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The Ultimate Resource for Entering This In-Demand Career

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technicians are modern stewards of human comfort. These professionals install and maintain heating and cooling systems for homes and workplaces.

HVAC technology is becoming more and more popular as a career. HVAC students learn everything they need to secure a job and excel in the field. Read on to learn more about how to become an HVAC professional.

FAQ

Question Answer
What is an HVAC technician and what do they do? Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technicians are responsible for the installation and maintenance of heating and cooling systems in residences and corporations. During HVAC training, students can expect to learn everything they need to secure a job and excel in the field.
How long does HVAC certification take? Students have three options when it comes to HVAC training. Students should choose the option that works best with their different schedules, budgets, and learning and personal needs. Most programs take around two years to complete. Still, they can range from six months and five years (for apprenticeships).
Can you get HVAC certification online? With the constant demand for temperature control in both residential and commercial spaces, HVAC professionals are always needed. To successfully pursue an education in this field, learners should be aware of the best HVAC training programs available to them. In addition to in-person training, those who want to learn the fundamentals of HVAC systems can gain HVAC training through an online certification program. These certifications suit those looking for entry-level positions or early-stage wage increases.
What jobs can you get with an HVAC certification? With the increasingly complex nature of heating and cooling systems, career opportunities are growing for professionals in this field. Those with HVAC training can expect a 4% job growth from 2019-2029, according to the VU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most HVAC technicians work in homes, schools, office buildings, hospitals, and factories. Competency in computers and electronics is encouraged to get ahead in the field. As technicians progress through their career, many HVAC technicians specialize in installation, maintenance, or repair.

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HVAC Training at a Glance

Students can undergo HVAC training through a technical school, a community college, or an apprenticeship program. All options hold value. Regardless of program type, HVAC training teaches students how to install and maintain heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. 

Technicians should gain a deep understanding of the mechanics involved and the design, troubleshooting, and physical requirements of the job. Job opportunities for graduates include HVAC technician, designer, manufacturer, and HVAC company owner.

Student apprentice works on an HVAC unit.
An apprentice gets hands-on HVAC training from a technician.

John Gorrie is considered a father of air conditioning and refrigeration. He advocated for suspending ice from the ceilings of patients' rooms to make their rooms more comfortable.

After inventor Willis Carrier designed an air conditioning unit for movie theaters, Americans of every class were able to enjoy the comfort provided by the machine.

It's becoming increasingly popular for new homes to be retrofitted with more efficient energy systems. Geothermal and energy management and storage systems can reduce energy usage even in peak summer hours.

HVAC technicians who understand computer systems and troubleshooting tend to enjoy higher employment rates. Many companies struggle to find and retain technicians to work with the increasingly complex systems.

How to Become an HVAC Technician: Education and Training

Below, we break down HVAC programs offered through career and technical schools, community colleges, and apprenticeship programs..

Career & Technical School

Time to Complete: 2 years
Credential Earned: Certificate (opportunities for licensure available)

Career and technical HVAC programs make sure students build the skills to succeed. Learners also gain the knowledge to pass certifications such as the EPA 608 exam. Subjects include Freon recovery legislation, air conditioning (cooling), air conditioning (heating), and troubleshooting. Career and technical schools entail 250-300 credit hours. Students who cannot maintain traditional schedules can choose between day and night classes.

Below is a list of common courses for HVAC professionals. These courses teach students to operate, repair, and install heating and cooling systems.  Students also learn the laws and legislation that impact installation and disposal.

Sample Courses

Course NameOverview
Basic ElectricityThis entry-level course teaches students basic HVAC electrical terminology. It also covers component identification and equipment functions.
Fundamental HVAC MaintenanceThis course presents the methods of evacuating, recharging, recovering, and disposing. This applies to refrigerants and tubing and piping in HVAC systems. It also covers proper methods of configuring and connecting pipes or tubing.
Domestic Appliances and Cold Water ACThis course introduces students to residential refrigeration, freezers, and portable air conditioning units. Coursework addresses operation, maintenance and troubleshooting of chilled water air conditioning systems.
DET TrainingThis two-day course helps students become Duct and Envelope Tightness (DET) Verifiers.

