How to become an HVAC technician

You can become an HVAC technician through on-the-job training as an apprentice or by attending a postsecondary program at a trade school or community college.

HVAC technician career snapshot

Median pay

$50,590 ($24.32/hr)

Required degrees

None

10-year job growth

5% (Average)

The current job market can be difficult to navigate. The advancement of technology and constantly transforming work environment are causing many popular career paths of the past to become obsolete.

The Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry is fast growing and offers a great career outlook. With just a high school diploma (or equivalent), an HVAC Technician can earn up to $80,000 per year for a job that is upbeat, has a promising outlook, and isn’t tied down to a desk. This article will discuss the steps necessary to make this type of career a reality.

Steps to becoming an HVAC technician

1. Earn a high school diploma (or equivalent)

Most states require a high school diploma or GED to become an HVAC technician. While in high school, it would also be beneficial to take technical courses including, but not limited to:

  • Physics
  • Advanced Mathematics
  • Computer Science

2. Complete education and training

After earning a high school diploma (or equivalent), there are a few routes available to gain the education that is necessary to become an HVAC technician:

  • Trade School
  • Community College
  • Apprenticeship

Trade school or community college

While these options are quicker than an apprenticeship, they are far more expensive. Both trade school and community college take 1 to 2 years to complete and may require some student loan debt.

Trade school costs anywhere from $1,200 to $15,000 and the average cost of community college is $3,440 per year.

Some benefits of trade school and community college are plenty of hands-on labs and classwork. With this acquired knowledge and experience, joining a company as an entry-level employee should be a breeze.

They are also a good option if you want to own your own company someday as you have the opportunity to take business classes on top of your HVAC classes.

Join a company as an apprentice

In lieu of trade school or community college, another option is to join a company as an apprentice.

An HVAC apprenticeship is the cheapest option available and does not require any experience, but it also takes the longest. Unlike community college and trade school, which cost money, HVAC apprentices can get paid while learning the ins and outs of being an HVAC technician. In addition, many companies either pay apprentices to attend night classes or have their own training programs. Either way, this means getting paid to learn!

Department of Labor (DOL) registered apprenticeship programs take anywhere from 4 to 5 years to complete. During a DOL apprenticeship program, you will take part in 144 hours of classwork and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training per year.

There are a few different ways to get an HVAC apprenticeship:

  1. Find one through the Department of Labor
  2. Apply at a local company
  3. Faraday HVAC Program - At Faraday, we help connect you to local companies who are hiring entry-level technicians and apprentices. You can also get free HVAC training and certification through Faraday.

>> Read More: HVAC Training & Education Requirements

3. Obtain your EPA 608 Certification

The EPA requires the Section 608 Technician Certification for HVAC technicians in every state. This certification allows the technician to handle refrigerants, a major aspect of HVAC systems. The EPA 608 Technician Certification includes four types of certifications:

  • Type I – For servicing small appliances
  • Type II – For servicing or disposing of high- or very high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and MVACs
  • Type III – For servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances
  • Universal – For servicing all types of equipment

Each exam has 25 questions and they require 18 correct answers to pass. If you pass the Type I, Type II, and Type III exams, you will receive your Universal certification.

Note that most states do not require a license to be an HVAC technician, but may be required if you want to open your own business.

4) Consider obtaining additional HVAC certifications

You can also pursue some additional HVAC certifications to increase your chances of becoming an HVAC technician. Here are some of the most popular:

NATE Certifications

There are a variety of NATE certifications available depending on your experience level:

Ready-to-Work Certificate

This certificate tests the candidate’s ability to work as an entry-level HVAC technician. Typically, the test is designed for technicians to take during their first six months of work, and the topics are broken up as follows:

  • Components
  • Tools
  • Measurements/Units
  • Electrical Safety
  • Basic Heat Transfer
  • General Safety

The exam consists of 50 questions and must be completed within 90 minutes.

HVAC Support Technician Certificate

This certificate is for technicians during their first six months to one year in the HVAC industry.

The exam topics are broken up as follows:

  • Safety
  • Basic Electricity
  • Tools
  • Installation
  • Basic Construction Terms
  • System Components
  • Achieving Desired Conditions
  • Service
  • Taking Temperature/Humidity Measurements
  • Design Considerations

This exam consists of 100 questions that must be answered in 150 minutes.

NATE Core & Specialty Tests Certificate

The Core & Specialty Tests Certificate is for technicians with more than two years of professional experience. This certificate is necessary before any attempt at North American Technician Excellence (NATE) specialization certifications.

The test topics are the same topics as the Ready-to-Work and HVAC Support Technician exams. This exam consists of 50 questions that must be answered in 90 minutes.

Senior Level Efficiency Analyst Certification

The Senior Level Efficiency Analyst Certification is reserved for technicians with five years or more of experience and two or more NATE specialty certifications. The test for this certification is more extensive than the ones previously listed.

The exam topics are broken up as follows:

  • Load Calculation
  • System Performance
  • Equipment Selection
  • Indoor Air/Environment Quality
  • Air Distribution
  • Planned Maintenance
  • Hydronic Distribution

 This exam consists of 100 questions that must be answered in four hours.

HVAC Excellence Certifications

HVAC Excellence offers progressive levels of certification that distinguish a technician’s knowledge and skill level as they advance in their career.

Some of the available topics include electric heat, heat pump installer, light commercial air conditioning, residential air conditioning, combustion analysis, gas heat, heat pump service, light commercial refrigeration, and residential & light commercial hydronic heat.

The exam for each topic consists of 100 questions.

5) Write your resume

After you have received the necessary education, it is time to write your resume. A good resume is clear, concise, and not too flashy. The length of your resume should be no more than two pages, but it’s generally recommended to leave it to just one.

Here’s a great guide on how to write an awesome resume.

6) Apply for jobs

Once you are happy with your resume, you can start seeking employment by applying for jobs. Send your resume out to every company that you would like to work for and take every interview opportunity that you get. Practice makes perfect, and you can never practice interviewing too much.

To find places hiring, look at job boards and call local companies in your area.

FAQs of becoming an HVAC technician

Is HVAC school hard?

As with anything that is worthwhile, HVAC school can be a rewarding challenge. You will not need to be a math wizard to make it through, but you will need to be able to use common sense and resourcefulness to work through the unique challenges that an HVAC technician may face.

What is the difference between HVAC and HVACR technicians?

The main difference between HVAC and HVACR is the “R”, which stands for refrigeration. HVACR technicians will not only work with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning but also with refrigerants such as R-134a.

How much do HVAC technicians make?

HVAC technicians can make anywhere between $22.40 and $32.74 per hour. The median hourly wage for an HVAC technician is $24.32.

What Type of HVAC training program should I do?

The answer to this depends on your circumstances.

If you are looking to make money immediately, then an apprenticeship may be the way to go so that you can get paid while you learn.

If you are looking to own your own business someday, community college may be the answer so that you can take business classes alongside your HVAC education.

Is becoming an HVAC technician worth it?

It is absolutely worth it to become an HVAC technician. Not only will you have a great salary and a bright career outlook with minimal education requirements, but you also have the opportunity to start your own HVAC company where the opportunities are limitless.

What does the normal day of an HVAC technician look like?

One of the best parts of being an HVAC technician is the fact that no two days are ever the same. You can go from performing calculations and picking out equipment one day to installing HVAC units on the roof of a 10-story building the next day. Learn more about the HVAC technician work environment here.