What You Should Know About Starting an HVAC Career

Updated on March 7, 2019
Cre8tor profile image

Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 23 years with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Why Choose a Career in HVAC?

I've always been a firm believer in that, when choosing a career, you should choose one that serves a need. A career that serves a need never goes out of style and offers job security even in the toughest of times. It would be hard to argue that the need for heating and air conditioning will ever go away. I've been involved in the trades for 22 years and know by experience that you can take away many luxuries from people but when the A/C goes down or the heat is out, people want it back NOW! Of course with the ever rising cost of energy and concerns about efficiency, people nowadays are also searching for more efficient ways of heating and cooling their home so the demand for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals is definitely on the rise.

Now that you know why I believe HVAC is a good career choice, I've put together some information that should help you understand what a career in HVAC involves before you consider how to start your career in HVAC.

Residential Furnace Example

80% efficient forced air gas furnace photo.
80% efficient forced air gas furnace photo. | Source

Commercial Unit Example

Commercial Rooftop Units
Commercial Rooftop Units | Source

HVAC - Commercial and Residential

The HVAC industry is mainly divided into 2 categories, commercial and residential. Both of these categories are then typically divide into the fields of service and installation. The term residential, describes the area of HVAC professionals that work in peoples' homes, apartments, condos, etc... While commercial describes the area of the business that serves office buildings, warehouses, factories, and well, basically everything else.

These days breaking into the commercial business usually involves some level of higher education, years of experience or an apprenticeship program. The residential part of the industry on the other hand, is relatively easier to enter. Whether it be through an apprenticeship program or starting on the bottom rung of the ladder and earning your way through the ranks, residential is the least involved of the two. That said, all areas of HVAC require a fair amount of smarts to be successful and obtaining an EPA license to handle refrigerant is nearly a must.

NOTE : The service side of the industry typically provides a more steady workflow while the installation side can be very dependant on the amount of new construction taking place at that time.

HVAC: Tools of the Trade

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tin SnipsHand Seams / TongsTin ShearsBattery Powered Drill4' Step LadderRefrigerant GaugesRefrigerant ScaleNut DriversVoltmeterCrimping Tool
Tin Snips
Tin Snips | Source
Hand Seams / Tongs
Hand Seams / Tongs | Source
Tin Shears
Tin Shears | Source
Battery Powered Drill
Battery Powered Drill | Source
4' Step Ladder
4' Step Ladder | Source
Refrigerant Gauges
Refrigerant Gauges | Source
Refrigerant Scale
Refrigerant Scale | Source
Nut Drivers
Nut Drivers | Source
Voltmeter | Source
Crimping Tool
Crimping Tool | Source

What Does HVAC Involve?

HVAC(R), as it's commonly known today, stands for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration. If you take a second to think about this, that covers a lot of ground. At first, furnaces, air conditioners, boilers, heat pumps and things of that nature spring to mind. However, beyond that, many HVAC technicians spend their days servicing and installing walk-in coolers, hazardous gas and material ventilators, massive cooling towers, humidification (or de-) units, air filtration systems... and the list goes on.

With today's rising energy costs, many companies are getting more involved in wood burning, geothermal, and solar type systems as well. There are nearly countless specialized areas one could consider when entering into HVAC(R) but knowing the type of systems out there isn't the end.

A seasoned HVAC technician/installer is truly a "jack of all trades" and will have a good understanding of other areas such as electrical, plumbing, and framing as well. They will know how to use literally hundreds of tools required for the HVAC trade ranging from your everyday screwdriver to a refrigeration recovery unit and everything in between. There are even some cool HVAC gadgets and universal parts to add to the list to help make repairs easier.

Mathematics, reading blueprints, schematics and charts are all a part of the daily routine and learning building codes, OSHA regulations and how to use safety equipment will certainly extend your lifespan as an HVAC professional (it might extend the lifespan of those around you too and they'll appreciate that).

What Income Can You Expect From an HVAC Career?

First take into consideration the knowledge that we just discussed. This may not come with a dollar amount attached to it but it is yours to keep and it is quite valuable. Whether it be used to enter into another trade or to continue your education beyond working in the field, HVAC can offer a wide variety of career choices later down the road. Not to mention the money you'll save not having to pay a service company for just about anything that you may need to fix for yourself.

