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Heating and Air Conditioning Technicians Have a Hot Future

Everyone wants a house to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. As more people strive for the perfect indoor temperature, the demand for climate control experts is growing.

Jobs are opening up in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (also known as HVAC, or HVAC&R) field. There are opportunities in areas ranging from installation and maintenance to design.

"Advances in computer technology and the Internet have revolutionized the way we monitor and control the engineering systems in buildings," says Elizabeth Goll. She works with the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers.

Goll says developments in wireless and sensor technology over the next decade are expected to reshape digital control systems for heating and cooling indoors. That means the industry needs people with technical skills.

Heating and cooling professionals can work almost anywhere. "Simply put, wherever there are buildings, there is a need for HVAC&R professionals," says Goll.

And there are new buildings going up all the time.

"The industry is expected to continue growing as new construction continues to help communities nationwide expand," says John Zink. He works with the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association Educational Foundation.

"There will always be a need for the service side of the industry to maintain, repair or replace the plumbing and HVAC systems in the buildings we live or work in."

But along with keeping people comfortable, heating and cooling workers must also think about the environment. Energy use and refrigerants can contribute to ozone depletion and global warming.

"The HVAC&R industry faces many challenges due to environmental and Earth-friendly regulations," says Goll. "Indoor air quality and mold-related problems in buildings are directly attributable to HVAC&R systems."

Today, buildings can be designed to be more energy-efficient. They take advantage of the natural light, cooling and ventilation.

"HVAC technicians ensure that cooling systems are not leaking harmful refrigerants into the environment and tune systems to provide high efficiencies that save electricity," says Zink.

"Some contractors are also finding new opportunities to work on environmentally friendly building projects. These 'green buildings' are constructed in ways that have the least negative environmental impact possible."

So how do you get into the field?

"The industry needs workers who are skilful at using their hands, but who can also use creativity and problem-solving skills to handle unique situations," says Zink.

He says it's possible to get into an apprenticeship program once you've finished high school. "It will take approximately four years of apprenticeship schooling and on-the-job training for a person to attain a journeyman's position; a position which enables one to take the full responsibility of a skilled craftsman."

You can prepare while you're still in high school. Zink suggests taking courses in computer applications, CAD or computer-aided design, business, marketing and math (specifically algebra and geometry).

College courses that build skills in business management, finance or marketing are also good if you plan to be self-employed.

Dave Tolhurst owns a plumbing, heating and cooling contracting company. He says math is a must. "I've put quite a few apprentices through and math is very important."

You also need some basic physics and an aptitude for mechanics.

Tolhurst says there is currently a shortage of good heating and cooling professionals. "I can only see it getting worse due to retirement and the fact that there are not enough apprentices."

He says he usually has at least one or two apprentices on staff. Most start in laborer or helper positions and move up.

"Smaller companies produce more apprentices and provide more employment," says Tolhurst.

Union rules can make it tough for large companies to take on apprentices. Tolhurst says that smaller companies, while they are unable to offer great benefits or the highest wages, have more freedom to hire and train new staff.

Apprentices usually start at 50 percent of a ticketed journeyperson's wage. As they gain skills and experience, apprentices generally receive periodic raises until they become certified.


American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
An international organization founded to advance HVAC technology

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
A trade organization

How Air Conditioners Work
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