Even when the job market is tight, there is always a need for people who have learned a skilled trade. It’s possible to find steady work and earn a comfortable living as an HVAC technician, provided you have the requisite knowledge and skills to do the job.
An HVAC technician wears many hats, all of which are connected to keeping homes and other buildings comfortable, safe, and healthy. As the experts on all things related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, technicians require an incredible amount of knowledge to do their jobs effectively.
Proof of this knowledge comes in the form of an HVAC technician certification. Anyone interested in a career in HVAC installation and repair will need to seek such a certification for themselves. Top employers in the industry, such as Entek HVAC, won’t consider hiring any employees that don’t have ASHRAE certification.
What Does an HVAC Technician Do?
Your home is heated and cooled through a complex system of machinery and ventilation, and it’s your HVAC technician who is responsible for this system. Essentially, they’re charged with everything related to the maintenance and repair of air conditioners, furnaces, and all related mechanical systems. Note that an HVAC technician isn’t the same as an engineer (who designs HVAC technology) and is also not necessarily the same as an installer (who, as the name suggests, installs HVAC systems in your home).
A major part of an HVAC technician’s job is preventative maintenance. At least once a year, all of the components of an HVAC system should be thoroughly inspected and any necessary repairs performed. As a technician, you check the electrical wiring, fixing any faulty connections, ensure there’s plenty of coolant in the air conditioning unit, and clean and replace air filters as necessary. You also need to check for any other malfunctioning parts, such as fans, coils, and blower motors. As needed, you replace damaged parts and are also responsible for communicating any relevant information to the client.
What Sort of Knowledge Is Required?
Since there are so many different mechanical and electrical elements to an HVAC system, you need technical skills in a wide variety of areas. At times, you’ll be an electrician; on other occasions, you’ll be a mechanic. You need to have an understanding of the different methods of heating and cooling a home. This means you have to build experience working with gas furnaces as well as electric furnaces, heat pumps, and ductless air conditioners. While many of these methods of heating and cooling share a lot of features in common, they are different enough that you’ll require a broad skill set in order to confidently work with each of them.
Because air conditioners and heat pumps make use of chemicals such as refrigerants, you need to learn how to safely handle hazardous materials. You also need to have a thorough knowledge of safety with regard to combustible fuel sources. For example, it’s critical that a gas furnace has a safe place to ventilate its exhaust. An improperly installed HVAC system can pose a risk to the occupants of a home, and a large part of your responsibility is to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Because the occupants of a home put their safety into your hands, you must be able to demonstrate that you’re highly trained, with a thorough commitment to the safest practices known to the industry. This is why, to work in the field of HVAC repair and maintenance, you need an HVAC technician certification.
What Types of Certification Are There?
Certification for HVAC technicians in the USA is regulated by the federal government, under the terms of the United States Clean Air Act. As the laws regarding what a certified technician needs to know are set down by the US government, you need to earn your certification from a government-approved organization. Many skilled technicians earn their certification from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE. This is an organization composed of industry professionals who have worked to create national standards for the HVAC industry.
HVAC technicians should also hold a certification from the United States Environmental Protection Agency demonstrating that they’re trained in the handling and disposal of hazardous chemicals, such as refrigerants.
Where Do I Get Certified?
Before you begin the process of HVAC technician certification, you need a high school diploma. If you don’t already have one, you can earn it relatively easily by attending night school or even learning online. Once you have done this, you need to begin earning the necessary skills and experience to earn your ASHRAE certification. Many junior colleges offer HVAC programs that you can attend. It’s also possible to earn experience with an apprenticeship, learning from master HVAC technicians and getting paid while you do so.
When the time comes for you to earn your certification, you must pay an application fee to ASHRAE. This fee is $545 for nonmembers, although if you’re a member of the organization, it’s only $395. Once you have been approved, you can then schedule an examination. You choose from a list of available times and locations. Then you need to spend a great deal of time studying from ASHRAE’s exam guidebook. Finally, when the time comes, you take your exam.
If you pass successfully, you will be issued your ASHRAE certification. If you don’t pass, you will be eligible to reapply within 90 days. Your HVAC technician certification, once you receive it, is good for three years. After that time, you have to recertify, due to the ever-evolving nature of the HVAC industry. Recertification is simpler than earning your first certification. It requires a fee of $295 for non-members of ASHRAE. For members, this fee is $195. Renewal requirements for any given year can be found in ASHRAE’s candidate guidebook.