Last Updated on March 22, 2021 by HVAC
HVAC Certification – How & Where to Get Started!
In order to maximize your opportunities and income as an HVAC technician, you should strongly consider becoming officially certified. Not only does an HVAC certification result in more lucrative opportunities in the HVAC industry, as well as higher wages; but most states and localities now require you to be certified (or at least licensed) to work as a technician.
Entry-level HVAC certification
There are a variety of HVAC certification types you can pursue depending on your level of training and experience. If you have completed some basic coursework but have less than 2 years of field experience, you can apply for an entry-level HVAC certification. You can usually take these certification exams at most secondary, as well as postsecondary trade schools and technical schools. You can typically expect a series of exams that test your basic understanding and competency in residential heating and cooling, light commercial heating and cooling, and commercial refrigeration.
Advanced HVAC certification
On the other hand, if you have more than 1 year of experience performing installations under your belt, as well as at least 2 years of experience doing maintenance and repair work, you will have a much wider range of advanced HVAC certifications to choose from. Many of these qualifications involve testing your competency and expertise in specific areas of the HVAC industry, or working with specific types of equipment. Upon receiving one such HVAC certification, you will be considered an expert in your respective field, and thus your average paycheck will increase.
Always do your due diligence when choosing your HVAC certification – here are some reputable organizations and their certifications to get you started. The AHRI (Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute) offers an Industry Competency Exam. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) offers certifications concerning refrigerants, chemical disposal, and environmental awareness. NATE (North American Technicians Excellence) offers national HVAC certification in installation or maintenance – to qualify, you need to pass a core exam (covering general knowledge, construction, tools, safety, etc.), as well as a specialty exam in an area of your choice.
HVAC Excellence offers a Professional Level Certification, as well as a Master Specialist Hands on Certification – which requires a minimum of 3 years verifiable field experience.
HVAC firms and employers are increasingly recommending taking these exams to obtain an official HVAC certification; as doing so greatly increases advancement opportunities in the industry. This may be in the form of higher wages, advanced positions such as supervisor or manager, sales and marketing positions, or even teachers. Others may even choose to open their own contracting business.
At the end of the day, if your foreseeable future is in this industry – I would strongly suggest that you start preparing for an HVAC certification exam immediately. With job growth in the industry exploding, and incoming retirements expected; demand and pay for qualified technicians is only going to continue to increase.
Most states (and countries) require you to undergo formal HVAC training before you are able to work as an HVAC technician. Depending on where you live, you will usually have a choice between getting training at a physical school, a formal apprenticeship, or through an online course. Another option to consider is getting training through the Armed Forces.
HVAC Training Schools
Traditional HVAC training in technical and trade schools, and community colleges, usually takes around 1 or 2 years to complete. The subjects taught include areas surrounding air-conditioning and heating – such as temperature control, air quality, refrigeration, and humidity regulation.
Related topics such as mechanical drawing and reading, electronics, design and construction, installation, and maintenance and repair, are also covered. It is also helpful (but not required) if you have previous knowledge in related areas – like if you’ve completed high school subjects such as math, chemistry, electronics, and applied physics; as these fields are directly related to the training and practices of an HVAC technician.
Before enrolling in an HVAC training school, you must check the school’s accreditation. Ensure that the school’s quality and competitiveness meet the academic standards set by your local HVAC organizations. This is important not only for the quality and legitimacy of your HVAC training, but is also important should you pursue an official certification in the future. After graduation, you will need 1-2 years of field experience before employers consider you proficient.
HVAC Training Apprenticeships
Another HVAC training route is a formal apprenticeship. These programs involve theory classes combined with paid on-the-job training, and usually last 3 to 5 years. Classroom subjects include OH&S, blueprint reading and drawing, and the theory and design of heating, air-conditioning, ventilation, and refrigeration systems.
To apply for a formal apprenticeship, most states require you to have a high school diploma or equivalent. If you cannot meet this requirement – you may need to choose another option for HVAC training. The main advantages of an apprenticeship are; you get paid, and upon completion – technicians are considered skilled tradespersons and fully capable of working alone. Apprenticeships programs are also pathways to official certification.
HVAC Training Online
If neither of these options suit you, you can consider getting HVAC training online. The advantages of this path are that you can complete your education at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home. The disadvantage is that you receive no hands on training – however most courses use advanced HVAC training software and computer simulations to make up for this.
When looking for an online course, it is more important than ever to ensure that the school has a good reputation and is well respected. You should check their past history, as well as their credentials. If possible, you should also do some research about their training software – many schools use some great intuitive teaching tools, but some are still using outdated software. Upon completion, most schools will help you find opportunities by sending letters of recommendation to potential employers.
Ultimately, the path you choose for HVAC training is up to you. You should carefully weigh your options, and consider which course best fits your current needs, and well as your plans for the future. One point I’d like to add is that I believe there is a very strong future for the HVAC industry.
Demand for HVAC technicians is ever-increasing with much faster-than-average job growth, as well as lots of expected retirements.
What can a technician expect when applying for HVAC jobs? As you may have guessed, most of the work involves dealing with systems that control the temperature, humidity, and air quality of residential, commercial, as well as industrial buildings. As an entry-level HVAC technician, you can expect most of your duties to involve the installation and maintenance of these systems.
What do HVAC Jobs Involve?
