For those interested in building maintenance or construction activities that are interested in acquiring a more specialized skillset, becoming an HVAC technician or contractor may be an excellent option. Not only is the demand for HVAC workers expected to remain steady into the future, it also provides the opportunity to grow by become licensed in some of the newer, green technologies that have entered the market.
During peak heating and cooling seasons, demand for services can be quite high, which may provide for overtime possibilities. This demand increase includes the installation of new heating and cooling systems, as well as regular maintenance and emergency repair calls.
While new installations are generally performed on a project by project basis, existing HVAC systems require regular maintenance and tending in order to maintain proper function, allowing certain jobs to be scheduled during slower periods. This helps maintain a year-round demand for capable technicians and serves as a way to maintain steady income throughout the year. Additionally, as technology becomes more energy efficient, and eco-friendly, many older HVAC systems will be upgraded to take advantage of the new advances.
As of 2015, the median annual wage for HVAC installers and mechanics across the U.S. came in at $45,110 with the top 10 percent earning over $71,690 a year.
HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning. Occasionally, it will be shown as HVACR, with the R standing for Refrigeration. HVAC technicians are specifically trained in the installation and maintenance of associated systems normally required to maintain control over the temperature in a particular environment. Those who also have skills in refrigeration may participate in the installation and maintenance of larger systems involved in the transport or storage of temperature sensitive items, such as foods and beverages, certain medications and pharmaceutical products, as well as other perishable goods.
HVAC technicians may work for a business specializing in solely in HVAC or specific HVAC products. It is also possible to find employment as part of a larger construction crew, working alongside other trades during new home and building construction projects as well as large-scale remodels.
Approximately one in 10 HVAC contractors work as independents, allowing them to essentially run their own business. Others remain in the employ of a primary contractor working in more of a partnership arrangement.
The majority of HVAC work is completed indoors. This includes providing maintenance and repair services to existing systems, or the installation of new systems and their components. Some HVAC work is completed outside, or in situations where the temperature is not fully controlled. For example, outdoor work may be required when installing or repairing certain system components, such as a condenser for an air conditioning system, or repairs being made to a non-functioning system may be indoors, but lacking temperature control due to the unit experiencing a malfunction.
HVAC technicians may complete work in tight spaces, as may be required for the installation of certain duct work and other components. The work may also involve extreme heights, such as when affected systems are located on a building’s roof.
Most people interested in learning the HVAC trade begin with additional education. While some programs may be offered in more traditional community college settings, other offerings may exist within dedicated trade or technical schools.
Formal educational options generally cover the rules and regulations that apply to the activities in which an HVAC technician would participate, as well as provides hands-on learning of the skills needed to perform the job and the equipment that is used. This can include an introduction to the tools of the trade as well as how tasks are completed. Coursework in safety practices, how to read blueprints, soldering technique, electrical skills, and other applicable topics will be covered as part of the program.
In order to participate in this form of formal education, most students must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. High school students interested in pursuing this career path may find it prudent to complete classes that focus on the areas of physics and mathematics, as well as specialty classes in electronics or plumbing, if available.
The time required to complete this level of education varies depending on the program attended. While some specialized programs can be completed in as few as six months, others may require up to two years to finish, but the often culminate in earning an associate’s degree.
If you would prefer an alternative to formal education, it is possible to learn the necessary skills on the job or through a structured apprenticeship program. On the job training generally starts with working as a helper to a person who is licensed as an HVAC contractor. Initially, basic skills will be taught to serve as a foundation for future learning. There is no set structure for on the job learning of this matter, so skill development can move at any pace. While these positions do come with compensation, the pay rate will likely be based on the fact the position is considered entry level.
Apprenticeship programs provide hands-on training, but in a more structured manner than general on the job experiences. Apprenticeships can last for varying amounts of time, often ranging from three to five years, but it is possible to earn an income while working through the program and wage increases may be earned as skills are developed and less direct instruction is required.
Apprenticeship programs include specified minimums in regards to the number of working hours that must be completed through the program. In addition to hands-on learning, classroom-based educational hours are also required.
If you would like to work as a contractor in the state of Michigan, you will need to complete the requirements to receive a Mechanical Contractors license. In order to qualify for the various examinations, you must have a minimum of three years of experience in the subject area you will be testing on. A portion of the required experience can be gained through formal education or apprenticeship programs, though a portion of it will have to be completed through professional, on the job experience while employed under a licensed contractor. You can choose to become licensed on as many or as few areas as you desire, but you must have the prerequisite three years of experience in each area where a license is being sought.
Different skills within the HVAC category require separate licensing. You are only required to license for the skills you intend to use, or the job duties you intend to perform as a contractor. Licenses allow you to perform work regarding the installation, alteration, servicing of equipment as well as the ability to secure permits the performance of said work.
Licenses can be obtained in a variety of areas including, but not limited to, HVAC equipment, ductwork, fire suppression, and refrigeration. In order to qualify to take a licensing exam, you must have a minimum of three years of experience in the area upon which you will test.
Any duties that are not covered by your license cannot be performed as part of your licensed services. Often, this means that a contractor licensed in that particular area will be required to complete those tasks. In that regard, obtaining as many licenses as possible can increase your options for the work you can perform and limit the amount of other contractors a particular job may require in order to be completed.
Certain specialty licensing is also available. This includes sections on solar heating and cooling, fuel gas piping and venting, as well as solid fuel appliances. Like the standard licensing options, specialty licenses also require a minimum of three years of experience as well as successful completion of the associated exam.