Community College

Time to Complete: 6 months - 2 years
Credential Earned: Associate degree or certificate, depending on school program

Students with high school diplomas or GED certificates can pursue HVAC training at a community college. Community colleges are like technical schools. They make sure graduates know how to work on a variety of heating systems. Community college programs also explore heat load calculation and system design. Students learn about air duct fabrication and calculation as well. Learners should consider their educational goals when looking into community college HVAC programs. The most common community college program leads to an associate of occupational studies. Some may also provide technician certificates.

Read on for a sampling of community college course options. Lower-level courses cover basic heating systems. Higher-level ones explore specific methods of heating and cooling.

Sample Courses

Course NameOverview
Gas Heating SystemsThis course teaches why natural gas is such an efficient fuel. It also teaches about the inner workings of gas-fueled furnace systems.
HVAC DiagnosticsThis course teaches learners to troubleshoot different HVAC systems. It covers the chokepoints where systems fail. It also explores how to fix systems in adverse conditions.
System ControlsThis course teaches students about the different types of systems. Simple systems include thermostats. Complex, computer-controlled systems can manage microclimates within giant structures.
Building Mechanical CodesThis course develops a knowledge of mechanical, fuel, gas, plumbing, and electrical codes. These apply to HVAC applications.

Apprenticeship Program

Time to Complete: Approximately 5 years
Credential Earned: Journeyman status

Apprenticeship programs are offered by both trade unions and privately owned businesses. Apprentices must complete approximately 8,000-10,000 hours of training, and in some cases are also required to attend related instruction courses. During this time apprentices learn the ins-and-outs of the HVAC trade. They are often paid foTrade unions and private businesses may offer apprenticeship programs. Apprentices must complete 8,000-10,000 hours of training. In some cases, they must attend related instruction courses. During this time, apprentices learn the ins-and-outs of the HVAC trade. They often receive pay for their labor at an apprentice rate. Apprentices may work their way up to a journeyman's rate throughout the course of the program. Apprentices must be age 18 or older. They should hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. Apprentices must perform physical tasks and pass an entry examination.

Many apprenticeship programs incorporate classroom elements into HVAC training. The following list highlights skills specific to apprenticeships.

Skills Learned

SkillDescription
SafetyDuring an apprenticeship, students learn work practices that follow state and federal law.
Installation and Service of EquipmentApprentices learn to install and service furnaces, boilers, and heat pump. They also learn about air conditioning and indoor air quality equipment.
Duct Work (Sheet metal – Airflow)Students learn to set grills and registers. They also learn to supply and return duct systems, exhaust fan ducts, and airflow testing.
Tools KnowledgeApprenticeship students learn to handle power drills, benders, and snips. They can also operate saws, hand tools, torches, and sheet metal fabricating machines.

Choosing an HVAC Training Program: Must-Have List

Accreditation
Accreditation ensures that a program's curriculum meets national standards. Accreditation demonstrates that a technician underwent rigorous training and understands the trade. Non-accredited programs can waste resources, as they do not hold the same educational value. Programmatic accreditation comes from organizations such as HVAC Excellence and Building Performance Institute, Inc.

Certificates/Licensure
HVAC technicians must obtain a certificate or license before they can legally work in most states. Prospective students should research the preparatory courses offered by a program. Learners should compare this curriculum with required state licenses.
Hour Requirements
Different institutions stipulate different minimum credit requirements. This requirement can affect everything from tuition to scheduling. It's important for students to be realistic about how much time they can commit to their education.
Entrance Exams
Some programs require an entrance or competency exam. If a program does have an entrance exam, keep track of the deadlines and costs.
Pre-Requisites
In addition to entrance exams, most programs have age, experience, and high school education requirements. Make sure you meet all prerequisites before applying to a program.
Tuition Costs
Technical schools and community colleges come with a price tag. Make sure the program you choose is affordable.

Technical School vs. Apprenticeship Training

HVAC training options include community college, technical school, and apprenticeship programs. Choosing can feel overwhelming. Students should consider the benefits of each option when making this decision.

Technical School
  • Provides a direct path and preparation to certification and licensure.
  • Flexible scheduling with day or night programs available.
  • Ideal for those who prefer to learn in classrooms.
Apprenticeship
  • Apprentices earn wages, though not high at first.
  • Offers dental, health, and other benefits.
  • Involves on-the-job training, ideal for tactile learners.

