Pros and Cons of an HVAC Technologist Career
HVAC technologists, alternatively called HVAC technicians, installers or mechanics, draw upon a wide variety of skills in order to install, repair and maintain HVAC systems. If you would like to know more about this field and learn about some of the pros and cons associated with becoming a HVAC technician, read on.
|Pros of Being an HVAC Technologist|
|Excellent job prospects (more job openings than applicants)*|
|Formal training opportunities*|
|A variety of on-the-job training opportunities *|
|Faster than average job growth (21% increase predicted between 2012 and 2022)*|
|Cons of Being an HVAC Technologist|
|Working indoors and outdoors in all temperatures*|
|Working in small spaces and awkward positions*|
|Might have to work on call, especially during peak seasons*|
|Potential exposure to a variety of hazardous environments*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Information
Job Description and Duties
HVAC technicians specialize in installing, repairing and servicing the heating and air-conditioning systems that control indoor temperature, humidity and air quality. Technicians work with all of the electronic, electrical and mechanical components that comprise HVAC systems. These components include ducts, pipes, thermostats, pumps, compressors and motors. Job duties can include testing ventilation systems for leaks, testing electrical components and circuits for continuity, repairing and replacing damaged or dysfunctional equipment, using wiring diagrams to properly configure equipment and controls, installing and adjusting thermostats and troubleshooting systems in order diagnose problems and provide solutions.
Some HVAC technicians also work with refrigeration systems, which operate upon similar principles as other types of systems that regulate temperature. These technicians are sometimes called heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) technicians. HVAC technicians work year-round inside and outside homes, businesses and industrial facilities. Technicians often must work in small spaces and cramped positions.
Job Growth and Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), HVAC technicians can expect excellent job prospects; employment of HVAC technicians is predicted to increase by 21% between 2012 and 2022, faster than average. This positive projection is predicated on the idea that more homes and businesses need HVAC systems, and as the technologies that are incorporated into HVAC systems become more complex, the need for frequent maintenance increases. In addition, more businesses and residences are placing a higher value on efficient and up-to-date HVAC systems that can help save energy and cause less pollution. As of 2014, the median hourly wage of HVAC technicians was $21.46 (www.bls.gov).
Education and Training Requirements
There are no necessary educational prerequisites for becoming an HVAC technician; workers may learn skills through on-the-job training experiences. However, due to the increased complexity of HVAC systems, many employers favor those who have completed HVAC programs offered by trade schools or community colleges; these programs range in duration and can take six months to two years to complete, depending on the type of program. Individuals who have a high school diploma or a GED may also receive training through apprenticeship programs. These programs typically last three to five years and combine classroom learning with paid on-the-job training.
Some of the skills and traits needed for a career as an HVAC technician include a comprehensive understanding of HVAC systems, good communication skills for interacting with customers and co-workers and the ability to use a variety of tools. You must also be able to work in many different types of environments and temperatures as you identify problems and find their solutions. Being in good physical condition will help you perform the lifting a moving of heavy equipment that is part of this career.
Licensure and Certification Requirements
Some states require HVAC technicians to be licensed. HVAC technicians must pass the same basic licensing test as HVACR technicians; the content of these tests varies by location, but they typically evaluate an individual's knowledge of the electrical code and include questions that are specific to the HVACR profession. Some locations have training and work experience prerequisites, such as the completion of an apprenticeship program or two to five years of work experience.
There are also special certifications that are required for technicians who work with refrigerants. The type of certification required depends upon specific job duties. There are three possible areas of certification, with the following designations. Type I certifications are for servicing small appliances. Type II certifications are for high-pressure refrigerants, and Type III certifications are for low-pressure refrigerants. To earn certification, individuals must pass an exam offered by an organization, such as a union or trade school, that has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Many employers are seeking experienced technicians who either hold diplomas from colleges or trade schools or have been through an apprenticeship program. Many employers also prefer to hire workers who have been certified. In general, to find work you need to understand how to service HVAC systems, be able to travel to various job sites and communicate with customers and other professionals. The following job positions were open during March 2012:
- A company in Missouri was seeking a full-time HVAC technician to perform routine repairs and maintenance, diagnose the causes of problems in HVAC systems and prepare various written reports in order to document or relate information. This job required five years of experience in the HVAC industry.
- A company in Florida was looking to hire an individual to perform maintenance and repairs on HVAC systems. Candidates were expected to have a sound understanding of HVAC systems and the equipment used in installation and repair procedures. This job required candidates to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, training through an approved HVAC apprenticeship program and Type I and Type II certifications. This employer also preferred to hire individuals with a trade school or associate's degree.
- A company in Louisiana was looking for a full-time HVAC lead service technician who has at least three years of experience in the field. Job duties included maintaining, diagnosing, repairing, cleaning and installing HVAC equipment. This employer preferred workers with a trade school diploma or an associate's degree.
- A company in Minnesota was looking for HVAC service technicians with at least two years of experience and the equivalent of an associate's degree in HVAC systems or mechanical systems. The ideal candidate would have a comprehensive knowledge of HVAC equipment, be able to communicate with customers and troubleshoot problems. This employer also preferred to hire individuals with professional certifications.
How to Stand Out in the Field
One way to stand out in this field is to attend a specialized postsecondary program in HVAC technology; these schools can provide you with the specialized skills that are highly valued by employers. Trade schools, community colleges and universities offer diplomas, certificates and associate's and bachelor's degrees. While enrolled, you can take courses in topics such as building mechanical codes, electricity and HVAC control systems, refrigeration and HVAC pneumatic controls, psychometrics, electrical circuits and gas heat systems. Some programs can help you gain competency in using computers, which are increasingly becoming important to the HVAC field because many buildings use automated computer controls. HVAC technicians who hold associate's and bachelor's degrees are relatively rare, and these degrees might set you apart from the competition.
There are a number of voluntary certification options available. By earning a certification you may increase your advancement opportunities. HVAC or HVACR technicians who have at least two years of experience performing maintenance and repair work and at least one year of experience performing installations can take a range of tests in order to validate their competency in working with specific kinds of equipment. A number of organizations offer these examinations, including HVAC Excellence, National Occupational Competency Testing Institute, Refrigeration Service Engineers Society and The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.
Alternative Career Paths
If you enjoy working with your hands and with a variety of equipment, but want to specialize more in using welding equipment and cutting torches, then you may wish to consider a career as a boilermaker. Boilermakers make, repair and install vats, boilers and a variety of large vessels that hold gases and liquids. These boilers are used to generate electricity or provide heat and power in ships, buildings and factories. The vats that boilermakers create are used to store a variety of liquids, such as chemicals and oil.
Boilermakers must be able to follow schematics and use welding equipment. Many learn relevant skills through formal apprenticeship programs that might consist of four years or 6,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. This training is supplemented by a minimum of 144 hours of annual classroom instruction. According to the BLS, employment of boilermakers is predicted to grow by 21 percent from 2010 to 2020. In 2011, the median hourly wage for boilermakers was over $27.00.
If you wish to focus on electrical systems and want to avoid some of the harsh environments that HVAC technicians must endure, then you might want to become an electrician. Electricians maintain and install a range of electrical systems in factories, homes and businesses. Some electricians work in the construction field, while others specialize in electrical maintenance; some develop specializations in both areas. Electricians are often educated through apprenticeship programs that often last four years.
Electricians also must be licensed. According to the BLS, employment growth for electricians is expected to increase 23% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also reported the median hourly wage for electricians was nearly $24.00 in 2011.