The HVAC Technician
The HVAC technician’s earliest service calls were at the movie theater.
That’s because theaters were among the first places to install air conditioning. People would spend an entire summer day at the cinema to keep cool, which was good for business.
Air conditioning caught on; today, nine out of every 10 homes in Georgia has central air. That’s a lot of systems to keep running — which explains why AC repair people always seem to stay busy.
And it’s a field that’s growing: The number of jobs in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration is expected to grow by 14 percent in the decade leading up to 2024. That’s a lot faster than most jobs. Which means now is a very, very good time to become an HVAC technician.
HVAC stands for “heating, ventilation and air conditioning.” Some people add an “R” for “refrigeration,” but you don’t often see the field referred to as HVACR.
HVAC service technicians work on all systems involved in “climate-control,” which make buildings warmer, cooler and more or less humid. After their HVAC training, they also work on stuff like walk-in coolers, ventilation systems in industrial buildings, air filtering and purification systems and more.
The HVAC technician has two main profiles:
- Residential HVAC technicians service the heating, ventilation and cooling systems in people’s homes. They’re the ones you call when you shiver or sweat because the furnace or AC has stopped working. Along with fixing systems when they break, residential HVAC technicians also install these systems in new houses or when an older home needs an upgrade.
- Commercial HVAC technicians work on heating, cooling and ventilation systems in buildings like offices, schools, shops, warehouses and factories. These systems are frequently good candidates for eco-friendly upgrades, since business owners with bigger buildings can save a lot of money on their heating and cooling bills by installing more energy-efficient technology.
Advances in energy-saving HVAC systems are one of the reasons job prospects for HVAC technicians are so good. New HVAC systems use less electricity, so they’re much cheaper to run. And upgrading systems can save money for homes and businesses alike.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN HVAC TECHNICIAN IN GEORGIA
Some professionals focus more on the “H,” some on the “V” and others on the “AC,” but there’s a good chance that the HVAC worker’s day will involve the following:
- Install and repair HVAC systems
- Install the wiring and controls that make HVAC systems work
- Troubleshoot problems with customers’ HVAC systems
- Test different parts of the system to figure out a problem
- Follow building codes and other safety and environmental regulations
- Replace old or broken parts
- Audit systems for energy efficiency
- Use simple hand-held tools like screwdrivers and wrenches, and more complex tools like voltmeters and carbon monoxide testers
- Listen and talk to customers about their HVAC systems
- Maintain work records, logging info like miles traveled, time spent, equipment used and parts ordered
- Practice good time management to stay on schedule
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN HVAC TECHNICIAN
Successful professionals in the trade say you’ll need to be:
- People friendly. HVAC technicians spend a lot of time around people, often working in customers’ homes or offices to repair a system. You need to be friendly and polite (even if your customer is cranky because they’ve been sweating through a Georgia summer with broken AC!). Being a good communicator who can clearly explain problems and their solutions certainly helps.
- Mechanically minded. As an HVAC technician, a lot of your job is taking things apart and putting them back together. You have to be comfortable working with detailed mechanical parts and fitting complicated pieces into a big picture.
- Strong. The equipment and components for HVAC systems can be heavy, so you need to be able to lift and carry that stuff on your own. The job can also be very physically active, with long hours on your feet, or holding an uncomfortable position to access a system.
- Detail oriented. You have to keep complete and accurate records of your day-to-day work.
IS THIS YOU?
Here are a few topics to consider as you decide whether a career as an HVAC service technician is right for you.
- Every day is different when you’re an HVAC technician — new calls, new customers, new problems to solve. You never know where your work is going to take you!
- Advancement opportunities. A career in HVAC will give you plenty of opportunities to keep growing and advancing. As you learn more about different kinds of systems, you can keep moving up in the field, getting promotions and earning more money.
- This job can’t be automated or outsourced overseas, and the field doesn’t suffer too much when the economy is bad (people always want healing and cooling in their homes). In many climates, it’s a necessity. You can count on good jobs in this field for decades to come.
- You’ve got to prepare for the hazards. There are strict government regulations for working with the refrigerants used in AC and refrigeration systems. You will need to pass a written exam to be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before you’re allowed to handle refrigerants. The training and prep will serve you well, because refrigerants are hazardous.
- HVAC technicians are prone to injuries. Along with the risks posed by refrigerants, HVAC technicians are exposed to potential electrical shock, burns and pulled muscles from physically demanding work.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
How much do HVAC technicians make?
The average salary for an HVAC technician in Georgia is $43,960 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016).
How do you become an HVAC technician?
More and more, HVAC technicians are getting trained at technical schools. Like a lot of technology, HVAC systems have become more complex and sophisticated, so that technical college background is helpful.
To be a strong job candidate, you can get a certificate (about six months) or an associate’s degree (about two years).
Georgia’s technical colleges offer programs in air conditioning technology all over the state. Chances are you can find a great school without even leaving your hometown.
If you’re in high school, you can get a jump start now. Take classes in math, because you’ll need to make calculations when you’re setting up systems, and physics (the ultimate rulebook on hot and cold).
You can also try an HVAC apprenticeship. These are usually 3 to 5 years, with 2,000 hours of hands-on training and 144 hours of technical instruction during each of those years. To enter an apprenticeship program, you need to be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. You also have to pass a basic math test and a drug screening. And you need a driver’s license.
After you’ve been working in installation for at least one year, and maintenance and repair for at least two years, you can start taking specialized exams to show how good you are with different kinds of heating, cooling, ventilation and refrigeration systems. These certifications will help you snag better jobs and earn more money.
Finally: You also need to pass that EPA test to get certified to work with refrigerants. But don’t worry; a lot of training programs and unions — and probably your employer — will have classes and programs to help you study and prepare for the exam. So you’ll have the support you need to master the subject.
FIND AN HVAC SCHOOL
FIND HVAC TRAINING AND APPRENTICESHIPS
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to get HVAC training at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? OK! Bring on the application >
OUTLOOK FOR HVAC TECHNICIANS
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs for HVACR repairers and installers will increase by 14% from 2014 to 2024. This is much faster than average. It’s a great time to become an HVAC technician.
HOT JOB MARKET, COOL CAREER PATH
HVAC technician? It’s a pretty cool gig. Hear it firsthand from Kris Hickman, who’s kicking off his career in air conditioning with technical education at Chattahoochee Technical College and a job at an HVAC service shop in Canton, Georgia.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
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