The job market for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians is historically stable — not least of all because its positions can't be outsourced — and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections show much faster than average employment growth in the field between 2018 and 2028. HVAC training programs can teach you what you need to know to land one of the thousands of emerging jobs.
There are multiple paths to a professional HVAC certification. Students can choose to study HVAC at trade schools, community colleges and some universities and other four-year institutions.
Programs may also be offered under a different title. Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) programs are available as well, and they tend to include more theory and technical training in the science of refrigeration than standard HVAC programs.
We've got some helpful information about HVAC careers and degree programs on this page. Read on for an explanation of HVAC as a field of study as well as a career, and for some helpful tips on paying for school and enhancing your job prospects after graduation.
HVAC is a hands-on discipline, but the key concepts and skills of the profession can be taught entirely in an online environment. Most HVAC schools offer their programs in the traditional classroom, but several institutions across the U.S. provide online options.
The best HVAC programs work hard to provide you with the skills you need to install and maintain climate control systems in a variety of environments. Many programs provide the HVAC training that you need to provide services to commercial establishments as well as residential structures like homes and apartment buildings.
Depending on the program, your curriculum may also feature courses in general education subjects like mathematics, English composition, social sciences like psychology and more. In the next section, we lay out some details of two different levels of HVAC programs to help you decide which type of training might be right for you.
How long does an HVAC certificate program online take?
The total length of programs for a HVAC certification online can vary from school to school, with some shorter programs taking as little as five months of full-time study to complete and others lasting up to a year. Longer programs typically include more comprehensive training.
What are the requirements to start an HVAC certificate program online?
Admissions requirements can vary from one institution to another. Most HVAC programs at community colleges require that you submit a high school diploma or equivalent before you can enroll, for example, while those offered at HVAC trade schools may waive this requirement for qualified applicants.
Why earn an HVAC certificate online?
Completing your HVAC training online can allow you to prepare for a new career while still holding down your existing job. Courses can often be taken according to your own schedule, and professors and advisors may be available during unconventional hours to help you with course materials and program planning.
The first set of HVAC classes you can take in a certificate program typically consists of an orientation course, essential math skills for HVAC work, a primer on technical terminology and terminology, and instruction in basic, foundational concepts that are put to use in the field. Certificate programs that include general education sections often include them here.
Once you've had an education in the fundamentals, HVAC certificate programs tend to move on to specific systems and techniques. The latter stages of your program usually feature courses dedicated to specific HVAC environments, such as residential or light commercial and heavy commercial buildings.
How long does an associate HVAC degree program online take?
HVAC programs that lead to an associate degree typically take around two years of full-time study to complete. Students may be able to take larger course loads per semester and shorten the total time spent in school, or may choose to attend their program on a part-time basis and stretch it over a longer period.
What are the requirements to start an associate HVAC degree program online?
It's a general rule that associate degree programs at accredited institutions require one or more of the following before you can enroll:
Check with your advisor to learn about the specific requirements at your chosen school.
Why earn an associate HVAC degree online?
Fully online HVAC associate degrees are rare, but students may be able to take certain courses online to help balance their schedules. Completing your HVAC training partially online can bring the best of both worlds to the right student, allowing for the familiar environment of a brick-and-mortar classroom as well as the convenience of online instruction.
The first year of an associate degree program serves to lay a solid foundation of understanding for HVAC students. Many of the subjects studied in first-year courses, such as heating, ventilation and refrigeration, are revisited from a more advanced perspective once you've moved on to the second year of your program.
This level is typically where different types of HVAC associate degree programs diverge from one another. If your program focuses on either commercial or residential HVAC, your second year is likely to focus your education on the specific demands and solutions of your chosen avenue within the profession.
HVAC students may be able to specialize in a particular type of system or an individual aspect of the profession, depending on the program. Here are some potential specialties that you may be able to prepare for during your training:
Your specialization may also feature dedicated HVAC certification exams that can demonstrate your expertise to employers and clients.
Whether you finish your HVAC training program online or on campus, you're likely to face a favorable job market after graduation. Here's a short list of factors involved in the bright HVAC job outlook:
Below, we'll take a detailed look at a couple of careers that you can qualify for with HVAC training programs.
The broad-stroke job description for HVAC techs is that they set up and maintain the systems that control the temperature and quality of indoor air. Here's a short list of general responsibilities that you may have on a given day as an HVAC technician:
As well as these general duties, workers who decide to specialize in one or more specific aspects of HVAC systems typically address matters related to their specialty.
The technology involved in installing and maintaining HVAC systems can be fairly complex, so most employers prefer candidates who have completed some form of HVAC training program. Some specialized positions may require a specific type of program, while others require just a basic, general education in the fundamentals.
There are also several HVAC certifications that can give you a boost on the job market. Here's a list of a few such programs, offered by industry groups like HVAC Excellence, North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE):
General maintenance and repair workers take on a wide range of installation, maintenance and service jobs that don't require a specialist's level of expertise. They typically have a broad foundation of general repair and maintenance training, often including electrical work, indoor plumbing, mechanical service and more.
Here's a list of the types of tasks that general maintenance and repair workers might perform on the job:
Some general maintenance and repair positions may not have a formal educational requirement, but anyone hoping to go into the profession is expected to have substantial knowledge and skill before they begin working officially. HVAC programs can provide a good foundation for this career, as well as training in electrical technology, construction technology and mechanical maintenance.
General maintenance and repair workers hoping to work on-site at residential, commercial or public buildings can earn a handful of different professional certifications to help demonstrate their skills to employers:
Some of the basic skills for a general maintenance and repair career can be learned in high school machine shops and other technical courses. Adults looking to shift into these careers can often find non-credit training classes and programs at local trade schools and community colleges.
This credential is designed for working HVAC techs with some entry-level experience who are looking to build a solid foundation for more advanced technical certifications in the future.
Requirements: Candidates must have 6 to 12 months of HVAC work experience in a technical capacity.
Exam Format: 100 questions, with a 2.5 hour time limit.
How long does the certification last? NATE certifications must be renewed every two years and require 16 hours of continuing education per renewal period.
Offered by HVAC Excellence, this specialized credential covers refrigerant charging, psychrometrics, airflow and combustion efficiency as they relate to HVAC system performance.
Requirements: HVAC Excellence specialty certification exams have no education or experience requirements, making them available to students as well as working technicians.
Exam Format: 100 questions, divided into four sections of 25 questions each.
How long does the certification last? No expiration date is listed on the HVAC Excellence site, but recertification every few years can help you keep your skills up to date.
This certification, provided by RETA, focuses on testing a technician's knowledge of industrial refrigeration, including troubleshooting, maintenance and system evaluation.
Requirements: Candidates should have at last four years of documented work experience in industrial refrigeration or hold an entry-level RETA certification before taking the exam.
Exam Format: 150 questions, with a time limit of three hours.
How long does the certification last? RETA certifications are valid for three years after the date the test is passed.
Joining a professional organization can help your HVAC career in several ways, from opportunities to network with established techs to exclusive training and development resources. Here's a primer on a few such organizations in the U.S.: