Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Summary

heating air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers image
HVACR technicians must follow EPA rules when they recharge refrigerants.
Quick Facts: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers
2012 Median Pay $43,640 per year
$20.98 per hour
Entry-Level Education Postsecondary non-degree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 267,600
Job Outlook, 2012-22 21% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 55,900

What Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers Do

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called HVACR technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Work Environment

HVACR technicians work in residential homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Their worksites may be very hot or cold because the heating and cooling systems they must repair may not be working, and because some parts of these systems are located outdoors. Irregular hours and working in cramped spaces are common.

How to Become a Heating, Air Conditioning, or Refrigeration Mechanic and Installer

Because HVACR systems are increasingly complex, employers generally prefer applicants with postsecondary education or those who have completed an apprenticeship. Some states and localities require technicians to be licensed.

Pay

The median annual wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers was $43,640 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Candidates familiar with computers and electronics and those with good troubleshooting skills will have the best job opportunities as employers continue to have difficulty finding qualified technicians to work on complex new systems.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers Do About this section

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers
HVACR technicians repair heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called HVACR technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Duties

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:

  • Use blueprints or design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers’ HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair or replace worn or defective parts
  • Determine HVACR systems’ energy use and make recommendations to improve  efficiency
  • Travel to worksites

Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate-controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.

Although HVACR technicians are trained to both install and maintain heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems, many focus on either installation or maintenance. Some also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.

HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters, and other basic hand tools when installing systems. Technicians also use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches to test or install system components.

When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This includes the proper handling and disposal of fluids and pressurized gases.  

Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems. The service usually includes the cleaning of ducts, replacing filters, and checking refrigerant levels.

Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, duct work might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, electrical work by electricians, and pipe work by plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Boiler systems are often installed by a boilermaker. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators.

Work Environment About this section

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers
HVACR technicians inspect and maintain heating and cooling systems.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers held about 267,600 jobs in 2012, of which 61 percent were employed in the plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors industry. About 9 percent were self-employed.

HVACR technicians mostly work in residential homes, schools, stores, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Some technicians are assigned to specific job sites at the beginning of each day. Others travel to several different locations making service calls.

Although most technicians work indoors, some may have to work on outdoor heat pumps, even in bad weather. Technicians often work in awkward or cramped spaces, and some work in buildings that are uncomfortable because the air conditioning or heating system is broken.

Work Schedules

The majority of HVACR technicians work full time, with occasional evening or weekend shifts. During peak heating and cooling seasons, they often work overtime or irregular hours. Although the majority of technicians work for construction contractors, about 9 percent are self-employed workers who have the ability to set their own schedules.

Technicians who service refrigeration, heating, and air conditioning equipment generally have stable employment throughout the year, particularly as a growing number of manufacturers and contractors now provide or even require year-round service contracts.

Injuries and Illnesses

HVACR technicians have a one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Potential hazards include electrical shock, burns, muscle strains, and other injuries from handling heavy equipment.

Appropriate safety equipment is necessary when handling refrigerants because they are hazardous, and contact can cause skin damage, frostbite, or blindness. When working in tight spaces, inhalation of refrigerants is also a risk. As of 2012, several newly introduced refrigerants are highly flammable, requiring additional care.

How to Become a Heating, Air Conditioning, or Refrigeration Mechanic and Installer About this section

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers
A technician inspects the filter on a roof top air conditioning unit.

Because HVACR systems are increasingly complex, employers generally prefer applicants with postsecondary education or those who have completed an apprenticeship. Some states and localities require technicians to be licensed.

Education

A growing number of HVACR technicians receive postsecondary instruction from technical and trade schools or community colleges that offer programs in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration. These programs generally last from 6 months to 2 years and lead to a certificate or an associate’s degree.

High school students interested in becoming an HVACR technician should take courses in shop, math, and physics. Knowledge of plumbing or electrical work and a basic understanding of electronics is also helpful.

Training

Some HVACR technicians learn their trade on the job, although this is becoming much less common. Those who do usually begin by assisting experienced technicians with basic tasks, such as insulating refrigerant lines or cleaning furnaces. In time, they move on to more difficult tasks, including cutting and soldering pipes or checking electrical circuits.

Some technicians receive their training through an apprenticeship. Applicants for apprenticeships must have a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (GED). Math and reading skills are essential.

Apprenticeship programs usually last 3 to 5 years. Each year, apprentices must have at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and a minimum of 144 hours of related technical education. Over the course of the apprenticeship, technicians become familiar with subjects such as safety practices, blueprint reading, and how to use tools. They also learn about the numerous systems that heat and cool buildings. To enter an apprenticeship program, a trainee must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Pass a basic math test
  • Pass substance abuse screening
  • Have a valid driver’s license

Apprenticeship programs frequently are run by joint committees representing local chapters of various organizations, including the following:

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Whether having learned the occupation through postsecondary education or through other means, HVACR technicians may take several different tests that measure their skills. These tests require different levels of experience. Technicians with relevant coursework and less than 2 years of experience may take the “entry-level” certification exams. These exams test basic competency in residential heating and cooling, light commercial heating and cooling, and commercial refrigeration. Technicians can take the exams at technical and trade schools.

