How to Become an HVAC Technician Without Going to College

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Oct 19, 2018

Oct 19, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

The Pew Research Center recently reported that Americans owed $1.3 trillion in college student loans last year. This figure was two percent higher than what students owed over a decade ago. You may be asking yourself "is there a steady job out there that doesn't need an expensive four-year college degree?"

Construction careers continue to be a steady employer in the US job market. Many professionals can find secure work in this field without a four-year degree. One of these positions is an HVAC technician.

The HVAC field can be a rewarding career if you have the skill set and personality. The good news is that this secure job doesn't come with a big college loan burden for you to carry well into the future.

If you want to learn more about how to become an HVAC technician, then this article is for you! Read further on becoming an HVAC technician as well as hard and soft skills you'll need to succeed.

What is an HVAC Technician

HVAC is the abbreviation that stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. HVAC technicians install and repair systems that control the air quality inside buildings. Some technicians describe their field as HVAC/R to include refrigeration systems expertise.

The job model for HVAC technicians varies. For example, an HVAC technician may work with a general contractor that only builds new homes. These technicians only install new systems rather than repairing existing equipment.

Other technicians may specialize in a certain type of equipment. Some HVAC technicians will specialize only in installing air conditioners. Others may focus their attention on heating and ventilation systems.

Sometimes HVAC technicians will open their own business. These professionals may only focus on repairing existing equipment. They can also choose to concentrate on either commercial buildings or residential properties.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that HVAC technicians earned a median salary of $47,080 in 2017. Jobs will grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. HVAC technicians work for general contractors or open their own independent repair businesses.

How to Become an HVAC Technician

Becoming an HVAC technician is as varied as the many types of equipment you may find yourself working on. The first step on how to become an HVAC tech includes earning a high school diploma or GED.

HVAC technicians need the solid math, chemistry and physics skills learned in high school. They should also take shop classes to become familiar with hand tools and equipment. HVAC technicians also need to have strong communication skills to explain complex technicalities.

Hands-on Experience: Apprenticeship vs. Trade School

HVAC technicians get their education either through an apprenticeship or trade school. Both scenarios have different features that a future HVAC technician needs to consider. The main differences between the two are costs and length of time to complete.

Apprenticeships can last between three and five years. Apprentices work with trade professionals and often earn a wage while they learn. You can find apprenticeship opportunities through contractor associations or unions like:

  • Air-Conditioning Contractors of America
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
  • Sheet Metal Workers' International Association

Some apprenticeships may include classroom work along with on-the-job training. These dual in-the-field/class programs usually take around 2,000 hours to complete.

Some students enroll in accredited trade schools to learn how to be an HVAC technician. These affordable programs usually last between six months to one year. Students receive a diploma upon graduation.

Another source for secondary education can be classes offered at community colleges. Community college programs last between two to three years. Students can earn diplomas in specialties, such as green energy.

Students may choose to study HVAC classes online to prepare for professional certification. Studying online allows you to tailor your HVAC education around your busy schedule. Online courses aren't always the cheapest route, so be sure to check costs before you write that check.

HVAC training expenses are still an affordable way to build your career. Apprenticeships cost students between $500 and $2,000. Trade school expenses range from $1,200 to $15,000 while associate degree expenses are closer to $30,000.

Section 608 Technician Certification

Apprenticeships and trade schools can prepare you for the Section 608 Technician Certification. All HVAC professionals have to have this federal certification. The US Environmental Protection Agency manages this certification program.

Technicians that work on systems storing refrigerant gas must have this certification. There are four types of certifications under Section 608 that have their own final exam to pass. These categories include:

  • EPA Type I Certification - servicing small appliances
  • EPA Type II Certification - servicing high-pressure systems
  • EPA Type III Certification - servicing low-pressure systems
  • Universal EPA Certificate- covers all three other types of certifications.

After your Section 608 certification, it is time to pass your state's licensing requirements. Many U.S. states want HVAC technicians to have their state license before they start their new job. Some states only need technicians to have licensure at the municipal level. Check your state's licensing requirements so that you are ready to promote your services.

Other Professional HVAC Certifications

There are two other national certifications that HVAC technicians can earn. These programs confirm an HVACR technician's skill through a certified exam. Read further on these certifications that can set you apart from your competitors.

HVAC Excellence Certification

HVAC Excellence provides national recognition for practical and theoretical knowledge of HVAC systems. Technicians can earn Senior Level Certification by passing four certification exams. Master certification is available when they pass 11 exams.

HVAC Excellence certification requires continuing education to learn about changing technologies. This certification also encourages learning about changes to state and federal laws.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification

The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is a non-profit organization for HVAC professionals. NATE-certified technicians prove their HVAC knowledge by passing certification tests. NATE certifications are available for installing and servicing the following equipment:

  • Air Conditioning
  • Heat Pumps
  • Gas Heating
  • Oil Heating
  • Commercial Refrigeration

There is a growing demand for HVAC technicians that have these professional certifications. Employers will pay technicians higher salaries who have these certifications. Clients filter online searchers for technicians who have one or all these certifications.

Hard Skills for HVAC Technicians

HVAC technicians need strong technical skills to keep our building's air quality comfortable. These skills include learning to do load calculations for heating and cooling systems. These calculations regulate cool or heated air that flows through a building.

HVAC students also learn the basic principles and applications of refrigeration systems. These skills are important for someone who wants to know about how to become an AC technician. You can read more about some common cooling system problems that a trained AC technician can help you fix.

HVAC technicians learn how to design and assemble a building's climate control systems. These duties can include writing a project "Basis of Design." A Basis of Design outlines a building's methods for achieving energy efficiency.

Soft Skills for HVAC Technicians

You may have the marketable skills that make you qualified to do the HVAC technician's job. But there are also many personality traits that HVAC technicians should have. These personal skills will set them apart and help them excel in the field.

HVAC technicians need to understand the mechanical details of heating and cooling systems. These professionals should also be healthy and fit. They need to be strong enough to lift or re-position heavy equipment.

HVAC technicians should also be dependable. HVAC technicians usually get emergency calls from frantic customers at odd hours. These professionals need to convince customers that they can fix the problems fast.

Successful HVAC technicians also need to communicate in a clear manner. These communication skills can help explain technical concepts to a nontechnical audience. They will also help an HVAC technician close a sale on a particular system or piece of equipment.

Next Steps

Still want to know more on how to become an HVAC technician? You can start by searching for trade schools or apprenticeships in your area to begin your study. Be sure that the organization you choose helps you pass Section 608 Certification.

To find out more about national certification, check out The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) website. They have plenty of advice on how you can prepare for certification exams. They also have helpful information on how to find testing sites.

You can also find construction career advice on the career blog at the Washington Post. Use our classifieds to find that next construction job of your dreams. Let us show you the way to "heat up" your career as an HVAC technician today!