Heating and air conditioning systems control and monitor the temperature, humidity, and air quality of residential and commercial buildings.

Heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems consist of many mechanical, electrical parts such as motors, compressors, pumps, pipes thermostats and switches. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technicians diagnose, maintain and repair each of these components. To do this, they reset controls to recommended settings and test the performance of the entire system using special tools and testing equipment.

  • HVAC technicians usually specialize in either installation or repair, although there are some who do both. They may also specialize in one area such as heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration. Some specialize is working with one type of tool such as hydronics (water based heating systems) solar heating, or commercial refrigeration.
  • HVAC technicians are often required to sell service contracts on equipment to customers. Service contracts provide for regular maintenance of heating and cooling equipment that help keep work flow constant during slower periods.
  • HVAC technicians follow blueprints when installing oil, gas, electrical heating systems and air-conditioning systems. After installation, they then install fuel and water supply lines, air ducts and vents, pumps, and other parts. They may also connect electrical writing and check that the system is working properly.
  • HVAC technicians test such equipment as carbon dioxide detectors, oxygen carbon monoxide testers, and combustion analyzers.
  • Technicians also install and maintain heat pumps, which both cool and heat a home or office. Because these pumps operate in all seasons, they require frequent maintenance and need to be replaced often.
  • During the summer, when heating systems are not in use, HVAC technicians perform routine maintenance work, such as replacing filters, ducts, and other components that may gather dust and other toxins.
  • Refrigeration technicians install, service, and repair both residential and commercial refrigeration systems and a variety of refrigeration equipment. The follow blueprints to install motors, compressor, piping, and other components. They then connect these components to ductwork and electrical power sources. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to transport and store food, medicine, and other perishable goods.

Career Outlook

As per the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors of America (TACCA) , employment of HVAC technicians is projected to increase by 28 percent through the year 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the number of new commercial and residential developments grows, so does the demand for climate-control systems. Residential HVAC systems also generally need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years; as a result the large number of homes build in recent years will necessitate the need for replacement by 2018.

Education and training

Many HVAC professionals receive their training in secondary and postsecondary technical schools and community colleges that offer program in heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration. The time difference in training may be accounted for by the fact that vocational schools concentrate solely on technical coursework without the liberal arts component required in community college programs.

Students enrolled in either secondary and postsecondary vocational training programs or community colleges learn about temperature control, electronics, equipment design and construction, as well as the basics of installation, maintenance, and repair of all HVAC equipment.

High school students interested in work in this field should take courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, applied physics, chemistry, electronics, computer applications, and electronics.

There are three agencies that set standards for the accreditation of HVAC training programs: HVAC Excellence; the National Center for Construction Education and Research; and the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation.

Some HVAC technicians gain training through apprenticeships run by  joint committees representing Texas chapters of the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America (TACC),.the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association, and Texas-based chapters of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association or the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States.. Refer to each of the Web sites for further details on admission, and training program content .

Formal apprenticeship programs last from 3 to 5 years and combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Coursework is the same as offered in vocational and community college programs. Further details regarding admission and program content may be found on each of the web sites listed above.

In general, applicants for all apprenticeships must have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). Strong math and reading skills are essential. After successful completion of an apprentice program, HVAC technicians are considered skills tradespersons able to work independently.

Students in traditional training programs and apprenticeship programs also learn about legislative issues and regulations that govern the use of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Both formal vocational training and participation in apprenticeship programs are equally valid methods of beginning a career as a HVAC Technician.

View a list of schools in Texas offering HVAC programs >>

Licensure

Heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers are required to be licensed in Texas. To obtain an application for licensure contact the:

Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation
E. O. T Thompson State Office Building
P. O. B Box 12157
Austin, TX 78711

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) issues two types of licenses — Class A and Class B. The Class A license lets you work on any size HVAC equipment. The Class B license limits you to 25 tons of cooling and 1.5 million Btu of heating. For either the Class A or Class B license, you also need an endorsement for environmental air conditioning, commercial refrigeration and process cooling and heating, or both.

You will need to pass an exam for each type of endorsement. To sit for an examination you need at least three years of practical work experience within the preceding five years. If you have a degree in air conditioning engineering, refrigeration engineering, or mechanical engineering from a Department-approved school, you can use it for up to two years of the work experience requirement. Exams are administered by PSI Exams. For complete information on registering for the exams, visit the Texas Department of Licensing at Regulation HVAC Candidate Information Bulletin.

As per the Board of Licensing, the contents of these tests require extensive knowledge of electrical codes with regard to HVAC specifically which candidates may obtain through completion of an apprenticeship program OR 2 to 5 years of paid experience.

For those with required coursework but less than the required three of experience, the industry has developed a series of exams to evaluate competency in basic residential and commercial heating and cooling, as well as commercial refrigeration. These exams are considered “entry-level” exams and are often administered at both secondary and postsecondary vocational and trade schools.

In addition, all HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants must be certified in their proper handling. To become certified, technicians must pass a written examination specific to the type of work they perform. The three areas of certification are: Type I for those servicing small appliances; Type II for high pressure refrigerants; Type III for low-pressure refrigerants. Exams are administered by an organization approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, such as vocational schools, contractor associations, and unions. The TACC offers study guides for these exams.

Salaries

The following are entry-level salaries of HVAC technicians in select Texas cities. Salaries vary depending on level of training, licenses held, and specialty.

Austin $38,790
Dallas $40,623
Fort Worth $40,257
Houston $40,420
San Antonio $37,730

Salary.com November 2011

View a list of schools in Texas offering HVAC programs >>