Heating and air-conditioning systems control the temperature, indoor air quality, and humidity in buildings. Refrigeration systems allow us to transport and store food, medicine, and other perishables. Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems are often referred to collectively as HVAC.
HVAC mechanics, installers, and technicians diagnose and correct problems with heating and air conditioning systems, install new systems when need, or clean and maintain equipment. This requires a good understanding of electronics, testing equipments (such as voltmeters), and mechanical repair, including pipe-fitting.
Technicians usually specialize in either installation or in maintenance and repair, although they can do both. Some technicians have more specific areas of expertise, such as commercial refrigerator installation. Smaller companies and independent contractors tend to do both installation and repair, because business is cyclical.
In the summer, clients need new a/c systems, and in the winter, new heating systems. In the off-seasons, technicians repair and service systems. This allows for a fairly steady paycheck.
Technicians who buy or handle certain refrigerants have to pass a test and be licensed. Refrigeration technicians must conserve, recover and recycle CFCs and HCFCs, which, if released into the atmosphere, cause ozone depletion. Working conditions can be hazardous and uncomfortable, but the pay generally makes up for this. Most companies offer good health care and other benefits packages. Many technicians work forty hours or more per week. Some technicians are on-call and work evenings and weekends.
There are a few certifications available to graduates or those with experience. One is the Air Conditioning Excellence Program, administered by North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
Job forecasts in the HVAC industry are expected to grow 9% through 2016, and are particularly good for those who have completed technical school training or a formal apprenticeship.
The median hourly wage of HVAC workers is $19.08 (or $39,680 annually). The top 25% make more than $51,000. Apprentices and beginners usually start out at half-wage and earn a series of raises to make the rate that experienced workers do. Some technicians are members of unions, such as the United Association of Journeymen.