Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration, also called HVAC or HVAC-R, is an occupational field that installs, maintains, and repairs the various systems that make up the HVAC and refrigeration industry.
Buildings of all types need the service of HVAC-R technicians. As residential and commercial facilities age, maintenance to existing systems and replacement of older systems is needed. Of course, new buildings require the installation of modern HVAC-R systems. As technology keeps advancing, and upgrades are warranted, HVAC technicians make these upgrades as well. For example, advancements like smart home thermostats, solar energy and multi-zone air conditioning systems would be installed by an HVAC technician.
As a highly skilled trade that requires extensive knowledge and hands-on skills in multiple areas, it is important that HVAC-R technicians are well-trained. Due to the nature of the tasks performed, the work environment may include extreme indoor or outdoor temperatures, heights, or environments such as construction sites. Safety protocols are an integral part of work completed by HVAC technicians.
What tasks do HVAC technicians perform?
HVAC technicians perform a large number of tasks, dependent on the system they are working on. Using a combination of technical knowledge, hands-on skills, and safety protocols, a HVAC technician uses blueprints, systems information, and industry-standard processes to install systems and their components.
The specific tasks performed by HVAC technicians are varied. Examples are reading plans and blueprints, cutting and running tubing, testing and installing low voltage electrical systems, installing lines into or out of a building, mounting new equipment, installing new systems, adding chemical compounds such as freon to air conditioning units, systems testing and upgrading system components. Additionally, HVAC technicians provide preventative maintenance and repairs as needed. And this is not an exhaustive list!
Where do HVAC technicians work?
HVAC technicians work in a variety of settings across the country. Most HVAC technicians spend a majority of their time in the field with minimal time spent in an office.
Some technicians provide service to the commercial sector, supporting businesses both large and small, across all industries such as retail, healthcare, food service and offices. Others provide service to the residential sector which includes single-family homes, condos and apartment buildings. Within the commercial and residential sectors, an HVAC technician could choose to work on existing buildings or new construction. Some HVAC technicians specialize in one aspect of HVAC-R, such as refrigeration systems, instead of the overall industry.
How do I become a HVAC technician?
Because it is a highly-skilled occupation that requires knowledge of multiple systems and their components, an HVAC technician needs to learn all the technical aspects of the job, as well as the practical applications for HVAC systems and their components. Additionally, an HVAC technician has to know and use relevant safety protocols at all times. The most effective way to learn everything required is to enroll in a certificate program that includes not only coursework, but a practical hands-on internship or externship as well.
Those that complete a certificate program and who also successfully complete at least one of the two national certification exams, E.P.A. Universal Technician 608 or the E.P.A. Universal Technician 410A, may have even more opportunities for employment.
What is it like to be a HVAC technician?
As a HVAC technician, each day is different. From installations to preventative maintenance and repairs, most days will be spent in the field in a new location. While some larger projects may require more on-site time to complete, many aspects of a HVAC technician’s role are completed the same day.
HVAC technicians can work standard weekday shifts, both for full-time and part-time employment, or work on-call for emergencies. Overtime opportunities for additional pay, may also be available. Because the industry covers both commercial and residential sectors, and all systems within heating, ventilation, air-condition, and refrigeration, career options are available that combine some or all of these types of work in the field.