The need for people to be comfortable in their homes and businesses throughout the year keeps the demand for HVAC technicians strong. The job market is expected to grow in the coming years, making HVAC a promising field to get into.
Those who enter the industry now, though, are discovering a job that’s much different than it was just a few years ago. Although some things stay the same from year to year, as technologies continue to advance and priorities change, the HVAC sector progresses too.
If you’re thinking about training as an HVAC technician and getting started in the field, you likely want to know what the future of the HVAC industry looks like. Read on to find out.
What Is HVAC?
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. You might also see the abbreviation HVAC(R), in which the R stands for refrigeration.
HVAC professionals are responsible for the systems that provide these temperature control services, which means they deal with a range of equipment, including:
- Air conditioners
- Humidification or dehumidification systems
- Cooling towers
- Heat pumps
- Air filtration systems
- Coolers and refrigeration systems
- Material ventilators
They install, maintain, repair, upgrade, remove, and replace these various HVAC systems, as well as evaluate the needs of their customers and recommend equipment to them. They need to have an understanding of electrical work, plumbing, and framing. They use mathematics and read blueprints, and they must also stay on top of recent changes in building codes and other regulations.
HVAC pros can work in a variety of environments, and these conditions will likely change from one day to the next. They might work indoors one day and outdoors the day after, and work for a variety of different types of customers. They often need to work in tight spaces and otherwise uncomfortable environments.
What Is Working in HVAC Like?
You can split the HVAC industry into three different subsectors: residential, commercial, and industrial. Although the fundamentals of these three areas are relatively similar, residential uses the smallest and simplest equipment. Commercial equipment is more complex, and industrial systems are more complicated still.
HVAC technicians can also work for a range of types of employers. They could work as an HVAC contractor, be self-employed, or work in-house at a large organization. According to the Bureau of Labor Services (BLS), 64 percent of HVAC pros are contractors. 9 percent are self-employed, 4 percent work in educational services, another 4 percent work in retail trade, and 3 percent work in wholesale trade.
Like in any career, you can work your way up from an entry-level position to that of a manager. As a new HVAC tech, you will likely assist more experienced techs as you learn on the job. Eventually, you can start doing installations and service calls on your own. As you progress through your career, you may find yourself supervising a team of HVAC techs or even starting your own HVAC business.
HVAC Job Demand
The HVAC job outlook over the next 10 years is promising. According to national research from BLS, there were 307,060 HVAC workers in the U.S. as of May 2017. BLS expects employment in the HVAC industry will grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is more than twice as fast as the national average for all occupations. In that period, the sector will add an estimated 48,800 jobs.
According to BLS, new construction will help with HVAC job growth, as will the increasing complexity of HVAC equipment and the increased focus on improving efficiency and reducing pollution. BLS notes maintenance and repair work is generally more stable than new installation work.
Florida has the highest level of HVAC employment at 29,450, followed by California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Most HVAC professionals, 221,640 of them, were working as building equipment contractors in May 2017, according to national BLS statistics. Direct selling establishments were employing 9,450 of them, 8,150 were merchant wholesalers, 6,650 were repairing or doing maintenance work on commercial or industrial equipment, and 5,750 worked for educational institutions.
As of BLS’ May 2017 statistics, the mean hourly wage of HVAC workers was $23.81, and the mean annual pay was $49,530. The bottom 10 percent earned $29,120, while the top 10 percent earned $75,330. Apprentices typically make about half as much as those training them. As they gain more skills and responsibility, their pay increases.
Merchant wholesalers are the HVAC workers that earn the most, according to BLS. They have a mean annual salary of $52,690. The rest of the subsectors are not far behind, though. Those working at educational institutions earned average yearly pay of $52,440, those working in direct selling businesses made $50,210, those who work with commercial and industrial equipment earned $50,170, and building equipment contractors earned $48,470.
Changes in the HVAC Industry
In addition to HVAC technician job outlook, there is a range of other changes currently underway in the HVAC industry. The rate of these changes will likely accelerate in the coming years. While the fundamental aspects of a career in HVAC remain relatively stable, these shifts are changing some of the day-to-day tasks HVAC workers do.
HVAC technology is continuously becoming more advanced. These advances make HVAC equipment more effective, efficient, and compact, and give consumers more control over their HVAC systems. It also means that the technology is sometimes more complex. HVAC technicians must continuously upgrade their skills to keep up with changing technology.
HVAC technology is becoming increasingly computerized, connected, and automated. Like so many other technologies, many kinds of HVAC equipment are now part of the Internet of Things (IoT), through which devices can share data and coordinate with each other through an internet connection.
While these changes require HVAC workers to have a more thorough understanding of Internet-connected technologies, it can also make their jobs easier by informing them of potential problems before they cause severe damage or a breakdown occurs. A system of sensors within HVAC systems can monitor their performance and alert the technician when maintenance or repair work is needed.
As environmental concerns such as climate change and pollution become increasingly prevalent, the ecological attributes of HVAC systems get more of the spotlight. Heating and cooling use considerable amounts of energy, so many businesses and residential customers are turning to HVAC to reduce their carbon footprint. Improving equipment efficiency also lowers energy costs, making green HVAC units even more attractive to business and residential customers.
