HVAC Training Options
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By completing HVAC training at a vocational or trade school, you can become well prepared to enter this rapidly growing trade that's full of variety. Technicians who set up and service heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems frequently enjoy satisfying work, steady incomes, and consistent demand for their services.
HVAC schools are set up to teach what you need to know in order to begin working as a technician at the entry level. In some cases, completing college-level training can also shorten the length of an apprenticeship if you choose to go that route.
Benefits of HVAC Training
Learning from those in the know: You can get guidance from experienced instructors who understand industry-current practices and can challenge you to keep adding to your skill set.
Hands-on practice: Trade school HVAC programs often give students lots of practical experience with the types of tools and situations that technicians commonly deal with on the job. That means you can concentrate on expanding your skills without the pressure of real-world job expectations.
Professional certification: Many programs are designed to prepare students for the Section 608 certification exam that is required for any technician who handles refrigerants.
Length of Training
It typically takes eight to 24 months to complete a post-secondary program in HVAC technology.*
Most Common Length of School*
(range in months)
HVAC Program Options
Certificate or diploma programs in HVAC technology typically last one year or less, though some take up to two years.* Some shorter programs focus on one specific area, such as air conditioning technology or residential heating and cooling. They offer a quick way to enter the trade.
Associate degree programs are generally designed to last about two years.* They are similar to certificate and diploma programs but tend to offer a broader scope of training, including several general education courses that can give you a more well-rounded experience. Completing a program at this level can make you a stronger candidate for supervisory roles once you have some experience.
Apprenticeships can last up to five years.* Some companies are willing to hire apprentices and provide all the training on the job. Formal HVAC apprenticeships that consist of a mix of technical lessons and paid workplace training are often sponsored by trade associations or plumbing or sheet metal unions. You can try using the online search tool from the Department of Labor to find apprenticeships in your area.
Depending on the program you choose, you may receive instruction in subjects such as:
- Interpretation of mechanical drawings and diagrams
- General theories of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration
- Principles of electric, gas, and oil heat
- Airflow and indoor air quality
- Basic electricity
- Heating fuels
- Heat pumps
- Refrigerant types
- Soldering and brazing
- Venting and duct systems
- Installation and service
- Troubleshooting and problem solving
- Building codes
- Safety practices
Many HVAC programs that are accredited by an industry organization use the Industry Competency Exams (ICE) as exit tests for students. So, depending on the program you choose, you might have to take one or more of the three different tests that are available as part of the ICE. The different testing areas are: (1) residential air conditioning and heating, (2) light commercial air conditioning and heating, and (3) commercial refrigeration.
Skills You Can Learn
You could begin learning how to:
- Read and understand blueprints
- Set up, troubleshoot, and maintain residential and commercial equipment and systems
- Calculate loads in BTUs (British thermal units)
- Braze and solder pipes and fittings
- Connect electrical wiring
- Handle refrigerants
- Follow safety protocols
Licensing & Certification
Licensing and certification requirements for HVAC technicians depend on where they live, the specific types of systems they work with, and whether they intend to be their own boss.
Many, but not all, states have licensing requirements for HVAC technicians. (In some cases, licensing is required at the local rather than state level.) Becoming licensed often requires passing an exam. Plus, some states require you to have completed the equivalent of an apprenticeship program or two to five years of on-the-job experience before you can apply for a license to legally work on your own. You can use CareerOneStop's license finder to research the requirements in your area.
Additionally, most states require you to get a special license if you're aiming to work as an HVAC contractor.
Some HVAC certifications are required; others are voluntary. However, even voluntary certifications can help you advance in your career since most employers like to see official acknowledgment of your competencies.
Section 608 of the Clean Air Act of 1990 requires anyone who services equipment that uses specific refrigerants to take a test to prove that they know how to properly handle, recycle, and dispose of materials that can damage the ozone layer. The Section 608 certification exam is a written test and is administered by a variety of organizations that have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including unions, building groups, trade schools, and contractor associations.
Section 608 certification is broken down into four types:
- Type I for small appliances
- Type II for very high-pressure appliances
- Type III for low-pressure appliances
- Universal for all types of HVAC/R equipment
Many formal HVAC programs prepare their students to take the EPA Section 608 Universal certification test.
Technicians who work on air conditioning systems in motor vehicles must complete Section 609 certification.
The EPA does not require any additional certifications for technicians who work with R-410A refrigerant. However, since this type of refrigerant is used at a much higher vapor pressure and therefore requires different tools, equipment, and safety standards, some trade schools and training providers offer classes related to R-410A specifically.
Other types of voluntary professional certifications are designed to verify the real-world skills and working knowledge of technicians who have had at least a year or two of on-the-job experience. Certification is offered by independent organizations in many different specialty areas such as residential and commercial air conditioning, heat pump service and installation, gas heat, electric heat, oil furnaces, hydronics, air distribution, and commercial refrigeration.
Education & Training FAQs
How can I prepare for an HVAC program?
Taking high school courses in subjects such as mechanical drawing, basic electronics, math, computer science, and applied physics and chemistry can be helpful. It can also be beneficial to gain some basic knowledge of electrical and plumbing work.
What's required in order to start an HVAC apprenticeship?
Generally speaking, HVAC apprentices must:
- Be at least 18
- Hold a high school diploma or equivalent credential
- Be comfortable with algebra
- Have a valid driver's license
- Pass a drug screen
Keep in mind that apprenticeship openings are often highly competitive. Completing an HVAC program at a technical college or trade school can give you a leg up on the competition when applying for a registered apprenticeship.
HVAC Career Information
HVAC is among the most worthwhile trades for people who enjoy diverse challenges and hands-on work. This career offers good earning potential and strong demand.
