Becoming an HVAC Engineer: Job Description & Salary Information

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Get the truth about an HVAC engineer's salary, licensure requirements and job prospects. Read job descriptions and see the pros and cons of becoming an HVAC engineer.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an HVAC Engineer

HVAC engineers, which are types of mechanical engineers, are responsible for designing and maintaining heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that affect many aspects of life. Read on to see more pros and cons of this job so you can decide if it is the right one for you.

Pros of an HVAC Engineer Career
High paying (Average annual salary for mechanical engineers in May 2014 was about $87,140)*
Many certification programs are available*
Opportunity to perform both hands-on and administrative tasks*
Allows creativity*

Cons of an HVAC Engineer Career
Low projected job outlook (Job growth projected at only 5% from 2014-2024 for mechanical engineers)
Work hours can be long*
High level of education and licensure might be required*
Job can be affected by changing technology and efficiency standards*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

An HVAC engineer is a type of mechanical engineer who designs, implements and oversees the installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. In this career, you might design systems for new buildings or retrofit energy efficient systems to existing structures. HVAC engineers might run their own companies; work for engineering, design or architecture firms; or be employed by HVAC companies.

Job duties include designing or overseeing the design of HVAC systems to meet specifications, coordinating budgets, meeting with clients and overseeing technicians. You might create or revise technical drawings, troubleshoot issues on jobs and help with bidding. It's likely that you'll spend a good deal of time working in an office, but job site visits might also be included in your work.

Increasingly, HVAC engineers are focusing on energy efficiency. Job duties may vary as technology and alternative energy develops.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

HVAC engineers often earn higher than average wages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mechanical engineers earned an average yearly salary of approximately $87,140 in May 2014.

Unfortunately, the projected outlook for this field is lower than the national average of 7%. According to the BLS, employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow by 5% from 2014-2024.

Career Paths and Specializations

Some HVAC engineers specialize in one area, such as residential, healthcare or educational buildings. They might also work in optimization or focus on a specific aspect of HVAC work, such as refrigeration. Specializations usually come through work experience.

Career Skills and Requirements

HVAC engineers are generally required to have at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Managerial positions in this field may also require a master's degree. Coursework generally includes a great deal of science and math, including calculus, chemistry, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. Additional coursework can include design, engineering mechanics and electrical engineering.

HVAC engineers who offer services to the public must also be licensed in their state. Upon graduating from college, engineers can take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam to become Engineers in Training (EITs). After gaining experience, they can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam and gain the title of Professional Engineer.

Successful HVAC engineers are creative, have strong problem-solving skills and are able to communicate effectively using many mediums. They must be able to read and create blueprints and plans, estimate costs accurately and respond to unexpected difficulties.

Real Job Description for HVAC Engineers

Along with education, employers often look for candidates who have knowledge of city codes, can satisfy clients and are able use technology effectively. Take a look at excerpts from real job postings below, found online in April 2012, for more details on what employers were seeking.

  • At an engineering company in Chicago, an HVAC engineer is needed on a temporary basis to develop designs using designated software. Applicants must have strong communication skills, knowledge of industry codes and at least seven years of experience in the field.
  • An engineering firm in Delaware is seeking an HVAC engineer to work on educational and commercial projects. At least five years of design experience with air handling units, chillers and boilers is required.
  • At an engineering company in New York City, an HVAC engineer is needed to work in a fast-paced and deadline-oriented environment. Candidates need experience in performing surveys, reviewing drawings and communicating with clients.
  • A Phoenix engineering company seeks an HVAC engineer with at least seven years of experience in healthcare, laboratory and similar settings. Candidates must be organized, able to work with many parties and mentor other engineers and designers.
  • In Texas, a power generating company seeks an HVAC engineer to work in its nuclear fuel power plant. Job duties include preparing budgets, identifying system improvements and collaborating with a variety of committees.

How to Stand Out in the Field

You can demonstrate your knowledge and experience by becoming certified in your field. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is among the engineering organizations that offer certification programs. Engineers must apply for and pass a written exam to demonstrate their knowledge. Certificates can be kept current through continuing education and by paying a renewal fee.

Alternative Career Paths


With a high salary and faster-than-average predicted job growth rate, a career as an architect might appeal to you more than that of an HVAC engineer. In this field, you'll design buildings and other structures to meet the needs of clients. To enter this field, you'll need a professional bachelor's or master's degree in architecture, on-the-job training and a license from your state. In May 2011, the average yearly salary for architects was about $79,000, according to the BLS. The projected employment outlook for this career is expected to be higher than the national average of 14%, with an increase of 24% from 2010-2020.

HVAC Mechanic/Installer

If you want to work in the field of HVAC but don't think engineering is for you, working as a system mechanic or installer might be a good option. In this position, you'll service and install heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration systems in new buildings and on existing sites. The employment outlook for this career is expected to be much faster than the average for all careers, at 34% between 2010 and 2020. While growth is higher for mechanics and installers than engineers, pay is lower. The BLS reported in May 2011 that the average annual salary for this field was about $46,000. Educational requirements generally include a six-month to two-year training program at a technical or trade school and on-the-job training or an apprenticeship.

Environmental Engineer

If you want to work in engineering but are concerned about the low projected outlook for HVAC engineers, consider work as an environmental engineer. In this field, you'll find solutions to environmental issues, work to improve public health, control pollution and more. A bachelor's degree is usually required. The BLS projects that from 2010-2020 employment opportunities for workers in this field will increase by 22%. In May 2011, the average annual salary for environmental engineers was $83,000.

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