HVAC, which stands for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, is a field which regulates the humidity and temperature of a variety of structures, including homes, office buildings, retail establishments, hospitals, and factories. HVAC technicians, also known as HVAC mechanics and installers, are responsible for installing and/or maintaining the wide array of mechanical, electrical and electronic components that comprise an HVAC system.
Using special tools and equipment, the mechanic needs to be able to maintain, diagnose and correct problems that may occur throughout the entire system.
Although there continue to be mechanics who learn their trade informally on the job, most employers prefer to hire those who have completed formal training and/or an apprenticeship. The U.S. Armed Forces, as well as many junior/community colleges and technical/trade schools, offers 6-month to 2-year programs in heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration. Three agencies have set academic standards for accrediting HVAC schools: the National Center for Construction Education and Research; HVAC Excellence; and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation. Completion of these programs along with several additional months of field experience is usually needed to establish proficiency in the trade.
The following are five schools that offer HVAC training programs:
- Ashworth College: This online program in HVAC training prepares students to take the EPA certification exam. It includes both a study guide and a $75 voucher towards the cost of the exam.
- Altierus Career College (formerly Everest College): This program provides education to students to become professional HVAC technicians in about a year. With locations across the country, Altierus offers modern tools and instructors with professional experience in the field.
- Lincoln Tech: Several of Lincoln Tech's campuses across the country offer the HVAC training program. The program covers green alternatives to heating and cooling systems, preparing students for environmental changes in the field.
- Penn Foster Career School: This school offers a career diploma in HVAC and refrigeration. This online program can be completed in as little as five months, and prepares students for a career as an HVAC technician.
- Remington College: This college's campuses in Cleveland, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; and Memphis, Tennessee currently offer a diploma program in HVAC technician training.
HVAC Technician Education Requirements
Though the HVAC technician education requirements vary from state to state, most mechanics specialize in either installation or maintenance and repair. Many of them specialize in a singular element of HVAC (e.g., heating work or air-conditioning) or in one type of equipment (e.g., solar panels, commercial refrigeration, or water-based heating systems). Despite their specializations, mechanics are trained to install and service both residential and commercial systems. In these programs, students learn about proper installation and repair of many different mechanical systems, including:
- Metal and fiberglass ducting
- Electrical systems and electrical components
HVAC technician programs also teach students how to use of a wide variety of hand tools, such as tin snips, wrenches, torches, and pipe cutters, as well as various testing devices (hydrometers, voltmeters, pressure gauges) to measure different flow rates and pressures.
HVAC Technician Apprenticeships and Training
In addition to HVAC technician training that takes place in the classroom, there are also formal apprenticeship programs, frequently sponsored by local chapters of associations and trade unions. These apprenticeships normally last three to five years and combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Applicants for apprenticeships must possess a high school diploma or equivalent. Apprenticeship programs are usually a pathway to certification and licensure. During HVAC technician training, students typically learn the following skills:
- Reading blueprints
- Theory and design of heating and ventilation systems
- Refrigeration products
- Equipment construction
- Installation, maintenance, and repair
- Mechanical drawing
After either formal or on-the-job training, HVAC technicians can go on to attain licensing, which is required in some states. Requirements for licensure vary widely but always include passing some type of test, the contents of which vary by state or locality. In addition, those whose job requires working with refrigerants must be certified in their proper handling. Certification for purchasing and handling refrigerants requires mechanics to pass a written examination specific to the type of work in which they specialize.
Resources for HVAC Mechanics and Installers
- Air-Conditioning Contractors of America
- Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute
- Home Builders Institute, National Association of Home Builders
- HVAC Excellence
- Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
- United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry
- North American Technician Excellence
- Carbon Monoxide Safety Association
- Mechanical Service Contractors of America
- National Center for Construction Education and Research
- Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association
- The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/heating-air-conditioning/
- Altierus Career College, https://www.altierus.org/program/trades/hvac
- Lincoln Tech, http://www.lincolntech.edu/careers/skilled-trades/hvac
- PennFoster Career School, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/construction-and-maintenance/hvac-technician-career-diploma
- Remington College, http://www.remingtoncollege.edu/hvac-technician-training-school/