Studying HVAC Design: Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance
In HVAC associate and bachelor's programs, you could learn to design efficient sustainable systems that provide safe and comfortable conditions at the lowest energy cost possible. These may differ from architectural or engineering programs by their emphasis on these building mechanical systems, rather than a broad and theoretical introduction to architectural or engineering principles. Architects and civil engineers who are involved in building design might share some courses.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 14% increase in jobs in during 2010-2020. Though opportunities for design drafters overall may increase only 6%, positions for HVAC mechanics and installers were expected to grow 34%, so supportive HVAC specialist drafting and design opportunities could be better than most. HVAC designers might function as field technicians, supervisors, business owners or HVAC professionals in an architectural or engineering firm, where jobs for architects and civil engineers were anticipated to grow 24% and 19%, respectively.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals who want an entry-level position involving HVAC design||Individuals interested in professional or management careers including HVAC design|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate salary)|| - HVAC installer ($43,000)*|
- Electronics technician ($40,000 - with 0-2 years of experience)**
- HVAC sales ($73,000)*
- HVAC business owner (salary unavailable)
| - HVAC mechanical designer ($43,000 - with 0-2 years of experience)** |
- Experienced HVAC mechanical designer ($62,000 - with 4 years of experience)**
- HVAC supervisor ($64,000 - with 5-7 years of experience)*
- Facilities director ($113,000 - with 10 years of experience)**
|Time to Completion||Approximately 2 years, full-time|| 4-5 years, full-time |
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Usually 60-70 credits |
| - Approximately 120 credits |
- Internship or capstone project
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or GED||High school diploma, GED or associate degree|
|Online Availability||Online degrees and coursework are available||Limited but available|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 annual mean wage), **Salary.com (2012 annual mean salary).
Associate Degrees Covering HVAC Design
The various associate degrees that incorporate HVAC design may help you develop technical skills that could lead to employment with architectural and engineering firms, commercial contractors, equipment manufacturers or distributors, government agencies or facility maintenance departments. In these programs, you may learn to repair and design heating and air conditioning systems, use test equipment and read blueprints.
You might have opportunities to specialize in residential or commercial design, or in one specific area of the HVAC field. Programs will likely require time in computer laboratories to learn design and drafting software. Hands-on technical laboratory, field or internship experience may be required.
Pros and Cons of an Associate Degree Covering HVAC Design
- This degree may qualify you for an entry-level job in a field projected to grow much faster than average for technicians, mechanics and installers.
- Most residential and commercial structures require some form of climate control, so the universe of potential employers could be very broad.
- Programs may be designed for easy transition to a bachelor's degree.
- Work as a mechanic or installer may be easier to find than work emphasizing design and drafting.
- Opportunities may depend on local construction and building rehabilitation activity.
Courses and Requirements
Associate degree curricula incorporating HVAC design might include general education courses as well as core coursework covering architectural drafting, blueprint reading, technical drawing, construction materials and processes, engineering graphics and construction estimating. Programs may include technical math requirements. You will likely study building codes and construction. The curriculum may require mastering Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CAD) programs like AutoCad and Microstation, as well as 2D and 3D modeling.
You might take HVAC design-related courses like these:
- Basic technical drafting
- Assembly drawing
- Introduction to architectural drafting
- Air conditioning, piping and sheet metal drafting
- Building trades blueprint reading
Online Course Options
Online classes may be available through traditional or proprietary schools or as not-for-credit continuing education offerings of professional associations. Fully remote degree programs may be harder to find due to the hands-on nature of HVAC training. In a virtual course, you'll access materials online and submit your work electronically using prescribed software.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Diligent work in your school's well-equipped computer and equipment laboratory may be worthwhile preparation for this field. During a 2-year program, you will create rough sketches, working drawings, digital prints and 2D/3D models that could demonstrate your abilities to prospective employers. Employers may be interested in your ability to use AutoCad and similar programs. You might have opportunities to develop these skills in a part-time or internship position while you study. You might qualify as an Apprentice Drafter (AD) in the American Design Drafting Association's (ADDA) professional certification program.
Bachelor's Degrees Covering HVAC Design
With this degree, you learn mechanical design, supervisory and business management skills. After addressing design software and hands-on equipment training, you may add system design, automation control and project management studies. You could be prepared for advanced technician, field representative, mid-level supervisory or project management positions.
Content could include understanding building codes and contracting processes. Technical skills might include understanding airflow, ventilation and energy use in various system designs. Graduates may be able to understand the industry as a whole, and able to apply their skills to operating a service or contracting business.
Pros and Cons of a Bachelor's Degree Covering HVAC Design
- Most structures require HVAC systems, so you might have diverse geographic and industry opportunities.
- These degrees may support a range of technical and consultative roles in the industry.
- The math and science curriculum may be less rigorous than that required of licensed architects and engineers.
- Credits may not be transferable to an architectural or engineering degree later.
- The very specific nature of this field of study could make transition to another career later difficult.
- Firms may prefer to hire architects or engineers if they need both design work and access to their professional credentials.
Courses and Requirements
Your program may include typical HVAC associate degree courses plus core bachelor's degree requirements in English and the humanities. You may take math through the pre-calculus level as well as basic science, especially physics. You'll probably combine study of building mechanical systems with design and computer graphics courses.
You might find courses like these in a bachelor's program covering HVAC design:
- HVAC controls
- Air conditioning systems load calculation and design
- Print reading and interpretation
- Mechanical systems for buildings
- Basic heating systems design
- Fundamentals of engineered systems design
- Heating and cooling system configurations
Related degree programs and courses are available, though fully online programs may be hard to find. Availability may vary depending on your school, but you should probably not expect to be able to complete programs entirely online due to hands-on computer and laboratory requirements. You'll take online courses using various browsers and software. Distance learning arrangements may be possible with independent study courses.
Standing Out with This Degree
You might be interested in a program endorsed or accredited by industry associations like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the National Oilheat Research Alliance or the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation. Your school may have a student chapter of ASHRAE, an association for HVAC professionals, that could provide leadership opportunities, access to conferences, seminars and internships and specialized and continuing education training. Your school may support related institutes that offer mentoring programs, design competitions and events that enhance your qualifications.