The HVAC industry has been around for a long time and continues to thrive today. The HVAC industry is constantly growing, changing, and evolving. It's essential for those new to this field or who have recently decided to pursue an occupation in it to know what they are getting themselves into before jumping headfirst into their new profession. This article will cover some basics about what it takes to get started with this career path, as well as give some tips on how to learn more about it yourself so you can make an informed decision on whether or not this is something that interests you!
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Starting out in the hvac industry
The first step will be to have a general idea of what people do in the field of HVAC. HVAC technicians install and maintain heating, air conditioning, and sometimes refrigeration equipment. This could be anything from a residential air conditioner like the one that keeps your home cool to a boiler or chiller system that an entire hospital depends on.
If you look at the day in the life of an HVAC technician it may never be the same as the one before it. In the HVAC industry, you may be working as an electrician one day, troubleshooting poor air quality the next, and replacing a heat pump the day after. HVACR technicians never know what they will be asked to do from day to day.
There are no similar trades to the HVAC industry. HVAC companies must have a certain level of competency in every trade on the site, which you do not see in any other trades. For example, you must have the mechanical skills to plumb a boiler, work as an electrician wiring units, and running power; you need to be able to frame holes and platforms, install vents through roofs, run gas lines, and be able to work with drywall. While all of these trades focus on their specific job, HVAC workers are forced to learn a little bit of all the trades.
Before going into the HVAC trade, you should be aware of many things. The EPA guidelines really drive regulations across North America which means things like: handle refrigerant with care and in the proper manner, pay attention to air quality with climate control (never separate the two), and many other regulations that soon become second nature to you as an HVAC professional. You will learn something new every day, no matter how long you work in this industry.
What does hvac stand for?
HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning; sometimes, you will see HVAC-R or HVACR. The R at the end of it stands for refrigeration, as that is also a large portion of the HVACR industry, even if it is sometimes overlooked in the acronym.
Tools needed for the trade
To start your career as an HVAC technician, you will need a few essential tools. You may be able to get by with just the toolbox that came with your first car, but if you want to be able to do more than change light bulbs and tighten loose screws, here are some tools that will make your life easier:
- Hand tools: Wire strippers, screwdrivers (Phillips and flathead), nut drivers (3/8, 5/16, and 1/4 will be the most important), tubing cutters, PVC cutters, adjustable pliers, adjustable wrenches, electrical meter, and Allen wrenches.
- Power tools: Impact drill, hammer drill (for masonry work), and reciprocating saw. A circular saw can also come in handy but is not always necessary.
- Power tool add-ons: Drill bit set, auger bits, hole saw kit, 1/4, 5/16, and 3/8 nut driver bits, Phillips head bit, and a star bit.
- Sheet metal tools: Right and left-handed snips, aviator snips, 12-inch snips, hand seamers, and a bar fold.
HVAC Education Requirements
If you hope to join the HVAC system as an HVAC technician, you must go beyond your high school diploma. Many trade schools have training programs to help you get hands-on experience in the skilled trade of HVACR. Most community colleges do not offer job training for HVACR.
However, if you attend a trade school, they will allow you to earn a certificate from their training program. They will give you the opportunity and training to pass the EPA certification that enables you to be able to handle refrigerant. Without this EPA certification, you will not legally be allowed to purchase or handle refrigerant.
Different career paths of working in HVAC
The most common career paths for HVAC techs are residential, commercial, or industrial. If you are considering working for an HVAC business in the residential sector, you should expect to be working on homes most of the time. Sometimes you may leak over to an occasional commercial air conditioner project, but most of the time, it will be servicing and installing air conditioners in homes.
Commercial will be where you work for one business if they have hired you as their HVAC tech. Such as the local nursing home as hired you as their full time HVAC technician. Or you will be with an HVAC company and will be working on a ton of different businesses. Such as servicing all of the nursing homes within a 50-mile radius. Commercial will apply to most business locations. This is where you will begin to find more automated systems, much more extensive equipment, and many units in one place. This is also where you will start to find more certifications, such as Nate.
Industrial HVAC is where you will find the largest of equipment. This is where you will begin to work with giant chillers, massive boiler systems, and completely automated control systems. At this level, it is common for you to see refrigeration systems and HVAC equipment that are big enough to walk around inside.
Whether your choose to work in commercial or residential, you will need to have the same basic knowledge, to begin with. You will need a high school diploma or GED, go to a vocational school, get your HVAC certifications, and start working in the field. An associate’s degree or a bachelor’s is not required when your entering the field of HVAC. Commercial and residential have many similarities in how you work on the equipment, but commercial will consist of more complex controllers and sometimes higher voltages.
Average wages for people working in HVAC
If you're starting in HVAC in Alberta and have no experience, you can expect to make about $25/hour in your first year. When you get your Red Seal certification, this will increase to about $30/hour. If you continue working for another three years after getting your Red Seal, expect to be around $32/hour by the end of those three years.
Assuming that the person works 40 hours a week and never takes any time off (which would never happen in real life), they would make over $70,000 per year with their basic HVAC training alone. This doesn't include any overtime or bonuses that might come up during busy seasons or other exceptional circumstances where other workers are unavailable due to vacations, illness, etc...
If you want to be an HVAC technician, then it's highly recommended that you get your Red Seal certification. This will increase your chances of getting a job and how much money you can expect to make once you start working.
Commercial HVAC workers typically have a higher average salary than residential workers. Most commercial HVAC companies will pay more than the average residential HVAC company. There are also incentives for continuing your education, such as getting a journeyman or master's license in HVAC. Once you get your master's license, you can start your own HVAC business and become a business owner. If you want to earn a top dollar or own a business someday, then pursuing higher education within the HVAC field is a great idea. The HVAC industry is one where you can become an expert in the field with hard work and a pursuit of technical skills.
HVAC is a great career path, but it's challenging to begin. Learning the skills, you'll need to succeed takes time and dedication, even without pursuing a bachelor's or associate's degree. However, if you're willing to put in the effort, there are plenty of opportunities for those who are passionate about what they do!