Online Training Courses to Become an HVAC Technician
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, technicians create one of the great benefits of modern civilization: clean, comfortable and safe air inside the buildings where we spend the vast majority of our time. This skilled field has many subsidiary disciplines, including refrigeration and the specialist systems needed in large public buildings such as hospitals. Because HVAC technicians are needed everywhere, there are opportunities to train and work in the field across the U.S.
Training Online as an HVAC Technician
Traditional training routes for HVAC technicians include classes at vocational schools and colleges as well as a lengthy period of on-the-job training. Most U.S. states require HVAC contractors—senior technicians who are qualified to design systems and bid on jobs—to be certified and registered with the state, and require contractors to have significant on-the-job experience and to prove their skills. Many states also require HVAC apprentices and journeyworkers to register, although a few do not.
Given the hands-on nature of working as an HVAC technician, it might not occur to prospective students that studying HVAC online is a possibility. There are a number of advantages to online training. Even if employers or regulators in your state require that you demonstrate having completed a number of hours of on-the- job training, your online training can still cover the theoretical aspects of HVAC in a format that is available to anyone, no matter where they reside in the U.S., and can also give you an edge when you’re applying for an apprenticeship or entry-level position to obtain your in-person training.
Online courses are often designed to be accessible to students who may have work or childcare responsibilities during the day, because they often consist of recorded lectures and modules of written information that can be studied at the convenience of the student. Online training is often cheaper than in-person training, and is still accessible even if local or national circumstances mean that in-person training organizations are temporarily closed. The best online courses will train you to meet the standards of the leading HVAC employers and will help to connect you with work experience opportunities to practice your skills in person.
Virtually all HVAC technicians will be required to work with refrigerants, installing them in cooling systems and recovering and recycling spent refrigerant materials. To work with these materials, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires certification. Certification types depend on the nature of the work you’re doing with such materials, and the EPA maintains a website listing the programs that certify and test applicants for refrigerant work. If your online program offers to prepare you for EPA testing, you’ll need to take your test with one of these programs, some of which offer mail-in testing.
Requirements for Learners
Whether you’re training online as an HVAC technician or taking in-person courses, you’ll need to hold a high school or general equivalency diploma and have the physical fitness required to complete the tasks of an HVAC technician. Physical stamina and strength are a must, and familiarity with basic math, physics and chemistry are helpful.
You should also be confident with computers—as an HVAC technician you’ll be using more than just desktops, laptops and tablets. Climate control in modern buildings is often done through the use of complex computer and automation systems, which have a steep learning curve.
Certification for HVAC Technicians and Accreditation for HVAC Training Courses
There are a series of national, privately administered certifications for HVAC technicians, and it is worth doing thorough research to ensure that the course you’re considering prepares students, partially or completely, for certification. Certifying bodies include the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), HVAC Excellence, North American Technician Excellence, the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) and the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA).
It is advisable to look at HVAC job listings in your area and get a sense of their requirements, and to choose an online HVAC training program that will help prepare you for an accreditation that is favored and recognized in your location.
Online training programs are not necessarily accredited by HVAC certifying bodies, but reputable online schools and colleges can be accredited by educational bodies and state regulators. These forms of accreditation can help the prospective student evaluate the quality and reliability of course providers.
Examples of Online Training Courses for HVAC Technicians
There are a wide variety of online training courses for HVAC technicians across the U.S. Here are some examples:
- Penn Foster College is licensed by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education and accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). As a college, it’s able to offer bachelor’s and associate’s degrees, but the HVAC course is a diploma program. It can be completed in as little as six months. The college offers an interest-free payment program and allows students to reach instructors by phone or online chat when needed. The course builds foundational HVAC skills including teaching how to build refrigeration and electrical systems, system design and installation, and residential and light commercial HVACR systems. All students have access to the college’s careers service, which can help you get apprenticeships or entry-level positions upon graduation, and prepares you for EPA refrigeration certification. It also includes a voucher for the refrigeration certification exam.
- HVAC Training Solutions offers HVAC courses at multiple levels including a beginner course. This course prepares students for entry-level work as an HVAC technician. The highly detailed online course for aspiring technicians offers teaching in multiple formats, such as reading, highly accurate simulations and exercises, live instruction, and videos. Payment plans are available, and the course is self-paced, enabling learners to work around existing jobs and family responsibilities. The program also offers courses at the contractor level, as well as continuing education courses for existing HVAC technicians, and works with contractors who want to educate their technicians.