Opportunities for HVAC Technicians: Career and Salary Outlook

Given the increasingly complex nature of heating and cooling systems, career opportunities for HVAC professionals are growing.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers can expect an average job growth rate (4%) from 2019-2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most HVAC technicians work as plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors. As technicians progress through their career, they may specialize in installation, maintenance, or repair.

Industries with the Most HVAC Technicians

IndustryEmploymentAverage Hourly WageAverage Annual Wage (15)
Building Equipment Contractors249,430$24$50,400
Merchant Wholesalers, Durable Goods10,650$26$53,970
Direct Selling Establishments9,820$25$51,510
Commercial and Industrial Machinery and Equipment7,280$26$54,740
Colleges, University, and Professional Schools6,200$26$54,870

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)

Top 5 States with the Highest Concentration of HVAC Technicians

StateEmploymentEmployment per 1,000 Jobs
Delaware1,7803.94
Idaho2,6703.67
Florida2,6703.67
Florida31,7103.61
Maine2,1203.47
Arizona9,6003.35

Highest-Paying States for HVAC Technicians

RankStateAvg Annual Income
1District of Columbia$71,940
2Alaska$68,340
3Connecticut$64,900
4Massachusetts$63,260
5Hawaii$61,480

Licenses and Certifications for HVAC Technicians

Due to the toxic and volatile nature of the materials and systems HVAC technicians work with, some certifications are either required or strongly encouraged for professionals to enter the field. Some are specific to state or federal law. Others focus on honing skills that make professionals more competent and qualified.

graduation cap

EPA Certified A/C And Refrigeration Technician

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all individuals who handle refrigerants to obtain certification. This allows professionals to legally buy refrigerants and service any building's air conditioning and refrigeration systems.
There are three specializations for this exam: small appliances, high-pressure refrigerants, and low-pressure refrigerants. Technicians applying for this certification must choose a specialization. Refer to the EPA's website on technician certification for more information.

graduation cap

Industry Competency Exams (ICE)

Provided by North American Technician Excellence, the ICE certification  measures basic competency in the HVAC industry. This certification serves HVAC professionals who have one year or less of experience. It measures baseline competency in residential and light commercial A/C and heating and commercial refrigeration. It is available to take online or in person.

graduation cap

Professional Level Certifications

HVAC Excellence offers a variety of certifications to suit different skill levels. The professional-level certifications are for those with at least two years of verified field experience and passing grades on the core exam. Technicians who can pass both the prerequisite and closed-book exams may receive these certifications. These exams test competency in a variety of areas, including heat pump service, gas heat, combustion analysis, and light commercial refrigeration. For more information, visit the  HVAC Excellence page on professional level certifications.

Essential Skills and Experience for HVAC Technicians

Monitoring Operations
HVAC professionals must understand how to read gauges, dials, and other indicators to determine whether something is wrong with a heating or cooling system. Knowing how to monitor these indicators is integral to performing the duties of an HVAC technician.
Familiarity with Design
Few associate the design of technical blueprints with HVAC technicians, but knowledge of this subject is vital to the HVAC trade. Understanding design tells technicians more about the machines they are working on.
Quality Control Analytics
Quality control is essential to building client relationships and a reputation as a reliable HVAC technician. Technicians who demonstrate their knowledge and competency in a clear, measurable manner impress current and future clients.
Reasoning
Not every solution to an air conditioning or heating problem has a textbook answer. It is important for HVAC technicians to have both inductive and deductive reasoning skills.
Communication Skills
Customer relationships are built on good communication. Positive business relationships calls for effective communication of issues and solutions.
Physical Ability
Working as an HVAC technician requires being in tight quarters. These may be outside or in uncomfortable indoor settings, especially if the heating or cooling system is broken. Having the physical capability to complete these tasks is important to becoming a successful technician.

Dan Fleischer, owner of Dan’s Heating and Cooling Inc.
Las Vegas, NV

Where did you receive your education?

I received my education at the EC Goodwin Technical School in New Britain, Connecticut.

What expectations of the field did you have as a student? How did that change after entering the field?

My life changed when I was able to do work as journeyman status in the field, and I was able to do hands-on work and earn a respectable living. They took me from the ground floor up to working status, [and] I've never been unemployed since the day I left school in 1977. My family has benefited immensely with private school, music lessons, and no students loans for college. Coming from a small town, you can't ask for much better than that.