Heating and air-conditioning systems and refrigeration systems consist of many complex electrical and mechanical components – including motors, fans, pumps, pipes, ducts, thermostats, etc.
A typical HVAC job involves maintaining, diagnosing, and correcting any problems that inevitably occur throughout the system. In order to accomplish this, a technician might adjust controls and settings to test the overall performance of the HVAC system using specialized HVAC tools and test equipment.
Although HVAC technicians are trained in both the installation of systems as well as maintenance and repair, most technicians choose to specialize in one or the other after graduation. Some also specialize further by branching into heating or refrigeration, or specific types of equipment – such as solar panels or hydronics.
For most HVAC jobs, you can expect a typical work week to be around 40 hours long, occasionally with overtime and irregular hours. Prepare to be available on call in the evenings and during weekends. And be prepared to do a multitude of different jobs for each client from furnace vent cleaning to installing a full HVAC system. Technicians are expected to be courteous and patient when dealing with clients and prospects.
HVAC Job Opportunities
There are also advanced HVAC job positions available other than an installation and maintenance technician. To name a few – there are supervisory or managerial positions, as well as jobs in sales and marketing. If you enjoy working with students, you could take up a teaching position at technical and trade schools, as well as community colleges. If you have sufficient start-up capital, you can even open your own HVAC contracting business – and hire other technicians to work for you.
HVAC Job Requirements
Naturally, more lucrative opportunities will be available depending on your level of training, work experience, and qualifications. Unless you are planning on starting your own business – expect a requirement of at least 2 years field experience before any advanced positions open up, most employers will also require you to have a certification in your field. If you are planning to progress past a typical technician position, you should seriously consider applying for a recognized HVAC certification or two.
HVAC Jobs and the Future
HVAC jobs and the entire HVAC industry in general can look forward to a very strong future – especially over the next 10 years. Current demand for technicians is skyrocketing – due to much faster than expected job growth, incoming expected retirements, and technological advancements and construction. Now is a great time to get your foot in the door!
One of the most common questions people ask me is what kind of salary someone in the HVAC industry can expect. The answer is highly dependent your level of training, amount of field experience, whether or not you have any certifications, and your job position and duties.
HVAC Salary Determining Factors
Obviously if you have a decade of professional experience installing and maintaining HVAC systems, your average HVAC salary will be a lot higher than a technician who only recently completed their training. It should be noted that technicians undertaking an apprenticeship are paid on average 50% of what an experienced technician earns. If you have a recognized HVAC certification, you will also generally be paid more, as well as be able to find more available work.
Another important factor to consider is the kind of work you do. For example, while there is a lot of demand for general HVAC installations and maintenance, there are also a lot of technicians to fill that demand, so average earnings will be lower. However, if you specialize in one area – such as solar heating or hydronics, there will be a lot less competition and as a result your salary will be higher. It should also be noted that in general, technicians that specialize in maintenance and repair work receive more work opportunities than technicians who specialize in installations.
Average HVAC Salary
Before getting into average HVAC salaries, it is important to note that not all technicians earn a “salary”. Technicians who work for contractors, wholesalers, and other employers earn a yearly salary, while independent contractors earn an hourly wage.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average HVAC salary is $43,670, or an hourly wage of $21. The lowest percentile of technicians, which mostly consists of fresh school leavers, makes $25,750 per year. while the highest percentile makes $65,580. It is important to note that these numbers are for HVAC technicians only – it is very possible to make much more if you took a sales position, or were promoted to a managerial or supervisory position.
The first step to becoming a licensed technician is choosing from the wide variety of HVAC schools. This is a very important step in your career – as choosing the wrong school can end up simply wasting your time and money. But what should you look for in a school, and what should you avoid?
HVAC Schools or Formal Apprenticeship
First you must decide if you will get training through a formal apprenticeship, or a trade school. The main advantages of an apprenticeship are that you get paid while you learn, you get plenty of hands-on field experience, and after you finish your training you are considered an experienced technician and fit to work alone.
The downside is that the apprenticeship program usually takes between 3 to 5 years to complete. On the other hand, training at physical HVAC schools usually takes between 1 to 2 years to complete – but of course you don’t get paid during that time.
The prerequisites for both a formal apprenticeship and HVAC schools are usually just a high school diploma or equivalent. If you are unable to meet these requirements, you may consider either going back and getting your diploma, alternate pathways programs, or getting training through an online course. It should be noted that high school subjects such as math, chemistry, and applied physics, will greatly help with your HVAC training.
How to choose HVAC Schools
The most important factor when choosing HVAC schools is to consider is the school’s accreditation. Students should ensure that their school is accredited and meets the standards set by the industry organizations of their area. This not only ensures that the school’s curriculum is up to date and meets industry standards, but will also help the student find employment after graduation, as well as apply for any necessary certifications should they choose to.
There are also a variety of HVAC programs to choose from. If you have no prior experience in the HVAC industry, you may want to apply in a HVAC basics course, which will introduce you to all the necessary concepts and skills required to install, maintain, and repair HVAC systems. These basic programs will also cover related topics such as math, chemistry, applied physics, electronics, design and construction, and mechanical drawing and reading.
On the other hand if you have a specific HVAC field that you plan to specialize in, such as hydronics or solar heating, then a more specialized and focused program may be for you. Always do your due diligence when choosing HVAC schools.