a license or certificate.
  • An energy company in California advertised for an entry-level HVAC field technician with at least two years of experience and an associate's degree from a technical school or college. Certification in heating, ventilation and air conditioning or related training was required. This job involved working with environmental control systems. Some overtime and weekend work was required.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

In order to expand your skill set, you may consider becoming licensed through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to handle refrigerants. This could be advantageous because only EPA-licensed technicians are allowed to work with refrigerants, meaning you could be qualified for jobs that other HVAC technicians are not. EPA licensure is available for low-pressure refrigerants, high-pressure refrigerants and small appliances.

Additionally, you may consider earning industry certification in order to demonstrate your proficiency in the field to your future employers. Some organizations that offer certification include the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.

Related Careers

Sheet Metal Worker

Maybe you've decided that HVAC repair isn't the right field for you. In this case, you might consider becoming a sheet metal worker. In this position, you'd make or install products fabricated from thin metal sheets, like the ducts used in heating and air-conditioning systems. You could get started in this field with just a high school diploma and the median pay in 2011 was about $43,000, according to the BLS. Job growth from 2010-2020 was expected to grow 18%, which is about as fast as average.

Electrician

If you're more interested in working with electricity than with heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, you might want to consider the career of an electrician. You'd maintain and install electrical systems in businesses, homes and factories. Typically, an apprenticeship is required to become qualified to work in this field. In 2011, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for these workers was about $49,000, and from 2010-2020, job growth was expected to be faster-than-average.

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