HVAC Installer Careers

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals perform an essential function in modern society. As the technicians responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing the climate control systems in our homes and businesses, their work is vital to keeping us warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather. If you’ve been considering a career as an HVAC installer, you’ll be glad to know that it is a growing career choice with a lot of potential for future earnings. For more information on this trade and how to acquire the proper training, keep reading.

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How Do HVAC Systems Work?

HVAC systems measure the temperature of the ambient air inside of a building and provide adjustments based on that measurement, versus a set temperature, by providing either heating or cooling. For example, if a system measures a temperature several degrees hotter than what was selected by the user, it will respond by blowing cool air into the room. By contrast, if the temperature is colder than ideal, the HVAC system will provide heat. HVAC systems can also be used to filter air and add or remove humidity.

An HVAC system consists of four main parts: the thermostat, the ductwork, the furnace and the air conditioner. As the system’s control unit, the thermostat gives instructions to the HVAC unit through a user’s input. Simply put, the thermostat is where the building’s occupants can tell the system what the targeted temperature is and turn the system’s components on and off. Thermostats can be as uncomplicated as a wall unit with only temperature settings, or as sophisticated automated and remote-capable “smart home” units that not only control temperature and regulate humidity but also do so in various zones or at specific times of day.

In a forced-air system, the air is sucked into the system, where it is heated or cooled before being delivered throughout the building. Air must be transported through a network of ducts in order to achieve the desired results. Ductwork is constructed throughout a building’s floors, walls and ceilings and is generally not visible except where grates are present. The air is returned to the system and delivered to the building’s interior once it has been heated or cooled through these grates.

Although it may sound like a simple concept, the construction of ductwork is somewhat complicated. Properly constructing a duct network requires a great deal of knowledge about the system being built, which materials are needed and how much force is necessary to return and deliver the air. Mathematical equations can help an installer ensure that air is delivered with enough force to reach its destination.

It is important to note that although both a furnace and air conditioning might be present in a building and require a system of ductwork for use, they will not always share the same ductwork. However, in forced-air HVAC systems, cooled air will likely be delivered through the furnace’s blower. HVAC systems also use different ducts for air return than they use for air delivery.

As the building’s primary heating system, the furnace is responsible for keeping the occupants warm and comfortable. There are several different types of furnaces, and each uses a different principle to provide heat. However, forced air furnaces are the only type of furnace that can be used as part of an HVAC system. Although it is possible to have a heating system and a separate air conditioning system in the same building, it is distinctly different from a climate control system.

Forced air systems send heated air through a network of ducts to increase ambient air temperature. When the cooler air pulled into the system reaches the furnace, it is warmed by a burner. Burners heat the air through the use of burning gas or oil. Forced air heating comes with the advantages of air filtration and energy efficiency.

While the furnace is generally located inside the building in a basement, attic or designated closet, the central air conditioning unit is always located outside. Its remote location is for efficiency, as an air conditioning unit will need to produce heat as it works to cool the air. If a central air conditioning unit were located inside, its efficiency would be reduced to the point of rendering it useless.

Air conditioning units cool the air through the use of a refrigerant, which passes through three main components: a compressor, a condenser and an evaporator coil. The compressor, located in the outside unit, pulls low-pressure gas refrigerant from the evaporator coil and pressurizes it, thus raising its temperature. The heated gas then moves into the condenser coils, allowing heat to be radiated into the ambient air through the use of a fan blowing over the coils. As the refrigerant cools, it becomes liquid and is then pushed into the evaporator coil. The evaporator absorbs heat from the air, resulting in refrigerated coils, over which a fan is blown to deliver cold air into the building.

In an HVAC system, the evaporator coil is the only part of the system that is not located in the outdoor unit. It sits on top of the furnace, utilizing the blower to deliver cold air. During this part of the cycle, the refrigerant returns to a gaseous form due to its low boiling point. The low-pressure gas then returns to the compressor, beginning the process once again.

Trade Specifics for HVAC Installers

HVAC installers install a wide variety of HVAC equipment in homes and businesses. These systems include furnaces, air conditioners, air handlers, UV lighting systems, air cleaners and humidifiers. Fully qualified HVAC installers work with little or no supervision, requiring a great deal of knowledge and expertise in the field. As the professionals responsible for installing these HVAC systems, it will be necessary to appropriately choose the best design for each situation and engage with clients to make recommendations.

In addition, HVAC installers will often need to engage with other construction industry specialists to provide specifications for systems and arrange construction schedules. These interactions will require excellent interpersonal skills, along with a solid background of training.

