HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. You may occasionally see the abbreviation HVACR used, the R denotes refrigeration. An HVAC technician installs, maintains, and services heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality and temperature in homes and businesses.
There are a number of options for someone pursuing a career in HVAC. Some technicians choose residential work, where they install or service heating and air conditioning units in people's homes. Others may choose the commercial path, where they are install or service conditioning systems in hospitals, schools, and other businesses. HVAC technicians may even specialize in a specific function such as installation, maintenance, or repair.
What type of work you choose to do as an HVAC technician is ultimately up to you. This guide will help you understand what types of jobs and responsibilities are available, how much you can make, what education and training you need, and how to become an HVAC technician.
Interested in starting a career in HVAC?
Our HVAC placement program will help you develop the skills employers are looking for and will help you land your first job. Our 6 week, online training program will teach you the fundamentals of HVAC and we'll introduce you to HVAC businesses that want to hire you. Best of all, its 100% free.Register Now
HVAC Technician Jobs & Responsibilities
The day-to-day responsibilities of an HVAC technician vary widely depending on the type of work you are doing. If you are a residential HVAC technician, you will be spending time inspecting, testing, and repairing air conditioning systems and interacting directly with customers. If you are a commercial refrigeration technician, you will be spending time diagnosing, repairing, and testing refrigeration systems for grocery stores, hospitals, and other businesses. That said, there are some common things you will be do as an HVAC technician:
- Install, clean, and maintain HVAC systems
- Install electrical components and wiring
- Inspect and test HVAC systems and components
- Discuss system malfunctions with customers
- Repair or replace worn or defective parts
- Recommend maintenance to improve system performance
HVAC vs Refrigeration
You may occasionally hear the abbreviation HVACR. While HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, the "R" stands for refrigeration. HVAC and Refrigeration are commonly treated as two separate parts of the industry.
HVAC is primarily focused on human comfort. This could mean cooling an office building, heating your home, or reducing humidity in your basement. HVAC technicians are responsible for:
- Air Conditioning
- Air Flow
- Air Quality & Filtration
When we refer to refrigeration, we are typically talking about commercial refrigeration. Examples of commercial refrigeration may include large refrigerators used by grocery stores to keep food fresh or large freezers used in hospitals to keep vaccines at required temperatures. Refrigeration systems in homes and residences, like your refrigerator, fall under the category of appliance repair which is often viewed separately from HVAC and commercial refrigeration. Work in refrigeration commonly requires additional training.
Residential vs Commercial
Residential HVAC technicians install, maintain, and service heating and air conditioning units in people's homes. Residential HVAC requires strong communication skills as you will often be interacting directly with customers.
Commercial HVAC technicians install and repair large heating and air conditioning systems in places like schools, hospitals, and other businesses. They may also service air conditioning systems used in grocery stores to keep food fresh.
Industrial HVAC technicians work on large systems designed to maintain a specific temperature or humidity during an industrial process, like manufacturing.
Service vs Installation
HVAC installation technicians are responsible for installing new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. These installations can be for residential properties, like homes, or for other buildings, like apartment complexes.
HVAC service technicians are responsible for maintaining and repairing existing HVAC systems in homes and businesses.
HVAC Technician Salary
Your salary as an HVAC technician will vary based on a number of factors, including location, years of experience, and the skills you possess.
National Salary Data
- Median Annual Salary: $48,730 ($23.43 per hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $77,920 ($37.46 per hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $30,610 ($14.72 per hour)
HVAC Technician Median Annual Salary (2010-2019)
State Salary Data
- Highest Median Annual Salary: District of Columbia, Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, & Hawaii
- Lowest Median Annual Salary: Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, & Kentucky
HVAC Technician Salary by State
Education, Training, Certifications, & Licenses
Most employers require at least a GED to be considered for employment as an entry-level HVAC helper or HVAC apprentice. Employers will hire workers who have received post-secondary instruction at a trade or technical school, but this not a requirement to enter the field.
Most training for HVAC technicians is done on the job. This can be through a formal apprenticeship or as a helper. Some employers may also offer internal training programs to help you learn the skills you need. Most HVAC manufactures, like Carrier or Trane, will offer training as well.
Certifications & Licenses
HVAC technicians who handle refrigerants are required to get their EPA 608 certification. There are some optional HVAC certifications you can obtain, like NATE or HVAC Excellence. Some states and cities may require you to hold additional HVAC licenses.
The job outlook for HVAC technicians is strong. The projected, 10-year job growth rate is 4%, which is average compared to all occupations in the U.S.. While new job growth is predicted to be average, HVAC companies are already facing a growing labor shortage. 8 out of 10 companies are having trouble filling openings. Many HVAC technicians are approaching retirement, as more and more technicians retire there will be increased demand for workers.
HVAC Technician Job Growth (2010-2019)
HVAC Technician Knowledge & Skills
It makes sense to assume an HVAC technician needs skills and traits that involve proficiency in working with machinery, power tools, and heating/cooling systems, but those are not the only skills needed to make a technician a well rounded individual and an asset to their company.
Hard skills refer to the job-related knowledge and abilities that employees need to perform their job duties effectively.
- Mathematics: You will have to perform load calculations while on the job to ensure equipment is properly heating and cooling.
- Mechanical Aptitude: You will install and repair complicated climate-control systems, so it is crucial that you understand how components of the system work.
- Physical Strength: You will frequently be required to lift equipment in excess of 50 lbs.
Soft skills are the personal qualities that help employees thrive in the workplace.
- Customer Relations: You will often be working in people's homes and businesses, therefore you become the face of the company you work for. It’s important that you possess communication and customer service skills and this includes respecting their home and possessions while building a report and always maintain an air of professionalism (dress, personal hygiene, respect, etc.) while working.
- Speaking: With the client, you must be able to articulate clearly and share information with them, as you are entering their home/property. Often they will not understand every technical term or process, so speaking in a way for all to understand is also something you must keep in mind.
- Listening: If you are reporting to a residential call, you will need to gain information from the client and listening skills will help this process. This also applies to working with anyone on a job in general, communication through listening and understanding what is needed is just as important as speaking.
- Managing Emotions: As a technician, you will likely have to work with clients who are frustrated or unhappy. As the HVAC technician on site you must be able to handle the situation in a calm and friendly manner, no matter how unfriendly or unhappy that client may be.
The majority of HVAC technicians work for HVAC or other construction contractors. It is common for HVAC technicians to start their own business or work independently, roughly 7% of technicians are self-employed. Technicians can perform work in a variety of places, including homes, schools, stores, hospitals, offices, and factories. Sometimes technicians are assigned to an ongoing job site, while others will handle service calls at multiple locations in one day.
Most of the work takes place indoors, but technicians may have to install or replace equipment located outdoors, even in inclement weather.
How to Become an HVAC Technician
If you're a new HVAC technician, you will begin by working with a mentor, usually a more experienced technician at your company. You will not be replacing important components on day one. As an entry-level technician, you will likely start your career by doing installation work with a large crew or by doing maintenance work, such as insulating refrigerant lines or cleaning filters. After gaining experience on the job, you will gradually move on to more difficult tasks, including cutting and soldering pipes or checking electrical circuits.
It is common for technicians receive their training through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship programs typically last 4 to 5 years. During the apprenticeship, technicians get paid, on-the-job training and usually attend classes at a local community college or trade school.