In the state of Michigan, the examinations for various mechanical contractor licenses are overseen by the Bureau of Construction Codes. The exam will test your knowledge regarding the performance of the duties that are associated with the specific license being tested as well as the ability to correctly interpret and apply mechanical codes.
In order to schedule a test date, you must first apply to take the examination. This requires a statement that you have completed the required three years of experience, demonstrated through the completion of a minimum of 6,000 hours performed, for each area being tested. An application fee is required, though it is only required once per application and not one for each requested subject area within the same application.
Once received, the application will be reviewed. If you qualify for the examination, you will be notified by mail approximately 10 days before your schedule test date. In order to be qualified to test on a particular test date it is recommended to submit all required materials at least 20 days prior to the desired test date.
If additional information is required prior to the issuance of an approval, you will be contacted regarding the nature of what is necessary to provide in order to be considered further. In the event that additional information is requested, this may delay your acceptance into a scheduled test date, so it is wise to submit your application materials as far in advance of your test date as possible.
Examinations are held once every three months, or once a quarter. If you are unable to attend your originally assigned test date, you must contact the Bureau of Construction Codes in regards to the nature of your absence within 10 days. Failure to do so may require a new application be submitted in order to be scheduled for the next examination opportunity.
An examination must be completed for each area in which licensure is requested. This is in conjunction with a general law test regarding applicable rules and regulations for the industry. Each exam is written, using a multiple choice testing format, and will test your knowledge on items such as best practices in the work classification being tested as well as information regarding associated mechanical codes.
In order to pass the examination, a minimum score on the closed book laws and rules test is required. A failure to pass that portion of the exam will prevent the issuance of any and all licenses sought during that testing occasion. Subsequently, each test area requires a passing score of 70% or better to obtain the associated license. The subject area examinations do provide the use of specific materials during the test, and information regarding any recommended study materials can be obtained from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Bureau of Construction Codes.
If you fail to pass any of the examinations, a retest can be schedule. This requires a new application as well as a new application fee. In the event the laws and rules test is passed, along with only some of the area specific test, you will receive a license for the test areas that were based, and would only need to retest on the subject area tests that did not receive a passing score.
Maintaining Your HVAC Contractor’s License
Currently, the state of Michigan does not require any continuing education in order maintain licensure, though regular renewal is required. If additional licenses are sought, additional education may be required along with the minimum three years of experience in the subject area.
Additionally, licensing requirements are subject to change, along with various laws or regulations, so it is imperative to stay abreast of any updated requirements as they are issued through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Bureau of Construction Codes.
Work performed while in possession of a license may be subject to inspection. Failure to comply with the laws and regulations governing the conduct of an HVAC contractor can result in the revocation of your license.
When researching HVAC schools one thing to first look into is if you are wanting to just earn your certificate or if the position you intend to have requires that you also have a degree. We have seen a growing trend by schools to offer additional degrees that once were just certificates. Just because they have a degree in HVAC doesn’t mean it is better than a certificate based program. In fact many of the jobs we found in Michigan were from companies that simply required you complete a certificate based program.
Ferris State University
The university is located at 1201 South Big Rapids, Michigan and offers lots of different degree programs. They do offer an Associate’s and even a Bachelor’s degree in HVACR technology.
The HVAC certificate you’ll earn will give you the knowledge you need to have a successful career as an HVAC technician. You will need to have earned your high school diploma or GED to be accepted into the HVAC program. The school does help their graduates with job search techniques, job postings and even will assist you with interviewing tips. Baker University has campus locations in: Allen Park, Auburn Hills, Cadilac, Cass City, Clinto Township, Coldwater, Flint, Fremont, Jackson, Muskegon, Owosso and Port Huron.
Delta College offers a HVACR service technology - Associate in Applied Science degree, HVACR heating advanced certificate as well as a commercial refrigeration or air conditioning advanced certificate. They are a military friendly school and their campus location is at 1961 Delta Road, University Center Michigan 48710.
Northern Michigan University
You can earn your HVACR certificate at NMU. Take courses in basic heating, ACR systems, Advanced Hydronics and even business operations. NMU’s campus is located at 1401 Presque Isle Avenue Marquette, Michigan 49855.
Lancing Community College
LCC does offer an applied science degree as well as a certificate in HVAC/R. The program covers: Fundamentals of HVAC, Industrial Construction Safety, HVAC/R Piping, Sheet Metal Fabrication and Installation, Applied Electricity and much more. It is available at their West Campus at 5708 Cornerstone Drive Delta Township, MI 48917.
When starting to research where to work as an HVAC technician you need to first decide if you want to work for someone or be your own boss. The difference is you can make a lot more money in the long-run by owning your own HVAC business. The biggest hurdle is the startup costs as well as gaining enough clients early on. When you first graduate and earn your HVAC certificate you’ll see plenty of positions open in Michigan where you can apply for. These companies are looking for technicians to come work for them. They handle all the leads, marketing, supplies, etc and you just act as a technician based on where they tell you to go. Some positions we found are as a maintenance HVAC technician where you maintain an apartment complex. Most positions in Michigan start out at $18-22 per hour but we have seen some as high as $75,000 depending on your experience.
One recommendation that will help is if you are bi-lingual. Many of the postings ask for this as well as BPI certification and air balancing and diagnostic skills. Almost all want you to have your EPA certification.