HVAC installers are required to spend a significant amount of time working in the field, using tools and carrying heavy equipment. As such, physical stamina is a must in the profession. Additionally, those entering the profession will need to have the ability to acquire to driver’s license, as the job requires frequent travel to various locations. HVAC installers should also expect to either work or take on-call repairs during off-hours.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the trade has one of the highest rates of injury and illness for all occupations, including frequently reported burns and muscle strains. Other hazards for HVAC installers include electrical shocks and injuries caused by heavy equipment. Those entering the field should be informed of the risks and adequately educated on accident prevention methods. Good manual dexterity and attention to detail will help to prevent workplace accidents.

Additionally, HVAC installers bear the responsibility for working with refrigeration materials safely and responsibly. Safe handling of coolants applies both to personal and public safety and is required by law.

Designing appropriate HVAC systems to meet a customer’s specific needs and building footprint is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of the profession. HVAC systems must be precisely planned out, and the HVAC installer will need to plan all aspects of the build mathematically. System design will include complex calculations that apply to electrical components, horsepower and HVAC specific functions such as air consistency. In addition, when designing an HVAC system, the HVAC installer will need an in-depth knowledge of local building codes and environmental protection regulations.

Education for HVAC Installers

Prior to training as an HVAC installer, you will want to have earned a high school diploma or equivalent. Courses in math, physics, welding and woodworking are also helpful preparation for those entering the profession. With your prerequisites completed, you will be ready to obtain training in the field.

HVAC installers become trained through either on-the-job training or participation in a certified training program. Training programs can take anywhere from six months to several years and range from certificate programs to bachelor degree programs. Most HVAC professionals begin working in the trade with a high school diploma or equivalent. Some obtain a certificate or associate degree-level education, while very few pursue a bachelor’s degree. 

Apprenticeship is an excellent choice for those who need to continue earning money while learning the trade, or for those who don’t have an appropriate training course available in their area. Applying for apprenticeships can be competitive, so if you are interested in this type of training, you might benefit from participating in targeted education before seeking an opportunity, whether through specific high school-level courses or another local training opportunity. The website apprenticeship.gov can help you find a match for apprentice training in your area.

HVAC Installer Licensing Requirements

Licensing for HVAC installers can vary by state and locality. Although many states do require licensing, there are a few that do not. Considering the importance of following state and local regulations, you will want to research the license requirements in the areas in which you wish to work.

There is one regulation that applies to HVAC installers universally. All technicians who work on equipment that could potentially release refrigerants into the atmosphere will need to acquire a section 608 Technician Certification through the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Earning EPA Section 608 certification requires applicants to pass a specific test for the equipment on which the technician plans to work. Technicians can also choose to take a universal exam, allowing them to service all types of equipment. Once earned, credentials acquired through the EPA do not expire.

Additional Certifications

Although often not required to work in the field, obtaining additional certifications are a great way to open up new career opportunities and showcase your professionalism to potential employers. HVAC installers have a plethora of opportunities to earn career-accelerating accreditations, including the following:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offers seven certification programs for HVAC professionals.
  • ESCO Group offers HVAC Excellence certifications.
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE) offers various levels of certification exams for HVAC professionals.
  • Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) offers certifications for industrial refrigeration professionals.
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) offers various levels of certifications, including EPA Section 608.

Career Outlook and Earning Projections for HVAC Installers

According to Projections Central, HVAC installers should be looking at significant career growth, with a potential for a 12 percent increase in jobs between 2018 and 2028. In employment, this data translates the creation of around 46,300 new jobs over the entire ten-year period. Yearly there are an expected 42,800 new job openings, which includes those leaving the profession permanently.

According to data collected by the BLS, HVAC Installers made a range of annual salaries from $30,610 to $77,920 in 2019. The average annual wage in the same year was $51,420. Although the range in earnings might reflect the pay rates in various areas of the country, they could also be indicative of the various job types, training and experience levels of the professionals in the field.

Some of the highest paying industries listed by the BLS for HVAC professionals included civil engineering construction firms, aerospace product and parts manufacturing, and monetary authorities-central banks. However, the industries with the most HVAC professionals on the payroll included building equipment contractors, merchant wholesalers and direct selling establishments. The top-paying areas of the country included Washington D.C., Alaska, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

A Career as an HVAC Installer

A career as an HVAC installer is the perfect choice for anyone who enjoys stretching themselves physically and mentally. The job holds promising potential for anyone wishing to work in a full-time, full-benefit position in an already established company, as well as for those who might want to pursue future business ownership. Regardless of your career goals, with the right attitude and training, a career as an HVAC installer could be precisely the job you need to meet them.