What was the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you regarding the HVAC profession?

The best advice that I received from our previous generations (or mentors) that was involved in the air conditioning field is that the minute you put your name on the side of your truck, you are now taking responsibility for their comfort and health.

Additional Resources for HVAC Techs

Best HVAC Training Programs

Methodology Methodology

For this year's college rankings, our analysts carefully reviewed statistical data from multiple sources for more than 7,500 postsecondary institutions so that you could easily evaluate schools based on what matters most to you. For each school, we applied the eligibility criteria outlined below, then ranked schools and programs based on four ranking factors.

Eligibility Criteria for All Postsecondary Institutions:
  • Must be a not-for-profit institution
  • Must be regionally or nationally accredited
  • Must offer at least one online program1
  • Must be located in a state (schools in US territories and Washington DC were not considered)

Dozens of data points were used to calculate a weighted score for four ranking factors: quality, affordability, flexibility and program (in order of significance). To determine quality, which was the most important consideration for all AS Online rankings, the most impactful data points were acceptance and graduation rates; for affordability, tuition2 and grants; for flexibility, part-time enrollment offerings; and for program, degrees conferred in that program area.

How to Read Our Rankings Tool:
  • A dash indicates IPEDS data was not available
  • Annual in-state tuition is displayed unless stated otherwise

1 Our Best Vocational Programs rankings included data for both online and campus programs.

2 Both annual in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our Rankings Tool currently only displays annual in-state rates.

With the constant demand for temperature control in both residential and commercial spaces, HVAC professionals are always needed. To successfully pursue an education in this field, students should learn about the best HVAC training programs available to them.

We considered all schools offering HVAC training to rank the top programs in the country. Our ranking accounts for variables such as cost, financial aid, graduation rate, and student-to-teacher ratios. View our list of the top HVAC training programs below.

Altierus Career College View School Profile $$ Tampa, FL 75%

Altierus Career College's HVAC technician program can be complete in just 9 months. Through hands-on training, students will learn how to read blueprints and designs for proper installation and repair of HVAC systems, install electrical wiring and controls, and improve efficiency. After completing the program, graduates are prepared to take the professional certification exam to further boost their employment and salary potentials. This certificate program is offered at the Tampa, FL and Houston Bissonnet campuses.

Cabell County Career Technology Center View School Profile Huntington, WV 94%

Those looking to enter the job market quickly as an HVAC technician can receive the proper training through Cabell County Career Technology Center. The HVAC technician program gives students the knowledge and technical skills needed for a successful HVAC career. A range of foundational topics are covered, such as basic electrical systems, tubing and piping, duct systems and fundamentals of AC/refrigeration. Cabell also offers an HVAC Technician Advanced program for those who have already completed HVAC training and certification. This program gives students the opportunity to earn NCCER certification.

University of Cincinnati View School Profile $ Cincinnati, OH 72%

If you're interested in a career as an HVAC technician, the University of Cincinnati offers 4 online training programs that can help you achieve that goal: HVACR certified technician, HVACR controls/building automation systems and HVACR technician - NATE service core (Spanish or English). All options can be completed in 6-12 months, with the HVACR certified technician program being the longest at 12 months. This all-inclusive training program covers the skills and knowledge you'll need to work in the field and tuition includes the cost of exam vouchers for the most current industry certifications.

Northern Michigan University View School Profile $ Marquette, MI 52%

Northern Michigan University, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, trains students to install and repair heating, ventilation, refrigeration, ducting and A/C in an array of settings, including grocery stores, hospitals and shopping malls. The school's 2-year certificate requires the completion of 44 credits with a minimum 2.0 GPA. There is no GPA requirement, however, for admission. Students can take advantage of the Academic and Career Advisement Center to receive tutoring, career assistance and writing help.

Ferris State University View School Profile $$ Big Rapids, MI 51%

For students who have completed an associate degree in HVACR technology, Ferris State University is 1 of 2 nationwide institutions to offer a 2-year completion program for earning a Bachelor of Science in HVACR Engineering Technology and Energy Management. All coursework, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, is available in a fully online format through the web platform Blackboard Learn. Students can access an online writing center, tutoring and academic advising to assist in their studies. Applicants must have a 2.5 GPA to be admitted and then must maintain a 2.0 GPA for the 124 credits needed to graduate.

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AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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