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HVAC Schooling: How Much Does It Cost to Become an HVAC Technician?
The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) industry is constantly growing. People are always going to need heating and cooling systems to stay comfortable at home and at work, especially as extreme weather conditions become more common. Plus, these systems are continually becoming more complex and technologically advanced.
As a result, there is a high demand for educated HVAC technicians who can tackle the challenges of a changing industry. If you are considering becoming an HVAC technician, the first step is to enroll in a training program. HVAC training might take place at a community college, trade school, apprenticeship, or online program.
Different Types of HVAC Training
One reason why people are drawn to the HVAC industry is that becoming an HVAC technician does not require a 4-year degree from a university. But there are still some educational requirements. There are several different types of training programs that fall under the umbrella of HVAC school. After attending HVAC school, you may graduate with a certificate or an associate degree, depending on the specific program you choose. (1)
Community College – By attending a community college to pursue a career as an HVAC technician, you will build a strong foundation of general education courses paired with specialized courses for industry training, including hands-on labs. Upon completion of an HVAC program at a community college, you’ll graduate with an associate degree. Because this type of degree does have general education requirements, it does take longer to complete — generally about 2 years.
Vocational School – Vocational schools, or trade schools, offer specialized programs focused solely on practical, technical education in the HVAC field. Graduates will receive a diploma or certificate rather than a degree. Vocational school programs may take about 6-9 months to complete. They typically include both classroom education and hands-on experience.
Apprenticeships – Apprenticeships may be offered directly through established HVAC companies or industry unions. In an apprenticeship, aspiring HVAC technicians will study in a classroom environment part time while learning practical skills in the field under the supervision and instruction of an experienced technician. One of the advantages of pursuing an apprenticeship is that you will be paid (typically about half the average salary of an experienced journeyman). But apprenticeships do take about 2-5 years to complete, so it may take longer for you to earn the title of HVAC technician and pursue higher-paying job opportunities. At P3 Services, we have instituted apprentice programs within all of our service companies across the US.
Online Training – Some vocational schools, such as Penn Foster, offer HVAC diploma programs that take place entirely online. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, online HVAC schooling became much more common. These programs offer convenience and flexibility, and often have lower costs than traditional in-person programs. But while they can provide a great background of technical knowledge, they lack hands-on training and experience.
With any type of training program, you may have to complete additional certification and licensure exams. These requirements vary by state. (2) To determine the best HVAC educational path for you, browse local HVAC job listings in your area and take note of the educational and licensing/certification requirements they list. You should also think about how different educational programs will influence your career path. The New England Institute of Technology outlines the differences between certificate programs and associate degrees:
A certificate program may take less than a year, but someone with higher qualifications may be favored for future promotions. Similarly, an individual with an associate degree will have an easier time negotiating higher wages… Investing in a college degree will likely lead to more job opportunities and an easier time establishing your HVAC career. It also provides opportunities for a more well-rounded education. An associate degree is ideal for individuals who eventually want to own their own business or work in high-level management. (3)
How Much Does HVAC School Cost?
Another key consideration for selecting an HVAC school is the cost of pursuing a degree or diploma. Because technical colleges offer accelerated programs that focus solely on industry topics, they typically have lower costs than community colleges. Pursuing a trade certificate at a vocational school may cost $1,200 - $15,000, depending on the school and the length of the program. Some trade schools with costlier price tags include toolkits and EPA exam fees in their tuition costs. Online-only trade schools offer the lowest fees for HVAC diploma programs.
If you choose to pursue an associate degree, you will pay yearly tuition, and your program will likely last about 2 years. Public community colleges average just under $5,000 for annual tuition for in-state students, while out-of-state students will pay about $8,700 for annual tuition on average. Private community colleges will have much steeper tuition costs at about $15,000 per year. Tuition costs do not include materials/tools, textbooks, or exam fees. (4)
Upon graduation from your HVAC schooling program, you may need to pay some additional fees for state licensure, EPA certification, and other industry certifications. Some employers, however, will cover these costs or provide certification fee reimbursement.
How to Pay for HVAC School
While HVAC school is much more affordable than a 4-year degree program, there are still some costs to consider. Many students will rely on federal financial aid and industry scholarships to fund their education.
How to Get Financial Aid and Scholarships for HVAC Schooling
Federal financial aid and scholarships are the primary sources of funding assistance for HVAC certification programs. Below is a closer look at how to access these types of funding.
Complete the FAFSA Form – Not all HVAC schools will accept or qualify for federal financial aid programs. Institutions must be accredited through an independent organization for students to qualify for financial aid. Accredited institutions may include community colleges, trade schools, and vocational schools. (5) To pursue financial aid, you must fill out a FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This will allow you to access grants and federally subsidized student loans to pay for your education. Grants do not need to be paid back, while student loans do. The types and amount of financial aid you qualify for will depend on your financial need, which is determined based on several eligibility factors, including your income, the size of your family, and the type and cost of program you are pursuing.
Explore Industry Scholarships – Industry scholarships are typically awarded based on merit rather than financial need. There are many different organizations that award scholarships to students entering the HVAC industry, including HVAC unions, private companies, and trade organizations like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). In the last 30 years, ASHRAE has assisted more than 400 students in their HVAC education with more than $2.25 million in scholarships. (6)
To discover scholarships you may qualify for, connect with the student services or financial aid departments at your prospective schools. You might also reach out directly to local union representatives to find scholarship opportunities.
