Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called HVACR technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Duties

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Install, clean, and maintain HVACR systems
  • Install electrical components and wiring
  • Inspect and test HVACR systems and components
  • Discuss system malfunctions with customers
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts
  • Recommend maintenance to improve system performance
  • Keep records of work performed

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate-controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Some HVACR technicians specialize in one or more specific aspects of HVACR, such as radiant heating systems, solar panels, testing and balancing, or commercial refrigeration.

When installing or repairing air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. The regulations include those concerning the proper handling and disposal of fluids and pressurized gases.

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing periodic maintenance of heating and cooling systems. The service usually includes inspecting the system, cleaning ducts, replacing filters, and checking refrigerant levels.

Other workers sometimes help HVACR technicians install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork may be installed by sheet metal workers, electrical work by electricians, and pipework by plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Boiler systems are sometimes installed by a boilermaker.

Home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators.

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Work Environment

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers held about 367,900 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors                         64%
Self-employed workers 9
Retail trade 3
Educational services; state, local, and private 3
Wholesale trade 3

HVACR technicians work mostly in homes, schools, stores, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Some technicians are assigned to specific jobsites at the beginning of each day. Others travel to several different locations, making service calls.

Although most technicians work indoors, some may have to work on outdoor heat exchangers, even in bad weather. Technicians often work in awkward or cramped spaces, and some work in buildings that are uncomfortable because the air conditioning or heating system is not working properly.

Injuries and Illnesses

HVACR technicians have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Potential hazards include electrical shock, burns, muscle strains, and injuries from handling heavy equipment.

Appropriate safety equipment is necessary in handling refrigerants, because they are hazardous and contact can cause skin damage, frostbite, or blindness. When working in tight spaces, inhalation of refrigerants is also a potential hazard. Several refrigerants are highly flammable and require additional care.

Work Schedules

The majority of HVACR technicians work full time. Evening or weekend shifts may be required, and HVACR technicians often work overtime or irregular hours during peak heating and cooling seasons.

Education and Training

Because HVACR systems have become increasingly complex, employers generally prefer applicants with postsecondary education or those who have completed an apprenticeship. Some states and localities may require technicians to be licensed. Workers may need to pass a background check prior to being hired.

Education

Many HVACR technicians receive postsecondary instruction from technical and trade schools or community colleges that offer programs in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration. These programs generally last from 6 months to 2 years and lead to a certificate or an associate’s degree.

High school students interested in becoming an HVACR technician should take courses in vocational education, math, and physics. Knowledge of plumbing or electrical work and a basic understanding of electronics is also helpful.

Training

New HVACR technicians typically begin by working alongside experienced technicians. At first, they perform basic tasks such as insulating refrigerant lines or cleaning furnaces. In time, they move on to more difficult tasks, including cutting and soldering pipes or checking electrical circuits.

Some technicians receive their training through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship programs usually last 3 to 5 years. Over the course of the apprenticeship, technicians learn safety practices, blueprint reading, and how to use tools. They also learn about the numerous systems that heat and cool buildings.

Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship requirements vary by state and locality.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy, handle, or work with refrigerants to be certified in proper refrigerant handling. Many trade schools, unions, and employer associations offer training programs designed to prepare students for the EPA certification exam.

In addition, some states and localities require HVACR technicians to be licensed; check with your state and locality for more information.

Personality and Interests

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanic and installer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Customer-service skills. HVACR technicians often work in customers’ homes or business offices, so it is important that they are friendly, polite, and punctual. Repair technicians must sometimes deal with unhappy customers whose heating or air conditioning is not working.

Detail oriented. HVACR technicians must carefully maintain records of all work performed. The records must include what work was performed and the time it took, and list specific parts and equipment that were used.

Mechanical skills. HVACR technicians install and work on complicated climate-control systems. Workers must understand the HVAC components and be able to properly assemble, disassemble, and if needed, program them.

Physical strength. Workers may have to lift and support heavy equipment and components, often without help.

Time-management skills. HVACR technicians often have a set number of daily maintenance calls. They should be able to keep a schedule and complete all necessary repairs or tasks.

Troubleshooting skills. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems involve many intricate parts. To repair malfunctioning systems, technicians must be able to identify problems and then determine the best way to repair it.

Pay

The median annual wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers was $48,730 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $77,920.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $52,430
Educational services; state, local, and private 52,260
Retail trade 48,620
Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors                     47,380

Apprentices usually earn about half of the wage paid to experienced workers. As they learn to do more, their pay increases.

The majority of HVACR technicians work full time. Evening or weekend shifts may be required, and HVACR technicians often work overtime or irregular hours during peak heating and cooling seasons.

Job Outlook

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Commercial and residential building construction is expected to drive employment growth. The growing number of sophisticated climate-control systems is also expected to increase demand for qualified HVACR technicians.

Repair and replacement of HVACR systems is a large part of what technicians do. The growing emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction is likely to increase the demand for HVACR technicians as climate-control systems are retrofitted, upgraded, or replaced entirely.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for HVACR technicians are expected to be good. Candidates familiar with tablet computers and electronics, as well as those who have developed troubleshooting skills, will have the best job prospects.

Technicians who specialize in new installation work may experience periods of unemployment when the level of new construction activity declines. Maintenance and repair work, however, usually remains relatively stable. Business owners and homeowners depend on their climate-control or refrigeration systems year round and must keep them in good working order, regardless of economic conditions.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors, or local union–management HVACR apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about career opportunities, training, and certification, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

North American Technician Excellence

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association

Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association

Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Techs

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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