The income from an HVAC career isn't anything to sneeze at. Starting out, you're likely to see about $26,000/yr. but after a few years experience, good HVAC professionals will earn about $47,000/yr. with specialists ranging around $60 - $70,000/yr. based on their field and experience. This is based on the national average income for HVAC. I've known techs to make a lot more than $47,000 a year when they knew what they were doing and go on to jobs making 6 figures when earning an HVAC related degree or starting their own HVAC company. Although it is possible to be successful in a career in HVAC without a college degree also.

Along with your income, a typical HVAC job will come with fairly standard benefits like insurance, holidays, and vacation but there are often some perks too. Many companies I know provide their techs with company vehicles, cell phones, laptops, tool allowance, uniforms, and sometimes commission opportunities.

How much do you already know about HVAC?

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What's It Like Working in HVAC?

HVAC is a great career for those who don't like to be in the same place day after day. Nearly every day brings a new place to work and a new issue to deal with. There's little monotiny in HVAC. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment and success on a daily basis.

Whether it's seeing a system built from scratch or the appreciation received from a satisfied customer, there is usually something to be proud of every day. There is a certain amount of hard work and danger involved but this is true of any trade. With the proper tools and following of safety regulations, you can enjoy a long, stable, and rewarding career in HVAC.

Is HVAC the Career for You?

Hopefully, this article has provided you a good look into what a career in HVAC(R) is and can provide. After 15 years of installing and repairing furnaces and air conditioners, I am very happy for the experience and knowledge I've gained. With hands on experience and a bit of HVAC schooling, I went from a warehouse clerk to a small time business owner making a modest living. This is not to mention the skills I've gained being put to my own uses and I can't complain about that. Best of luck in your career search.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • I'm looking for a career change, but I have no clue where to start. How do I get a career started in HVAC?

    Well, a lot can depend on what you already know as far as generally usable trade skills. Hands-on experience is the best teacher in my opinion so getting an entry-level job with a company willing to train you is the best. I never worked in the union but that can be a good start to learn and earn. Trade school is another option but I know it's hard to do school and not earn and then still have to find a company to hire with no experience. There really are a lot of options and need for tradesmen, but a lot of how you begin can depend on where you are in life. I know that sounds cheesy, but not everyone can just drop their income; others worked in similar fields while others have never turned a wrench. All that said, I believe the best option is to get a foot in the door where you can earn and learn whether with a contractor or even for a supplier and get started in the industry and meeting others in it. One thing will lead to another and if you stay focused on learning all you can the path will begin to unfold because there are a lot of different jobs in the industry, not just service techs and installers, and money to be made.

© 2012 Dan Reed


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    • profile image

      Promosys Technology 

      3 weeks ago

      Thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful information. We are based in Lucknow providing HVAC training.


    • profile image


      6 months ago

      Beware of fast track schools, they usually cost 14 grand or more and dont teach anything usefull. Employers dont generally carr about the school they only care what you can actually do and they want you to proove it via a trial run.

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      This is certainly a great introduction to HVAC. I used most of these tools presented on this topic but only applied them to automotive mechanics. I worked for a solar company who uses solar air conditioning but I never sold any but the residential and especially commercial market is in demand. Since reading this article I would go back into sales and get some education on solar air conditioning and it sounds to me that the field is in great demand. Thank you

    • Cre8tor profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Reed 

      17 months ago

      Mohammad Omer - That really depends on what you want to do. There are a lot of classes out there. Some are just a couple days and some are college degree length commitments. You also don't need a class if you find someone willing to train you on the job. All that said, I found thermodynamics and electrical theory to be very helpful and important as well as taking a class/test for your EPA certification. That one you need to take but it's usually just a day long and you take the test the same day.

    • profile image

      mohammad omer 

      17 months ago

      which classes are need to take to be a professional HVAC ?

    • Cre8tor profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Reed 

      20 months ago

      First, congrats on beginning your career. You can do really well in this industry if you keep learning.

      I'm from a different time I suppose. Today, some sort of schooling definitely helps you get in and should also provide some certifications that boost your resume like an EPA card and perhaps NATE certification. I hired into a supplier right out of high school pulling orders, taking inventory, ...got familiar with the parts and equipment a bit. Got to know a few of the contractors and was hired to help seasoned installers and learn along the way. After 3/4 years, I was the guy with the helper and did that for another 5 or so years until I began my own business. That's a long story but I'm grateful I did it though it didn't work out after about 6 years. After shifting gears for a couple of years and working in sales for a product certification and safety testing lab, I came back to HVAC as a project manager (and student...so I did end up taking collegiate level courses though I already had my certs...like I said "if you keep learning") and currently work for a supplier. (circle of life???) Along the way I was exposed to residential, commercial, new construction, and old work...HVAC exposes you to A LOT of things...great for knowing that with experience, you'll always be able to get a job whether it be service, install, sales, project management,....there are a lot of ways to go and EVERYONE has a need for HVAC/R.

      Thank you for your interest. Kind of fun to reminisce. Best of luck in your career. (It's an ever changing industry. KEEP LEARNING!!!)

    • Cre8tor profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Reed 

      20 months ago

      This is a very interesting question and though I've only worked in one, I can say there would definitely be parts of the job that would be worse in some states than others. Imagine running service calls at midnight in a snow storm in Maine? Or working on an Arizona rooftop in July? There are a lot of pros and cons to different regions and the systems that are used in them...it would be a very preferential decision and vary person by person. Thanks for the interesting thought and question.

    • profile image


      20 months ago

      What are the worst states to work in in this business?

    • profile image

      HVAC Intern 

      21 months ago

      Hey @Dan, i am so curious to know, how did you learn and get experience in your HVAC career? Was that a school that helped you to get practical experience? As I am an Intern in HVAC, I can proudly say that, it is a right trade programs that is in demand and where you can make your shiny career.

      When I completed my fast track course from my school, Penn Commercial, I had enough practical knowledge that can drive me to a right entry level job in HVAC field. And it actually happened. But as I said before, I am still curious and learning about the industry.

      Its been a glad experience by reading your blog. Please respond on my comment, when you get a chance.

    • profile image

      HVACR Graduate 

      2 years ago

      The shortage of HVACR technicians are not entirely accurate. That data was fabricated by the HVACR industry. The TRUE accurate data is they are short of EXPERIENCED TECHNICIANS. There are HVACR technicians out there like myself who has a degree but unable to find a stable job because of my lack of experience. The HVACR industry is complaining of not having enough experience HVACR technicians but are not willing to hire an HVACR graduate who is willing to learn the trade. Those of you who are thinking in obtaining a degree or certification in this field need to keep this in mind. I myself do not recommend anyone majoring in this field. If you do, be prepared to be unemployed for a while or only have a seasonal job if you are in the residential side. The commercial side will not even consider you unless you have experience which you will be struggling to obtain.

    • Cre8tor profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Reed 

      3 years ago

      The.Wife - In my experience yes.

      Doctor Cool - Knowing someone never hurts in any industry. That said, often times its persistence and a willingness to start cheap. Get that first job and keep it for 6 months to a year and doors will begin to open up.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Does and HVAC apprentice get paid for their time?

    • profile image

      Doctor cool 

      3 years ago

      Any advice on how to break into the industry? I love troubleshooting and I'm Nate certified even before finishing school and I've never had any Hvac knowledge before that. But it seams like you have to know someone!!. I'm in Texas damn it...

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; also heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) is the technology of indoor and vehicular environmental comfort. Its goal is to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality.If you are looking for a carrier in Heat Ventilation Air Conditioning Job then lots of online job portal sites are available just search and apply like shine,wisdomjobs,indeed etc.

    • Cre8tor profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Reed 

      4 years ago

      Kevin - I'd agree with that statement. It's a little easier to break into the industry on the install side and I do think it's a great knowledge to have but in the end, service and supply have been much kinder to my body and state of mind throughout the day. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I would just add the best department to be in would be Service. Installations in low crawl spaces and hot attics can be horrible to be working in for several hours out of the day.

      You stay cleaner and get paid for what you know on the Service side. Residential install is usually nasty manual work.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Good career

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 

      7 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      Well Done -- I am a carpenter so I agree with all you said here. be of service with your career choice. I also am a salesman and have sold stair climbing hand trucks to HVAC people. www.lectrotruck.com/

      One person can easily rake a hot water tank out of a basement full of sediment and water by himself... moving boilers is a snap.... Keep on Writing

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett C 

      7 years ago from Asia

      Great advice for anyone choosing a career or considering a change. Unfortunately it is not a field that I can consider in this part of the world, as it would be illegal for me to work in this area as a non-resident. However, for those in the west it is worth considering!

      Thanks, SOCIALLY SHARING and voted up.


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