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 work with gases and refrigerants.
Quick Facts: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers
2014 Median Pay $44,630 per year
$21.46 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 292,000
Job Outlook, 2014-24 14% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 39,600

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

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

Work Environment

HVACR technicians work mostly in 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 properly and because some parts of these systems are located outdoors. Working in cramped spaces and during irregular hours is common.

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

Because HVACR systems have become 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 $44,630 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2014 to 2024, much 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 install, maintain, and repair complex new systems.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers.

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

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers
HVACR technicians install, maintain, and 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 their 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 their efficiency

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 install, maintain, and repair heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems, many focus their work on installation, maintenance, or repair. Some technicians specialize in one or more specific aspects of HVACR, such as radiant heating systems, solar panels, testing and balancing, or commercial refrigeration.

When installing or repairing air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. The regulations include those concerning the proper handling and disposal of fluids and pressurized gases.

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

Other 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, ductwork may be installed by sheet metal workers, electrical work by electricians, and pipework by plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Boiler systems sometimes are installed by a boilermaker. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators.

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.

Work Environment

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 292,000 jobs in 2014, of which 63 percent were in the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contractors industry. About 1 in 10 were self-employed in 2014.

HVACR technicians work mostly in homes, schools, stores, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Some technicians are assigned to specific jobsites 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 exchangers, 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 not working properly.

Injuries and Illnesses

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

Appropriate safety equipment is necessary in 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. Several refrigerants are highly flammable and require additional care.

Work Schedules

The vast 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 most technicians are employed by construction contractors, about 1 in 10 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 because a growing number of manufacturers and contractors now provide or even require year-round service contracts.

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

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers
Some HVACR technicians learn to do their job through working with more experienced workers.

Because HVACR systems have become 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. Workers may need to pass a background check prior to being hired.

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. To keep program costs lower, many schools are combining online lectures with in-class lab work.

High school students interested in becoming an HVACR technician should take courses in vocational education, 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 exclusively on the job, although this practice 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. 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 learn 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 a 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

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy, handle, 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—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.

Whether having learned the occupation through postsecondary education or through other means, HVACR technicians may take several different tests that measure their abilities. 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, North American Technician Excellence offers the Industry Competency Exam; HVAC Excellence offers a Secondary Employment Ready Exam, a Secondary Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology exam, and a Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology Plus exam; the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute offers a basic test and an advanced test in conjunction with the Home Builders Institute; the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association offers the entry-level Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator and Certified Industrial Refrigeration Operator certifications; and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) offers EPA certification and specialized-knowledge certificates.

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.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. HVACR technicians often work in customers’ homes or business offices, so it is important that they be friendly, polite, and punctual. Repair technicians sometimes must 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 the nature of the work performed and the time it took, as well as list specific parts and equipment that were used.

Math skills. HVACR technicians need to calculate the correct load requirements to ensure that the HVACR equipment properly heats or cools the space required.

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

Physical stamina. HVACR technicians may spend many hours walking and standing. The constant physical activity can be tiring.

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

Time-management skills. HVACR technicians frequently 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. HVACR technicians must be able to identify problems on malfunctioning heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems and then determine the best way to repair them.

Because HVACR workers often work in and around people’s homes, they may need to pass a background check before being hired.

Pay

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Median annual wages, May 2014

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

$44,630

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

$42,110

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers was $44,630 in May 2014. 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 $27,630, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,820.

Apprentices usually earn about half of the wage paid to experienced workers. As they learn to do more, their pay increases.

The vast 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 most technicians are employed by construction contractors, about 1 in 10 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 because a growing number of manufacturers and contractors now provide or even require year-round service contracts.

Job Outlook

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

14%

Total, all occupations

7%

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

6%

 

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Commercial and residential building construction will drive employment growth. The growing number of sophisticated climate-control systems is also expected to increase demand for qualified HVACR technicians.

Repair and replacement of HVACR systems is a large part of what technicians do. Climate-control systems generally need replacement after 10 to 15 years. The growing emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction is likely to increase the demand for 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 computer tablets 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 install, maintain, and repair complex new systems.

Technicians who specialize in new installation work may experience periods of unemployment when the level of new construction activity declines. Maintenance and repair work, however, usually remains relatively stable. Business owners 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, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 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 292,000 331,600 14 39,600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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 2014 MEDIAN PAY
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 $59,860
Electricians

Electricians

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

High school diploma or equivalent $51,110
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

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

High school diploma or equivalent $50,660
Sheet metal workers

Sheet Metal Workers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $45,070
solar photovoltaic installers image

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, often called PV installers, assemble, install, or maintain solar panel systems on roofs or other structures.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,020

Contacts for More Information

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 ApprenticeshipUSA program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

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

Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Inc.

Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute

Associated Builders and Contractors

Carbon Monoxide Safety Association

Green Mechanical Council

Home Builders Institute

HVAC Excellence

Mechanical Contractors Association of America

National Occupational Competency Testing Institute

NCCER

North American Technician Excellence

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association

Radiant Professionals Alliance

Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association

Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)

United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Techs

O*NET

Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 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 February 08, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015