HVAC Training, Schools, Certifications, etc.
As America goes through the process of recovering from the Great Recession, certain careers have been comparatively unaffected by the downturn in economy. The field of HVACR is a good example - careers in refrigeration, heating, air conditioning and ventilation. Indeed, the BLS 2015 (Bureau of Labor Statistics) expects job openings for HVAC mechanics and installers will increase by approximately 14 percent from 2014 to 2024. That's twice as much as the average growth they anticipate across occupations for this period of time. These 39,600 new HVAC positions is related to people's necessity for comfortable shelter in a world where weather patterns become more and more erratic. As illustrated by the World Economic Forum in 2015, natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and the California drought have contributed to the necessity for fail-proof indoor climate control in commercial and residential buildings alike.
Considering the trends such as HVAC technology greening and the adoption of smart indoor climate control systems, as well as the increasingly complex environmental regulations set by national and local governments, HVAC is a field that's expected to thrive on into the future.
What skills should an aspiring specialist seek to learn in their HVAC classes? According to O*NET(2015), a data organization which is a partner of the American Job Center, AC and heating installers and mechanics have a lot of responsibilities such as inspecting, repairing, installing and maintaining HVACR systems; doing tests to assess problems and faulty components; doing work with sensitive systems like electrical, fuel and water lines; recommending upgrades regarding energy efficiency; and staying in touch with recent governmental regulations and technical innovations in the field of HVAC. Some technicians decide to specialize further, getting experience with certain HVAC aspects such as commercial refrigeration, solar panels, radiant heating systems and green technology.
Although there are many educational paths that can lead to this field, O*NET (2015) reports that around 55 percent of current responding HVAC technicians hold post-secondary certificates, while 16 percent had an associate's degree. Sixty-three percent of them were contractors in the industry, a somewhat secure job since contractors and manufacturers tend to provide customers with yearly service agreements. Approximately a tenth of them were self-employed.
Carry on reading to learn about employment prospects for HVACR professionals, and how you can explore professional certification options, HVAC classes, trends and program accreditation in the HVAC industry for 2016.
HVAC Is On The Rise
Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Heating Mechanics and Installers (BLS, 2014)
As mentioned before, the BLS anticipates an increase of 14 percent in HVAC technician (installers and mechanics, for instance) openings between the years of 2014 and 2024. This increase in HVAC professional opportunities can be attributed to many causes. Not only do HVAC units tend to have a lifespan of approximately ten years, requiring constant maintenance and upkeep, but also homeowners and businesses are looking to save money by making their systems greener or more efficient. Energy Star (2015), a program created by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in which voluntaries promote energy efficiency, reports that the annual costs of residential and commercial property combined is around $400 billion, and that around 30 percent of all buildings use energy inefficiently.
Compared to other areas, HVAC is a lucrative field. It pays a median yearly salary of $44,630 - a lot more than the median all-occupations salary (BLS 2015). It's not surprising that HVAC professionals' salary varies according to level of experience, industry, region and data source, though.
According to the BLS (2014), the top-paying states for HVAC professionals are:
It's important to keep in mind that cost of living - which determines the purchasing power of the salaries - varies drastically by region. The MERIC (Missouri Economic Research & Information Center, 2015) reports that the states where it is most expensive to live are in the northeast and west: District of Colombia, New York, Alaska, California, and Hawaii. The least expensive areas are usually in the south and midwest: Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Becoming An HVAC Technician
There are many educational paths one can follow if they're looking to become a certified technician in the HVAC industry. Some decide to get experience by working in apprenticeships, while others decide to partake in accredited classes or programs. In a HVAC technician survey, O*NET (2015) has reported that 55 percent of respondents in the field had post-secondary certificates while only 16 percent had associate's degrees. Regulations on HVAC contractors are still changing, so there's a trend towards formal education, though there are still many opportunities for those who are looking for apprenticeships. Here is a potential path to become a technician in the industry.
1. Finish high school. HVAC candidates tend to do well at physical sciences such as physics and chemistry. At this stage, you might seek out opportunities to assist HVAC professionals, whether they're voluntary or paid.
2. Complete a reputable HVAC program (six months to two years). Technical schools, community colleges and other types of institutions provide all sorts of training programs (associate's, bachelor's, certificate). They feature coursework in energy management; HVAC system design; load calculations; and ductwork & piping systems. As part of the programs, prospective industry professionals will receive both technical instructions to understand the theory of HVAC procedures and components, and work under the supervision of experience technicians so they can get practical training. Many institutions provide accreditation for HVAC classes - such as PAHRA (Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Accreditation) and HVAC Excellence. This process establishes education standards, recognizing progress that meet or exceed the requirements. To learn more about accredited programs visit our HVAC schools page.
3. (Optional) Finish an apprenticeship (three to five years). Some HVAC professionals choose to complete an apprenticeship instead of a formal training program. They have 2,000 annual hours of hands-on training, which prepares them to work on their own. Some organizations that provide apprenticeships are the US Department of Labor's Apprenticeship and the Air Conditioning Contractions of America, INC.
4. Get experience in the field (one to two years). Depending on the sort of certification you seek, it's a good idea to get real experience in the field before applying to get a certification. Note there are a few "job-ready" programs which won't require this.
5. Get certified (varied timeline). The requirements for working as an HVAC professional vary throughout states, but there are many popular certifications in the industry, like the ones provided by NATE (North American Technician Excellence) and HVAC Excellence.
For more information about state licensing requirements in the industry and learning more about the steps required to become a certified professional, check our pages on HVAC certification and how to become a technician.
