Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers


Quick Facts: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers
2017 Median Pay $47,080 per year 
$22.64 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 332,900
Job Outlook, 2016-26 15% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 48,800

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Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers Career, Salary, and Education Information

What HVAC Technicians Do

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers often called HVACR technicians work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

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Duties of HVAC technicians

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Install, clean, and maintain HVACR systems

  • Install electrical components and wiring

  • Inspect and test HVACR systems and components

  • Discuss system malfunctions with customers

  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts

  • Recommend maintenance to improve system performance

  • Keep records of work performed

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate-controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Some HVACR technicians specialize in one or more specific aspects of HVACR, such as radiant heating systems, solar panels, testing and balancing, or commercial refrigeration.

When installing or repairing air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. The regulations include those concerning the proper handling and disposal of fluids and pressurized gases.

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing periodic maintenance of heating and cooling systems. The service usually includes inspecting the system, cleaning ducts, replacing filters, and checking refrigerant levels.

Other workers sometimes help HVACR technicians install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork may be installed by sheet metal workers, electrical work by electricians, and pipework by plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Boiler systems are sometimes installed by a boilermaker.

Home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators.


Work Environment for HVAC technicians

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers held about 332,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors: 64%

Self-employed workers: 9%

Educational services; state, local, and private: 4%

Retail trade: 4%

Wholesale trade: 3%

HVACR technicians work mostly in homes, schools, stores, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Some technicians are assigned to specific job sites at the beginning of each day. Others travel to several different locations, making service calls.

Work Schedules

The majority of HVACR technicians worked full time in evening or weekend shifts may be required, and HVACR technicians often work overtime or irregular hours during peak heating and cooling seasons.


How to Become an HVAC technician

HVACR systems have become increasingly complex, employers generally prefer applicants with postsecondary education or those who have completed an apprenticeship. Some states and localities may require technicians to be licensed. Workers may need to pass a background check prior to being hired.

Education 

Many HVACR technicians receive postsecondary instruction from technical and trade schools or community colleges that offer programs in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration. These programs generally last from 6 months to 2 years and lead to a certificate or an associate’s degree.

High school students interested in becoming an HVACR technician should take courses in vocational education, math, and physics. Knowledge of plumbing or electrical work and a basic understanding of electronics is also helpful.

New HVACR technicians typically begin by working alongside experienced technicians. At first, they perform basic tasks such as insulating refrigerant lines or cleaning furnaces. In time, they move on to more difficult tasks, including cutting and soldering pipes or checking electrical circuits.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy, handle, or work with refrigerants to be certified in proper refrigerant handling. Many trade schools, unions, and employer associations offer training programs designed to prepare students for the EPA certification exam.

Advancement 

Programmers who have general business experience may become computer systems analysts. With experience, some programmers may become software developers. They may also be promoted to managerial positions. For more information, see the profiles on computer systems analysts, software developers, and computer and information systems managers.

Important Qualities 

Customer-service skills. HVACR technicians often work in customers’ homes or business offices, so it is important that they be friendly, polite, and punctual. Repair technicians sometimes deal with unhappy customers whose heating or air conditioning is not working.

Detail oriented. HVACR technicians must carefully maintain records of all work performed. The records must include the nature of the work performed and the time it took, as well as a list of specific parts and equipment that were used.

Math skills. HVACR technicians need to calculate the correct load requirements to ensure that the HVACR equipment properly heats or cools the space required.

Mechanical skills. HVACR technicians install and work on complicated climate-control systems, so they must understand the HVAC components and be able to properly assemble, disassemble, and, if needed, program them.

Physical stamina. HVACR technicians may spend many hours walking and standing. The constant physical activity can be tiring.

Physical strength. HVACR technicians may have to lift and support heavy equipment and components, often without help.

Time-management skills. HVACR technicians frequently have a set number of daily maintenance calls. They should be able to keep a schedule and complete all necessary repairs or tasks.

Troubleshooting skills. HVACR technicians must be able to identify problems on malfunctioning heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems and then determine the best way to repair them.


salaries for HVAC technicians

The median annual wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers was $47,080 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.

The median annual wages for HVACR technicians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Wholesale trade: $50,460

Educational services; state, local, and private: $49,390

Retail trade: $47,670

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors: $45,570

The majority of HVACR technicians worked full time in 2016. Evening or weekend shifts may be required, and HVACR technicians often work overtime or irregular hours during peak heating and cooling seasons.


Job Outlook for HVAC TECHNICIANS

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Commercial and residential building construction is expected to drive employment growth. The growing number of sophisticated climate-control systems is also expected to increase demand for qualified HVACR technicians. 

Repair and replacement of HVACR systems is a large part of what technicians do. The growing emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction is likely to increase the demand for HVACR technicians as climate-control systems are retrofitted, upgraded, or replaced entirely.

Job Prospects 

Job opportunities for HVACR technicians are expected to be good. Candidates familiar with tablet computers and electronics, as well as those who have developed troubleshooting skills, will have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for HVACR, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 332,900

Projected Employment, 2026: 381,700

Change, 2016-2026: +15%, +48,800


Careers Related to HVAC technicians

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Electricians

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.

General Maintenance and Repair Workers

General maintenance and repair workers fix and maintain machines, mechanical equipment, and buildings. They paint, repair flooring, and work on plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning and heating systems, among other tasks.

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories.

Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets, such as ducts used in heating and air conditioning systems.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, also known as PV installers, assemble, install, and maintain solar panel systems on rooftops or other structures.

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or for industrial purposes.

Wind Turbine Technicians

Wind turbine service technicians, also known as wind-techs, install, maintain, and repair wind turbines.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
BoilermakersHigh school diploma or equivalent$62,260
ElectriciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$54,110
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and SteamfittersHigh school diploma or equivalent$52,590
Sheet Metal WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$47,990
Solar Photovoltaic InstallersHigh school diploma or equivalent$39,490
General Maintenance and Repair WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$37,670
Wind Turbine TechniciansPostsecondary nondegree award$53,880
Stationary Engineers and Boiler OperatorsHigh school diploma or equivalent$59,890

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm