What You Should Know About Starting an HVAC Career
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
Commercial Unit Example
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 TradeClick thumbnail to view full-size
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?
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.
HVAC Knowledge to Get You Started
- How You Can Start a Career in HVAC Without a College Degree
Whether you're fresh out of school or looking to change careers, this article provides insight into the various ways a person can make their way into the HVAC industry and why one may be better for you than another.
- Tools for Getting Started in Your HVAC Career (With Pictures)
A career in HVAC requires the use of many tools. These lists of tools, with pictures, will show you what you need to start out on the right foot in your heating and air conditioning career.
- HVAC: The Parts of a Residential Heating and Cooling System
This information is to help give you a solid general understanding of the components of a residential heating and cooling system—important informaiton to know if you plan to break into an HVAC career.
- How to Figure Out What is Wrong With Your Furnace
Do you know how a furnace is supposed to work? If not, how do you intend to fix it? This article will help you understand the proper working order of a furnace so that you can pinpoint problems and repair them.
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.Helpful 5
© 2012 Dan Reed