- HVACR EDUnet has been training HVAC technicians online for over 20 years. Courses are available in English and Spanish. HVACR EDUnet trains students for NATE certification in a variety of basic skills and specialties. The NATE Certified HVAC Technician Program (NCT) comprehensively educates prospective HVAC technicians with a well-rounded skill set in stages. The first few modules of the program are the same as the Ready to Work entry-level program. Then students cover all the core areas in the NATE certification exam. Finally, the course focuses on the specialty of air conditioning. The course can be completed in 60 days. Included in the program fee are all the course materials and an exam fee refund for those who pass the NATE exam, which can be taken remotely. HVAC EDUnet also offers an HVAC Ready to Work course, which includes the test for the entry-level NATE Ready to Work certificate. For all courses, online chat support with experienced teachers is available during set hours, and course materials are available 24 hours a day. Payment programs are available.
- Ashworth College offers a fully online HVAC program that is generally completed in four months, but you’re allowed to take up to a year. It prepares you for the EPA refrigeration exam and gets you ready for entry-level HVAC work. One advantage of the course is that it gives you access to a large network of students and graduates as well as step-by-step career advice through its private, dedicated online forums. The course includes all study materials for free and offers a mobile app that allows you to study course materials on your phone or tablet, maximizing the flexibility aspect of online learning.
- Many companies that sell specialist technology for HVAC systems offer training. For example, Emerson is a company that designs and sells a wide variety of products used in HVAC systems. It offers a number of self-paced online HVAC training courses that prepare students to get NATE certification while becoming familiar with their technology. These include everything from compressor system troubleshooting to hands-on experience with a simulator of a refrigeration system. Fundamentals courses in air conditioning, refrigeration, and other topics are also available.
Specialty Online Courses for HVAC Technicians and Contractors
Another advantage to online HVAC courses is the opportunity to learn about a specialized aspect of the discipline. Here are a few examples:
- The Air Conditioning Contractors of America offer an online certificate program for HVAC contractors, technicians and building developers who are interested in learning about how to design residential HVAC systems. The fully-online program takes about 25 hours of instruction time plus individual study time. It culminates in a final exam—once you pass, you are sent a certificate of completion. Once you’ve purchased the course, you have up to 180 days to complete it. Alongside the cost of the course, you’ll also need to purchase an ACCA slide rule, a set of manuals and a quality installation specification handbook. A course like this is a wise investment for a technician aiming to progress toward contractor status, as design is a core part of this senior-level work. The course also offers continuing education credits, which are required for members of ACCA and a variety of other membership-based certifying organizations.
- University of California Los Angeles offers a fully-online course in the fundamentals of HVAC design through its extension program. The course is very similar to an in-person course, as it meets at particular times, with live instruction and office hours offered by an experienced instructor. The course has prerequisites of high-school level math, including geometry and calculus, and physics. This course is useful to an HVAC technician who wants to learn how the systems they build and maintain are designed, and is very beneficial to any technician who wants to progress toward contractor status. The course is also useful to building developers, general contractors and policy-makers who want a deep understanding of HVAC design.
Next Steps Following Your Online Course
While online courses carry many advantages, getting hands-on experience is essential. Good courses have experienced career placement specialists that can help you get work at existing HVAC companies, helping you accrue the thousands of work experience hours needed to qualify as a technician and—in due course–as a full contractor. Alternatively, apprenticeship programs, HVAC professional organizations and trade unions are good places to find work.
HVAC work is very much a hands-on field, and no matter how good your online course is, it doesn’t replace the learning that real-world experience can give you. It is useful to take online HVAC training courses because they can give you an advantage in competitive hiring processes for entry-level workers and apprentices, and can be done while you are working another job or are at home caring for loved ones or recovering from illness.
While HVAC technicians are fairly well paid—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary is about $48,000—pay goes up with experience, certification and skill in specialist areas. Specialties within the field include design of domestic, commercial and industrial HVAC systems and the installation of large-scale refrigeration systems such as those in meatpacking plants. Cross-training in fields such as plumbing is not uncommon.
Pay also varies according to location and is often pegged to the cost of living in a given area. One strategy often used by HVAC technicians and other skilled tradespeople is to base themselves in an area with a low cost of living and to travel for work. Temporary work is often linked with the construction of new buildings, and transport and accommodation are often covered by hiring companies. Although it can be challenging to be away from home, a prudent worker can save up lots of money in this way.