HVAC is the acronym used for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning and identifies a field where a technician installs, repairs, maintains, or sells the equipment associated with it. There is a variation of this trade known as HVAC/R where the R stands for refrigeration and technicians with this specialization can do all of the same activities on refrigeration equipment.
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HVAC Technician at a Glance
Other Job Titles: HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Installer, HVAC Specialist, Air Conditioner Tech, HVAC Mechanic
Salary Range*: $26,000-$68,000; average $43,000-$44,000
Education/Training Required: Post-secondary education in a certificate program, 2-year associates degree program, or 4-year bachelor’s degree
Prior Experience Required: up to 5 years apprenticeship required for some certifications and state licensing
Desired Skills/Aptitude: Mechanical aptitude; high school level courses in math, computer science; good physical condition; written/verbal communication skills; knowledge of basic building construction
Certification/Licensing: Several types of certification depending on specialty area; licensing depends on state requirements
Locations with Best Opportunities: Alaska, New Jersey, Connecticut; Metropolitan areas of New York, Tampa, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago
Employment Outlook: Excellent through 2020
Opportunities for Advancement: can move to sales or supervisory positions; can seek additional specialization several areas such as refrigeration, system testing and balancing, and green/sustainable technology
What an HVAC Technician Does
An HVAC technician’s duties are many but can be classified in these broad categories:
HVAC technicians install air conditioning units, heaters, and the ductwork required to distribute and feed the temperature controlled air throughout a building. Additionally, they install the electrical controls for these units at locations where the building’s residents can access them. Installation requires that a technician be able to follow blueprints so that equipment and ductwork is installation is done to specification.
Since equipment changes from year to year, they perform upgrades as required. This is especially true as building and home owners look to make their units more energy efficient.
They also do all types of repairs and maintenance associated with this equipment. These duties include:
- Checking equipment for leaks
- Making adjustments to burners and blowers
- Checking all fittings
- Testing thermostats and other controls
- Running tests to check for peak operating efficiency
- Safety tests to detect for carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide
- Any other checks per equipment manufacturer’s requirements
- Replace any defective equipment
An experienced technician may also work for an HVAC equipment retailer or wholesaler as a sales representative. The experience enables this person to recommend the best solution for the needs of the various building or home owners.
Tools of the HVAC Trade
The typical tools of the HVAC trade allow technicians to measure, cut, solder, and test the equipment that is either being installed or repaired. These tools include pressure gauges, multimeters, combustion analyzers, gas leak detectors, pipe cutters, tap and die sets, acetylene torches and any other tool required for the job. There may also be specialty tools required that the technician would have to receive special training for.
The HVAC Workplace
HVAC technicians work at any home or commercial building where there is a climate control system. If in sales, they work in retail or wholesale establishments. Much of a technician’s work takes place outdoors or in tight crawl spaces between the exterior shell and interior of a building. If in the installation and maintenance area, they typically work for independent contractors. If they are in sales, they will work as an employee for the retailer or wholesaler.
The Professional Life of an HVAC Technician
The job of an HVAC technician can at times be quite demanding. However, it is this challenge that makes it extremely rewarding for a job well-done. A technician must be in good physical condition because the job entails working in attics and other crawl spaces where freedom of movement is limited. It also requires working in weather conditions at the extremes of hot and cold.
Technicians are also required to be alert and use their safety equipment at all times. There are hazards with this profession such as the risks of electrocution, falls, and injury from refrigeration accidents.
The job also entails some stress but if handled well it should make for an interesting work experience. Some stress is caused by irate customers who call when there is a problem with their building’s environmental control system. The technician with skills to reassure these clients will go a long way in the trade.
There is always something new to work on because buildings are all different in their configurations. This alleviates the stress of boredom. However, the work can be seasonal with frequent overtime during peak seasons and a reduction in hours during low seasons. Nonetheless, if a technician learns money management skills, peaks and valleys for income will be leveled to give the semblance of steady income.
*Salary Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2012