For those looking to learn the HVAC field fundamentals, there are many education programs available at every level: Bachelor's, Associate's and Certificate programs. The main agency for accreditation in such programs is PAHRA - the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Accreditation.
HVAC Program Accreditation
It is strongly encouraged that aspiring HVAC professionals verify their program's accreditation status before enrolling. The accreditation process sets industry-validated standards up for HVAC training to ensure that a particular school is either exceeding or meeting the skill set needed for upholding government regulations regarding climate control and providing its customers with quality service. These organizations may have criteria that include examining support services and student outcomes; school finance assessments and specific curricular requirements.
As previously stated, for HVAC programs the major national accreditation body is the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). The PAHRA program standards were developed in conjunction with all of the industry's segments including technical education state supervisors, administrators, HVAC educators and workers. PAHRA-accredited programs are required to administer industry competency exams (ICE) for its graduating students. There are three areas of knowledge that are tested by the exams: commercial refrigeration; light commercial AC and heating; and residential AC and heating. North American Technician Excellence (NATE) administers the exams.
In addition, since 1999 HVAC Excellence has been accrediting HVAC programs. On-site evaluations are performed by a two-person team (an administrator and HVAC instructor). They also weigh criteria like instructor credentials; student facility quality, availability of various student services; school finances and the program's mission.
HVAC Certification And Licensing
There are several different national and regional professional certifications for HVAC professionals. The process indicates to prospective clients and employers that the individual has achieved competence within specific HVAC fields.
The EPA Section 608 certification is one mandatory certification that all HVAC professionals handling refrigerants must have. Typically an HVAC program will offer vouchers and preparation for the exam. The EPA Section 608 has four different certification types that are available: small appliances (type I); high-pressure appliances (type II), low-pressure appliances (type III) and the universal option covering all aspects that relate to handling refrigerants.
One important thing to note is that although EPA certification is something that is mandatory, certification or licensure requirements vary from state to state. For a complete list of state agencies for verifying the credentials needed to work in the HVAC field, visit the HVAC certification page.
Several organizations offer HVAC certifications, including:
- HVAC Excellence offers high school students heating, electrical, air condition technology (HEAT) as well as HEAT Plus certifications. In addition they have various employment-read specialty credentials including HVAC educator, residential air conditioning, combustion analysis, heat pump service, using R-410A refrigerant systems, residential heat load analysis and green awareness certifications.
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE) offers a core HVAC exam, along with specialty certifications in light commercial refrigeration, commercial refrigeration, hydronics oil, hydronics gas, heat pump (air-to-air), gas heating (air), oil heating (air), air distribution and air conditioning. Industry competency exams (ICE) are also provided by NATE, which all students who graduate from a PAHRA-accredited educational program are required to take. Many specialty exams are available in Spanish as well.
- The Refrigeration Services Engineer Society (RSES) provides the EPA Section 608 (mandatory) along with eight specialized exams: HVACR electrical, heat pump, heating, dynamic compression, domestic service, controls, commercial refrigeration and commercial air conditioning.
Visit the HVAC certification page for more information on professional licensure and certification.
Recent Trends In The HVAC Field
The following trends in the HVAC field have recently caught the attention of experts:
Smart Systems: One major industry trend that has been gathering increasing momentum is the use of "smart controls" within both commercial and residential HVAC systems. In 2015 HPAC Engineer reported on integration and smart thermostat technologies being increasingly used. This helps to cut costs and save energy by providing people the ability to remotely manage multi-area temperatures. In addition the intelligent control allow individuals to track their energy-use patterns, be able to detect problems occurring in components, as well as send diagnostics using various mobile technologies over to the right service agency in order to ensure timely repairs and maintenance. One of major drivers for the increased distance-based control and automation of HVAC systems is the growing internet of things (IoT).
Increased Automation and Integration: Partially assisted by the increased utilization of "smart" HVAC technologies, being able to seamlessly control several systems at the same time is one of the industry's major goals. It isn't surprising that business operators, property managers and homeowners can benefit greatly from having just one interface that is easy to operate for controlling temperature. HVAC businesses in fact are working hard to improve the comprehensiveness, user-friendliness and mobility of software that is able to link multiple systems all together.
HVAC Going Green: There is an increase in green technology systems with a focus on energy efficiency and conservation. In 2015 Enervise state that the government's PACE (property-assessed clean energy financing) program has contributed to the greening of HVAC and awareness of renewable, efficient energy sources through empowering local governments for funding very much-needed energy improvements to commercial and residential properties. The upgrades are paid for upfront by the government and then over time they are paid back by property owners. There is also an effort towards making buildings into net zero use facilities (where they produce more or just as much energy as the buildings consume) through using renewables (hydraulic, geothermal, solar and wind) as well as energy recovery ventilators. As part this movement towards making HVAC systems more efficient, in 2015 Xcel Energy reports that there is an increased use of several new green technologies, including variable frequency drives (VFD); variable air volume (VAV) systems; direct digital control (DDC) systems and demand-controlled ventilation.
Evolving Regulations: Local and federal governments are constantly changing standards for tax credits, building codes, product labeling and energy use to encourage and reward the use of HVAC technologies that are more efficient. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is a department of the US government that strives to promote energy efficiency and the development of innovative technologies in buildings, new homes, HVAC products and manufacturing plants. Legislation like the Energy Policy Act (2005), along with changing the standards for annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) as well as the season energy efficiency ratio (SEER) have been applied across states differentially, which effects the kinds of HVAC equipment that is available and also building codes.
Proprietary Controls: Despite the fact of there being general movement towards an increased integration of various HVAC systems, some companies continue creating proprietary components, in an attempt to preserve their market dominance, that do not seamlessly integrate with products from other companies.