How to Become an HVAC Technician
A career in the skilled trades is a smart move right now. Demand for workers who are qualified to do skilled labor is high and will continue to be high, as current workers age and fewer young people move into these fields. One such skilled trade is HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Skilled HVAC technicians install, fix and maintain these systems to keep our indoor environments comfortable and healthy. If you’re thinking about the skilled trades, consider how simple it is to become an HVAC technician.
State and Local Requirements for HVAC Technicians
Each state has the ability to set licensing, certification, education and training requirements for skilled workers, including HVAC technicians. Some states have no requirements and leave licensing up to cities and counties, while others license only contractors, and some license both technicians and contractors.
The difference between technicians and contractors is that contractors pull permits, lead projects and hire techs to do work for clients. Technicians, on the other hand, work for contractors or other companies. The states that have no licensing requirements and leave any licensing to local governments are:
Learning and Training: College or Apprenticeship Program
Regardless of whether your state has licensing requirements, it is important that you learn and train before you can be hired to work in HVAC. There are two main options for getting started in this career, both of which require that you first have a high school diploma or GED:
- Enroll in a community or technical college HVAC program. While it may not be necessary, look for the best programs to be accredited by HVAC Excellence or the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation. These programs provide all the basic classroom knowledge needed to begin an HVAC career, and some may also include an internship or placement in an apprenticeship position. There are also excellent online programs available that will prepare you for an apprenticeship.
- Get a position in an apprenticeship program. These are run by local union training centers and non-union organizations. They provide both coursework and paid training on the job. Most apprenticeship programs take four years to complete, but they do provide everything you need to begin working as an HVAC technician.
If you choose to go to college instead of into an apprenticeship program, you may need to work as an apprentice for a period of time after graduating before you can work independently. Coursework in a college program can count toward at least some of the work experience requirement in many areas with technician licensing.
National HVAC Certification
Independent of any state or local licensing requirements, many HVAC technicians choose to gain some type of national certification. This can prove to employers and potential clients that you have the skills and experience needed to do quality work. One of the most important organizations offering certification is North American Technician Excellence, or NATE. NATE offers several levels of certification, from ready-to-work to HVAC support, several specialties and senior level efficiency.
Get EPA Certified
The Clean Air Act is a federal law, and it requires that all workers handling refrigerants be certified through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Refrigerants are hazardous and when released into the air cause damage to the ozone layer. To get 608 certification, as it is called, you need to pass an exam administered by the EPA. Most HVAC programs and apprenticeships will prepare you to pass this test, and some will even make it a requirement.
Becoming an HVAC Contractor
Most states and local areas require that contractors are licensed or at least registered. Contractors typically must prove that they have liability insurance, a bond, and workers’ compensation insurance for each employee, as well as a certain number of years or hours of work experience as a technician. You do not have to become an HVAC contractor, but it will allow you to do jobs on your own and to start a small business and hire other technicians to work for you.
Becoming an HVAC technician does require a few years of learning and training. But, you do not have to have a four-year or even two-year degree. And, while you train as an apprentice you get paid. HVAC workers will remain in demand or the foreseeable future, so starting your training now is a smart career move.