5% growth from 2021 to 2031
Average Yearly Openings
Length of Training
Most Common Length
Residential heating and cooling, commercial or industrial heating and cooling, commercial refrigeration, mobile refrigeration, automotive or marine service, geothermal heating and cooling, energy auditing
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- U.S. Department of Education
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers earn a median annual wage of $48,630, according to Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program estimates.** The top earners in this trade make more than $78,210.
Median Annual Wage Comparison**
Job Openings & Outlook
Employment in this trade is expected to expand by five percent over the 10-year period from 2021 to 2031, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections.
On average, 40,100 jobs for HVAC technicians should become available each year over that same time frame. They break down this way:
- Brand new positions: 2,000
- Openings due to workers retiring: 12,300
- Openings stemming from workers changing to other occupations: 25,800
- A sense of accomplishment: It can be intensely rewarding to fix problematic equipment or install new systems because your hard work directly impacts the ability of people to feel comfortable in their environments.
- Long-term stability: Controlling indoor climates is important not just for people's comfort, but also for the efficient operation of computers and machinery. And refrigeration is crucial for the safe storage of perishable foods and medical supplies. So HVAC technicians have essential expertise that will always be needed.
- Mental stimulation and work variety: This is one of the best trades to learn because it allows you to develop skills in several different areas, including electrical work, plumbing, welding, pipefitting, and sheet metal.
What an HVAC Technician Does
HVAC technicians are experts in indoor climate control. They install and service the systems that control temperature and air quality. Some of them also set up and maintain the refrigeration systems that make it possible to transport and store perishable foods and medicines (which is why the trade is sometimes referred to as HVAC/R).
HVAC technicians' job duties can depend on whether they specialize in working with a particular type of equipment (e.g., furnaces or refrigeration systems) in either the installation or service side of the business. That said, typical tasks can include:
- Installing furnaces, heat pumps, and air conditioning units
- Installing the ductwork that carries treated air throughout a building
Following blueprints and specifications used in the installation of systems and components like:
- Air ducts
- Water and fuel supply lines
- Connecting electrical wiring and controls
- Charging refrigeration systems with the proper refrigerants
- Conserving, recovering, and recycling refrigerants for reuse or ensuring that they are disposed of properly
- Venting refrigerants into the appropriate cylinders
Performing routine maintenance, such as:
- Checking for leaks
- Adjusting blowers and burners
- Changing air filters
- Lubricating motors
- Cleaning condenser and evaporator coils
- Diagnosing and repairing problems that are found within any part of a system
- Adjusting the controls of a system and recommending appropriate settings
- Testing the performance of a furnace, heat pump, air conditioning unit, or other piece of equipment to ensure that it operates at peak efficiency
- Using carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide testers to make sure that a customer's equipment operates safely
- Selling service contracts or replacement equipment to customers
- Responding to calls for emergency repairs
HVAC technicians can work in any building that utilizes climate-control equipment. Examples include:
- Retail stores and supermarkets
- Computer data centers
- Research labs
- Industrial plants
- Entertainment venues
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), about two-thirds of HVAC technicians work for plumbing or heating and cooling contractors. Seven percent are self-employed.
Many HVAC technicians are generalists, but some choose to concentrate on installing new systems or focus on maintaining and repairing systems that are already in place.
Additionally, some technicians specialize in one type of system. For example, in regions with warm climates, many technicians work on air conditioning systems exclusively.
Other areas of specialization can include:
Residential heating and cooling: Work on equipment like furnaces, boilers, air conditioners, and pool heaters for private homes.
Commercial or industrial heating and cooling: Work on more complex systems in settings like offices, hospitals, schools, and industrial plants.
Commercial refrigeration: Work on refrigerators, freezers, product display cases, and cold storage facilities in places like restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, and food processing plants.
Mobile refrigeration: Work on refrigeration units in transport trucks, cargo ships, and rail cars.
Automotive or marine service: Work on the climate-control systems that keep people comfortable inside cars, trucks, vans, or boats.
Geothermal heating and cooling: Work on the heat pumps and underground pipes that transfer heat between a building and land beneath the surface (rather than between a building and the outside air).
Energy auditing: Assess the energy consumption of a home or other building and recommend measures to improve energy efficiency.
What sort of characteristics should you have in order to be a good HVAC technician?
It's important to exhibit:
- A sense of craftsmanship and pride in your work
- An aptitude for mechanical, hands-on work
- Determination and a strong work ethic
- An interest in the science behind HVAC technology
How dangerous is HVAC work?
Because they work with things like wiring and refrigerants, technicians face potential hazards like electrical shock, frostbite, and burns. But following safety protocols can greatly reduce the risk of injury. BLS data indicates that there were 22 fatal workplace injuries among HVAC technicians in 2020. There were 380,400 technicians employed across the country that year, so the fatality rate for this occupation was only 0.01 percent.
Which regions have the highest salaries for HVAC technicians?
The highest average wages in the HVAC trade can be found in the following areas, according to OEWS program data:**
- District of Columbia: $70,130
- Alaska: $70,100
- Hawaii: $69,100
- New Jersey: $68,460
- New York: $66,180
HVAC Training Is a Reliable Way to Get Started
If you're eager for a career in this diverse and reliable trade, formal HVAC training can be an excellent first step. By completing a program at a trade school or vocational college, you can develop hands-on skills, receive help from knowledgeable pros, and get ready for important industry certifications.
* Length of training information is based on a combination of information from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Education, and a wide sampling of relevant programs from about 30 individual school websites. They are a mix of public, private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions.
** Unless otherwise noted, salary information is based on May 2021 data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program. Job growth and average yearly openings estimates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are for the 2021 to 2031 period.