What Is an HVAC Certified Technician?
An HVAC certified technician is a technician that has either completed a diploma or associate’s degree in HVAC technology or worked as an apprentice as part of a recognized apprenticeship program. Following either course of education, the technician then chooses to take one or more official HVAC examinations and, upon passing, becomes officially certified. It should be noted that many states also require HVAC technicians and/or the companies they work for to be licensed appropriately.
HVAC technicians work with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment. You can take it one step further and become an HVACR certified technician, which means that you can also handle refrigeration equipment. This is especially important for HVAC technicians who work in commercial settings.
Getting Started: What You need to Know
There are numerous ways to enter the HVAC profession. Many vocational programs are designed to attract high school students toward the trades. There are also actual certification programs designed for adults and new graduates who need a dependable career path to follow. Some people gain their experience solely on the job, while others obtain it through coursework.
While there is no right or wrong way to enter the HVACR field, enrolling in an accredited HVAC program can help advance your career at a faster pace and lead to certification. Certifications are necessary because they improve your earning potential, but they allow you to advance within your career. Customers often look for NATE certification before choosing an HVAC company. Therefore, it is important to obtain certification to bring validity to the workplace and reinforce that you are the right choice for the job.
Training for Safety
This is extremely important for commercial HVACR contractors who are often working on large builds and need to have safety and training credentials behind their names to bid on jobs competitively. HVAC companies that work commercially will only hire certified technicians, so earning your certifications is a way to boost your earning potential and your overall hiring chances.
Steps To Become an HVAC Tech
Below are five steps needed to become an HVAC certified technician.
Step 1: Finish Your High School Diploma or Obtain a GED
All HVAC certified technicians are expected to have a high school diploma or an equivalent document, such as a GED. They also need to have a mind for science and technology. If possible, candidates should take chemistry, physical science and physics courses while in high school.
High School Vocational Training
Some high schools offer apprenticeships or internship programs as well as vocational training. These programs allow students to work alongside HVAC technicians, which is a great way to gain experience and a great way to ensure that an HVAC career is a good fit for you.
Step 2: Complete an Accredited HVAC Program
Degree vs Certificate
As mentioned, several different pathways can all end at professional HVAC certification. Some people choose to take a certificate program, while others complete a formal associate’s degree. These programs vary in length and can take between six months to two years, depending on whether you choose a diploma program or an associate’s degree.
Associates Degree with Internship
They all cover the same scope and include detailed information about refrigeration, energy management, industry code standards, air quality, ductwork, and similar items. However, an associate program will likely get into each area more in-depth and also teach customer relations, since it takes two years to complete. It should also include built-in internships that allow students to work alongside certified HVAC technicians to get invaluable hands-on training.
If you want to become a certified HVAC technician, you must choose a fully accredited program by one of two institutions (both of which offer their own certifications). The programs that offer accreditation are the PAHRA (Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation) and the HVAC Excellence. Some programs are accredited by both, and some are accredited by just one. Consider the certifications you wish to obtain and ensure that your program fits the bill.
Step 3: Consider an Apprenticeship
Some people choose to forgo a training program and instead complete an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship allows future HVAC technicians to learn on the job and requires them to accumulate 2,000 hands-on HVAC training while in the field. In addition, they need to complete 144 hours of actual technical education.
Apprenticeships are also usually paid, making them appealing to those that are ready to start earning but that want to eventually advance to become an HVAC certified technician.
Several different organizations provide recognized apprenticeship opportunities, including the US Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program, Air Conditioning Contractors of America, and the Associated Builders and Contractors. You can check with your HVAC state board for more help locating a viable apprenticeship opportunity.
Step 4: Gain Experience in the HVACR Field
Prior to certification, it is recommended that HVAC professionals get some experience working out in the field past their original apprenticeship when they can lean on another professional to offer them advice. At this point, it is time to gain industry experience that will help you qualify for specific qualifications.
However, it should be noted that it is usually possible to skip this step if you opt to take certain HVAC programs, such as associate-level programs. In this case, your diploma will take the place of several years of experience as a qualifier.
Step 5: Obtain Professional HVACR Certifications
You should be ready to seek out professional HVACR certification at this point in your career. You can pursue numerous certifications, and many HVACR-certified technicians choose to obtain several of them. Some of the most popular include:
In addition, most of these certifications can be stacked, or the same groups offer specialized certifications, such as air distribution or performance verifier. By stacking together as many HVAC certifications as possible, you can increase your value as an HVAC certified technician and thus increase your salary.
HVACR-certified technicians must handle installation, repair, and maintenance issues related to heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. They also frequently work with ventilation equipment and are indoor air quality specialists. Where you work and whether you choose to work as a commercial or residential HVACR certified technician will play a role in your exact job duties.
HVAC projects can vary largely in scope since one day may simply involve a few residential maintenance visits, while another might be spent repairing the HVAC system at a school or office complex.
Standard job duties include:
- installing, repairing, and maintaining HVAC equipment
- working with electrical wiring
- educating clients
- troubleshooting HVAC issues
- analyzing HVAC equipment
- spotting aging components and recommending upgrades
How Much Can You Make Starting Out?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for an HVACR certified technician is $48,630 per year. Still, it is important to remember that experience and additional credentials can play a vital role in earning potential.
HVACR-certified technicians are tasked with remembering many small details and precision repairs. Therefore, a focused, technologically based mind is essential. The ability to zero in on minute problems and then find a problem is important within the HVACR industry. A scientific mind can diagnose a problem based on the description provided by the client and the evidence that the tech finds within the HVAC system.
Outside of focus and problem-solving, an HVAC technician also needs to have a great deal of patience for the clients they work with and understand that HVAC repair and maintenance can be a challenging time for most clients. Unforeseen expenses are always stressful, so open communication and a friendly attitude can help offset some of the stress of the situation.
Right now, the demand for new HVACR certified technicians has slowed a bit, and there is only a 5% projected job growth. However, it is a well-known fact that many older trade workers are retiring, which is creating a giant void in the industry, so finding jobs in the future within the HVAC field should not be a problem.