HVACR technicians who have at least 1 year of installation experience and 2 years of maintenance and repair experience can take a number of specialized exams. These exams certify their competency in working with specific types of equipment, such as oil-burning furnaces or compressed-refrigerant cooling systems. Many organizations offer certifying exams. For example, the North American Technician Excellence offers the Industry Competency Exam; HVAC Excellence offers a Secondary Employment Ready Exam, a Secondary Heat exam, and a Heat Plus exam; the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute offers a secondary exam; and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society offers two levels of certification.

Certifications can be helpful because they show that the technician has specific competencies. Some employers actively seek out industry-certified HVACR technicians.

Some states and localities require HVACR technicians to be licensed. Although specific licensing requirements vary, all candidates must pass an exam.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy or work with refrigerants to be certified in proper refrigerant handling. To become certified, technicians must pass a written exam specific to one of three specializations: Type I—servicing small appliances; Type II—high-pressure refrigerants; and Type III—low-pressure refrigerants. Many trade schools, unions, and employer associations offer training programs designed to prepare students for the EPA exam.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. HVACR technicians often work in customers’ homes or business offices, so it is important that they are friendly, polite, and punctual. Repair technicians must sometimes deal with unhappy customers whose heating or air conditioning is not working.

Detail oriented. HVACR technicians must carefully maintain records of all work performed. The records must include what work was performed and the time it took, and list specific parts and equipment that were used.

Mechanical skills. HVACR technicians install and work on complicated climate-control systems. Workers must understand the HVAC components and be able to properly assemble, disassemble, and if needed, program them.

Physical strength. Workers may have to lift and support heavy equipment and components, often without help.

Time-management skills. HVACR technicians often have a set number of daily maintenance calls. They should be able to keep a schedule and complete all necessary repairs or tasks.

Troubleshooting skills. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems involve many intricate parts. To repair malfunctioning systems, technicians must be able to identify problems and then determine the best way to repair it.

Pay About this section

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

$43,640

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

$41,020

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers was $43,640 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,330, and the top 10 percent earned more than $68,990.

Apprentices usually earn about half of the wage paid to experienced workers. As they gain experience and improve their skills, apprentices receive periodic raises until they reach the wage of experienced workers.

The majority of HVACR technicians work full time, with occasional evening or weekend shifts. During peak heating and cooling seasons, they often work overtime or irregular hours. Although the majority of technicians work for construction contractors, about 9 percent are self-employed workers who have the ability to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook About this section

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

21%

Total, all occupations

11%

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

10%

 

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Commercial and residential building construction will drive employment growth as the construction industry continues to recover from the recent recession. The growing number of sophisticated climate-control systems is also expected to increase demand for qualified HVACR technicians.

Climate-control systems generally need replacement after 10 to 15 years. As a result, many homes and commercial buildings that were constructed between 2002 and 2006 will need replacement climate-control systems, further spurring demand for technicians.

The growing emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction will also require more HVACR technicians as climate-control systems are retrofitted, upgraded, or replaced entirely. In addition, regulations prohibiting the discharge and production of older types of refrigerant pollutants will result in the need to modify or replace many existing air conditioning systems.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for HVACR technicians are expected to be excellent, particularly for those who have completed training at an accredited technical school or through an apprenticeship. Candidates familiar with computers and electronics, as well as those who have developed troubleshooting skills, will have the best job opportunities as employers continue to have difficulty finding qualified technicians to work on complex new systems.

Technicians who specialize in installation work may experience periods of unemployment when the level of new construction activity declines. Maintenance and repair work, however, usually remains relatively stable. Businesses and homeowners depend on their climate-control or refrigeration systems year round, and must keep them in good working order, regardless of economic conditions.

Employment projections data for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

49-9021 267,600 323,500 21 55,900 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Boilermakers

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

High school diploma or equivalent $56,560
Electricians

Electricians

Electricians install and maintain electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.

High school diploma or equivalent $49,840
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes, and factories.

High school diploma or equivalent $49,140
Sheet metal workers

Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets, such as ducts used for heating and air conditioning.

High school diploma or equivalent $43,290

Contacts for More Information About this section

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors, or local union-management HVACR apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, or Employment and Training Administration.

For information about career opportunities, training, and certification, visit

Air Conditioning Contractors of America

Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute

Associated Builders and Contractors

Carbon Monoxide Safety Association

Green Mechanical Council

HVAC Excellence

HVAC Schools Guide

Mechanical Contractors Association of America

National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute

National Occupational Competency Testing Institute

NCCER

North American Technician Excellence

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association

Radiant Professionals Alliance

Refrigeration Service Engineers Society

Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada

O*NET

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm (visited April 17, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014