HVAC workers will spend growing portions of their time in the coming years upgrading HVAC systems to be more energy-efficient. These upgrades could include everything from entirely new, more efficient models to improving insulation with materials such as quiet-duct wrap, which is made from all-natural materials. Quiet-duct wrap enhances thermal and acoustic insulation and also offers excellent protection from moisture. HVAC companies are also phasing out refrigerants such as hydrofluorocarbons, which contribute to climate change.
IoT technologies can also help to make HVAC systems more eco-friendly. These technologies optimize energy use, often automatically, and help HVAC workers keep up with maintenance, which enables the systems to operate more efficiently.
As eco-friendly operation becomes increasingly significant, HVAC pros will also more frequently work with new, greener HVAC technologies. These heating and cooling systems will more often use renewables as their power sources. Some of these eco-friendly technologies include:
- Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the relatively constant temperatures underneath the earth’s surface to heat homes during the winter, remove heat, and add cool air during the summer and to heat water for use in the home. These systems are highly efficient and environmentally friendly.
- Solar-thermal chillers use solar energy collected with solar panels to drive chillers and provide emissions-free, efficient cooling. These systems use between 30 and 90 percent less electricity than traditional air conditioning.
- Ice-powered thermal batteries make ice during off-peak hours when electricity is cheapest and then use that ice to provide cooling during the day. These reliable, naturally powered machines don’t create emissions and reduce the need for utilities to power up “peaker plants,” which they turn on when electricity demand is especially high. These peaker plants typically run on dirty fossil fuels.
That is, of course, far from a complete list of new green HVAC technologies. Such systems continue to become more cost-effective and common. New ideas will also continue to change the industry in the coming years.
Power to the Consumer
In part because of the IoT technologies listed above, consumers now have more information about their HVAC units. These systems can provide users with detailed information about energy usage, temperature, and more. For example, residential customers can use smart thermostats to monitor and optimize the use of their heating and cooling systems.
New tools enable consumers to have a more involved role in using their HVAC equipment and can spark an interest in learning how to use their systems more efficiently. HVAC workers can help their customers in this endeavor.
Thanks to the wealth of information that’s readily available online, customers may also take a more active role in choosing HVAC units. They will likely do research even before they talk with an HVAC professional.
Training has always been an essential part of the HVAC field. In addition to learning in the classroom, HVAC technicians learn on the job. New technicians work exclusively with more experienced professionals who help teach them the skills they need. As they continue in their career, HVAC techs never really stop learning on the job.
While it can’t completely take the place of learning in the field, modern technology is playing a growing role in HVAC training. Aspiring technicians can now often use videos, ebooks, websites, social media, and other online resources when getting started in the field and as a way to stay informed about the latest developments in the industry. In the future, we may see HVAC trainees regularly using technologies such as virtual reality to simulate and practice responding to in-the-field situations.
No matter what changes occur in the HVAC industry, customer service and people skills will always be a fundamental part of working in the field. Increasingly, though, HVAC companies interact with their customers online. Having a helpful, user-friendly website, an engaging social media presence, and easy-to-find contact information online will be increasingly critical for future HVAC businesses.
Who Are the HVAC Techs of the Future?
HVAC professionals need a variety of skills, including both technical capabilities and soft skills. They need to understand how a range of HVAC equipment works and how to install, maintain, and repair it. They also must be able to determine what kind of systems will work best for different needs. They need to understand aspects of electrical wiring, plumbing, and construction.
Being an HVAC technician also requires various soft skills, including people skills and time management. HVAC workers need to schedule their day so they get all their work done, show up on time and communicate with their customers in a friendly and helpful way.
They should also be willing to keep up with the latest developments in their industry and continuously update their skills and knowledge.
In the future, there will be more of an emphasis on using Internet-connected technologies than there is in the current environment. BLS notes HVAC workers who can use computers and tablets well will be especially employable in the coming years. HVAC workers will use these devices to keep track of their daily activities and to communicate with customers. HVAC systems are also becoming more computerized, so an understanding of this type of technology will be doubly useful.
With the right training, people from many different backgrounds can become successful HVAC professionals. Training and education will continue to play a crucial role in preparing workers for successful careers in the industry and in helping them progress through those careers. HVAC Diploma programs provide aspiring techs with the skills they need to seek employment in the field. It’s possible to complete these programs in less than a year.
In some cases, HVAC techs may also need certifications. If they handle refrigerants, they must obtain a refrigerant handling certification, as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Some states and local governments require all HVAC techs to have a license.
Once in the field, HVAC workers continue to develop their technical skills and other relevant aptitudes. Some new techs participate in apprenticeship programs. HVAC workers who are new to the field will work alongside a more experienced HVAC professional and perform simpler tasks. Gradually, they will do more and more complex work, become more independent, gain more responsibility, and earn higher pay.
The HVAC industry is expanding and changing rapidly. Within the next 10 years, HVAC technician career outlook will grow considerably, and the technology used in the industry will continue to progress. If you think you may be interested in a career in HVAC, reading articles such as this one and talking with HVAC professionals can help you decide if it’s right for you.
If you determine it is, the best place to start is with an HVAC Diploma program certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. This kind of program will enable you to seek employment in the field and help you gain skills and knowledge that will help you throughout your career.