Is HVAC School Worth the Investment?
HVAC school requires an investment of both time and money, so you may wonder if it is worth the investment. To determine if attending HVAC school is worth the cost of tuition, you might consider the occupational demand for HVAC technicians, your potential earnings, and the job satisfaction ratings reported by those already in the field.
Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians
If you are seeking a career with great job security, entering the HVAC industry is a good choice. According to Zippia, HVAC technicians can expect job growth of about 13% from 2018 to 2028. While each state has a unique demand for trained HVAC professionals, the need for technicians exists nationwide. Orlando, Tempe, Grand Rapids, and Chattanooga are the top cities in the U.S. for HVAC technicians. (7)
How Much Do HVAC Workers Make
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most HVAC technicians work full time, and some may need to work overtime, irregular hours, weekends, and/or holidays. As of May 2021, the median annual wage for HVAC technicians was $48,630. But compensation can vary significantly based on your industry experience, location, and work environment. More specialized HVAC professionals, such as those offering commercial HVAC services, are likely to earn higher salaries. The top 10% of industry professionals made more than $78,210 in 2021. (8)
HVAC Job Satisfaction
Although HVAC technicians work in physically demanding environments and deal with a variety of potential hazards on the job, they generally have positive things to say about their job satisfaction. Nathaniell Brenes offers a closer look at job satisfaction ratings in the industry:
... 67% of HVAC technicians are satisfied with their jobs, and 52% report that they feel like they are doing good things for other people.
Some of the main positive aspects of the job are that HVAC technicians can use both their minds and their bodies to solve problems. Besides the social rewards of helping other people, these technicians get to think things through, troubleshoot problems, come up with solutions, and then oversee the repairs all the way to completion. There’s something to be said for being able to start, work on, and finish projects, and HVAC technicians can feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in jobs well done. (9)
Common HVAC School Questions
Deciding to attend HVAC school is a big decision, so you should take your time in selecting a program for your diploma or degree. We’ve compiled some common questions below to help you make a more informed decision.
- How long is HVAC school? – The length of your HVAC school program will vary depending on the exact program you choose. Online courses will have the shortest timeframe with the lowest cost. Apprenticeships will take the longest to complete with a timeline of 2-5 years, but they will allow you to work in the field and earn a paycheck while you gain the basic skills and knowledge you need to pursue your career.
- How do I get my HVAC license? – Not all states require HVAC technicians to be licensed. But there are some certifications that are required due to federal guidelines, such as EPA certification (Section 608 Technician Certification). (10) To become fully licensed and certified, you must complete any state-mandated exams as well as the EPA certification exam. You may also pursue other common industry certifications like North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) certification. While Section 608 Technician Certifications never expire, other certifications and licenses require periodic testing and fees to remain current.
- Do I need to go to HVAC school to work as an HVAC technician? – Some companies will hire individuals straight out of high school and offer on-the-job training. But due to the technical nature of HVAC work, as well as the increasing complexity of industry technology, most companies prefer to hire entry-level technicians who have completed trade school, earned an associate degree, or completed an apprenticeship.
- Can I get an HVAC certification online? – There are online diploma programs available through accredited trade schools throughout the U.S. These offer the most flexibility and affordability for pursuing an HVAC diploma, but they do have some potential drawbacks, such as a lack of hands-on training and field experience.
Join the P3 Services Family
Whether you are just beginning your career as an HVAC technician or seeking new opportunities for career growth and professional development, P3 Services can help you achieve your career goals within a prestigious nationwide network of trusted local companies. As a member of the P3 family, you’ll enjoy exceptional benefits, access to the latest industry technology and training, and continuous opportunities to grow your career. Contact us today to inquire about career opportunities in your region or visit our Work With Us page to learn more.
- Nalea J. Ko, How to Become an HVAC Technician, https://www.bestcolleges.com/trades/hvac-technician/how-to-become-an-hvac-technician/
- Service Folder, HVAC License Requirements by State – How to Get a Heating and Refrigeration Contractor License https://www.servicefolder.com/resources/hvac-blog/hvac-license-requirements-by-state.html
- New England Institute of Technology, How Much Does HVAC School Cost? https://www.neit.edu/blog/how-much-does-hvac-school-cost
- Community College Review, Average Community College Tuition Cost, https://www.communitycollegereview.com/avg-tuition-stats/national-data
- Federal Student Aid, Choosing a School, https://studentaid.gov/resources/prepare-for-college/students/choosing-schools
- ASHRAE, ASHRAE Society Scholarship Program, https://www.ashrae.org/communities/student-zone/scholarships-and-grants/ashrae-scholarship-program
- Zippia, HVAC Technician Projected Growth in the United States, https://www.zippia.com/hvac-technician-jobs/trends/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm#tab-5
- Nathaniell Brenes, Do HVAC Technicians Make Good Money? https://medium.com/@1MoreCupofCoffee/do-hvac-technicians-make-good-money-1d1b9842ec22
- United States Environmental Protection Agency, Section 608 Technician Certification, https://www.epa.gov/section608/section-608-technician-certification-0