Heating Mechanic Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a heating mechanic? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a heating mechanic is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a HVAC Mechanic Career

Heating mechanics, or HVAC mechanics, often specialize installing, repairing and troubleshooting heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings. Continue reading to learn about the dimensions of this field, and to better understand some of the pros and cons associated with this career.

Pros of Being an HVAC Mechanic
21% projected job growth between 2012 and 2022*
Median annual income of approximately $44,630*
On-the-job training opportunities*
Work in a variety of environments**

Cons of Being an HVAC Mechanic
Potentially work in uncomfortable positions and temperatures**
May have to deal with stressful situations**
Work may involve some heavy lifting and physical stress*
Some employers may require increased levels of formal education**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

The systems that regulate temperature in households, industrial and commercial facilities are often interconnected in many ways. The mechanics who work on them must have a comprehensive understanding of the physical, electrical and electronic aspects of these systems. HVAC mechanics install, repair and conduct various maintenance operations on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. They repair defective wiring, equipment and components and connect wiring between equipment and controls by using wiring diagrams. They join tubing, ducts and pipes to sources of water or fuel, as well as adjust timers, thermostats and humidistats. Other tasks include testing regulatory systems in order to assure that they function properly and efficiently, complying with all standards, policies and safety procedures. HVAC mechanics work on-site and must be prepared to travel to a work site and work within a variety of environments.

HVAC mechanics will utilize a variety of tools, such as screwdrivers, hammers, power saws, pressure indicators and voltage meters. They also commonly use a variety of computer programs, including spreadsheet and word processing programs and software for logging data. They also utilize computer-aided design (CAD) software in order to understand, visualize and plan HVAC systems.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) posited that HVAC mechanics entertain excellent job prospects; employment was expected to increase faster than average, by 21% between 2012 and 2022. As of May 2014, the median annual wage for an HVAC mechanic was over $44,630 (www.bls.gov).

Education and Training Requirements

Due to the complex nature of modern temperature-regulating systems, HVAC mechanics typically receive their training at technical schools, trade schools or community colleges that offer specialized HVAC programs; such school programs that include refrigeration as well are referred to as HVACR programs.

Many HVAC mechanics receive training through formal apprenticeships. Candidates for apprenticeships typically have a high school education. These programs last anywhere from three to five years and combine technical instruction with on-the-job paid training. Joint committees from local chapters of various organizations often run apprenticeship programs. Example of these groups include the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. After completing an apprenticeship program, trainees are considered competent enough to work alone.

A dwindling number of HVAC mechanics still fully learn their trade through on-the-job training. Aspiring HVAC mechanics work alongside experienced mechanics and begin by performing basic tasks and eventually progressing on to more specialized tasks such as checking electrical circuits and cutting pipes.

In general, HVAC technicians must possess the following skills and talents:

  • A professional understanding of the constitutive parts of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems
  • The ability to identify defective parts and assess needed repairs
  • The ability to use a variety of tools
  • Near vision, manual dexterity and arm-hand steadiness
  • The ability to approach problems from a learned perspective and solve them using the most efficient and professional means possible
  • Knowledge of how to apply mathematics, including arithmetic, algebra and geometry

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Certain states and localities may require HVAC technicians to earn mandatory licenses and certificationsby passing a special exam. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requires all individuals who work with refrigerants to earn certification so as to work with low-pressure or high-pressure refrigeration and small appliances. Some trade schools may prepare students for these EPA certifications. alternatively referred to as CFC or HVAC certifications.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers are looking for HVAC technicians who have work experience, EPA licenses and professional-level competence in repairing, maintaining and installing HVAC equipment. Because this field is currently in demand, individuals who are seeking work as HVAC technicians can find employment in a broad range of locations. Here are some job postings open during April 2012:

  • A company in Kansas was looking for a full-time HVAC field service technician to work in commercial buildings. This job required at least five years of relevant work experience and a valid driver's license. Job duties included installing, connecting and adjusting thermostats, humidistats and timers, troubleshooting HVAC systems and repairing and replacing defective equipment. This job also expected workers to obtain and maintain all required certifications.
  • A company in North Carolina was seeking a full-time HVAC installer. This job required a high school education, a CFC certification and at least five years of work experience. Job duties included installing HVAC replacements in compliance with code, troubleshooting and diagnosing problems and complying with all safety standards. This job offered on-the-job training opportunities, paid vacations and a retirement program.
  • A company in Virginia was looking for a full-time HVAC service technician to perform commercial HVAC maintenance and repairs. Installation was not part of the job. This job required a two-year degree, some job experience, a CFC certification, the ability to read electrical blueprints and a familiarity with Microsoft Office products.
  • An air conditioning and heating company in Texas was looking to hire a full-time HVAC field service technician. This job required at least three years of work experience, a comprehensive knowledge of HVAC equipment, the ability to follow blueprints and an EPA license. Job duties included repairing and maintaining thermostats, air filters, belts, bearings and blower fans and repairing HVAC equipment.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in the field may offer an advantage over HVAC mechanics or technicians who have only some college training. Students who are enrolled in these programs can develop a fuller and more professional understanding of HVAC technology. These programs offer specialized courses in topics such as heat pumps, oil-fired furnaces, HVAC rooftop systems, commercial air-conditioners and air conditioning theory. Students may also be provided with internship opportunities.

Get Certified

Another way to stand out is by earning voluntary certifications in addition to what may be required. HVAC mechanics that have at least one year of installation experience and two years of experience doing maintenance and repairs can take various specialized examinations leading to certain credentials. These examinations are designed to test and certify an HVAC mechanic's competency in working with specific types of equipment, including oil-burning furnaces and compressed-refrigerant cooling systems. Exams are offered by different organizations, including HVAC Excellence, the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society and the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute. These certifications can show employers that you have specific competencies and may help you compete for better jobs with more responsibilities and higher wages.

Alternative Career Paths

Sheet Metal Worker

If you enjoy working with tools but are not interested in obtaining the mandatory certifications or education required for HVAC work, then you may wish to consider a career as a sheet metal worker. Sheet metal workers install or fabricate products that are made from metal sheets, such as pipes or ducts used for air-conditioning and heating systems. Sheet metal workers typically learn their trade through formal apprenticeship programs; however, some may learn informally through on-the-job training or through programs offered by technical colleges. The BLS reported that in 2010 the median annual income of sheet metal workers was close to $43,000, with 18%, or about average job growth, predicted between 2010 and 2020.

Home Appliance Repairer

If you enjoy doing on-site repair and installation work but prefer to work in residences rather than larger businesses, then perhaps a career as a home appliance repairer is right for you. Home appliance repairers travel to the homes of their customers, inspect and repair dysfunctional equipment and install new home appliances. They may also teach clients how to use their new appliances. Home appliance repairers generally need less educational background than HVAC mechanics and typically learn their trades through on-the-job training. Like HVAC mechanics, home appliance repairers will have to earn licensure through the EPA if they work with refrigerants. Home appliance repairers may also earn a few different voluntary certifications. According to the BLS, in 2010 the median annual pay for home appliance repairers was over $34,000 . Between 2010 and 2020, however, job growth was expected to rise by 7% among all occupations.

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