If you’re considering the HVAC system industry (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) as your career, you’re looking into an in-demand field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), HVAC technician employment is expected to increase by 15 percent through 2026. Before you begin your training, it’s important to understand a couple of things: what HVAC technicians do and what you need to know about HVAC safety.
Technicians who work in the heating and air conditioning industry troubleshoot malfunctions in HVAC systems, replace broken or worn parts, replace and install units, perform maintenance checks and advise customers about energy efficiency. HVAC technicians usually train at a trade school and often participate in an externship or apprenticeship to complement their education. Once they’ve completed training, which can last from three months to two years depending on the school, they are eligible to sit for certification exams. If they pass, they can work in a number of places, from homes to hospitals to government organizations or on their own.
An important part of technicians’ education includes safety training because they are often exposed to hazardous conditions while on the job. The following are some safety guidelines HVAC technicians should adhere to:
HVAC technicians exposed to contaminants, such as dirt and debris, need to wear protective clothing. Additionally, they use refrigerants and other chemicals that could be hazardous. Therefore, the HVAC technician uniform should include the following protective gear:
- Goggles and/or a face shield or mask
- Work shoes – preferably steel-toed boots
- Heavy gloves
- Long-sleeved shirt and long pants
- Hard hat
- Respirator, in the event irritants are inhaled
Additional safety tips for protecting yourself include avoiding wearing synthetic fibers that can be flammable and jewelry that could catch in equipment or conduct electricity.
Look before leaping
It’s important to thoroughly assess and evaluate the job site, identify potential hazards and determine what you need to do the job. Check for electrical and chemical risks, the presence of asbestos, slippery work surfaces, risks of falling and dangers of confined spaces. If you have a lot of work, it’s tempting to take shortcuts. This is never a good idea, considering how potentially dangerous the job can be because of exposure to chemicals and extreme temperatures.
HVAC vehicles often transport gas cylinders, and in very hot temperatures they could potentially explode. It’s best to remove them on hot days. Regardless of the temperature, check the pressure and make sure they are not damaged, rusted or dented. Additionally, you should make sure you have the proper tools for the job at hand, which could include any (or all) of the following:
- Wire strippers
- Clamp meter
- Vacuum gauge
- Refrigerant leak detector
All tools and equipment should be in good working order. If you must service any equipment, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Practice electrical safety
It’s critical to have some electrical knowledge to work as an HVAC technician. If your training or safety program doesn’t include it, you should get additional electrical safety training. At the very least, know how to minimize your risk of electric shocks.
- Turn off electrical equipment/circuits before you begin working
- Watch out for water leaks around HVAC equipment
- Make sure the ground is dry before using electrical equipment
- Inspect electrical equipment and cords for damage
- Use a ground-fault circuit interrupter
- Follow the lockout and tag procedure as use the correct multi-meter to check circuits
Follow chemical safety best practices
If chemicals leak or spill from improper storage or handling, they may cause serious physical damage to you and to the environment. Always keep chemicals such as refrigerants in their original containers and never mix them. If you must work with chemicals, do it in a well-ventilated area – and don’t forget to wear gloves, goggles and face masks! Keep all refrigerant cylinders in a dry place and stand them upright with the valves on top.
A couple of additional safety tips … remember to take breaks so that you are not so tired that you can’t focus and make safety a part of your daily work routine.
Are you a woman considering a career in the trades?
In the past, women seemed to “fall into” trades careers. They may have served in administrative roles and decided to learn about the technical side. Many took over the family business, learning along the way. Now, however, HVAC companies are holding job fairs, awarding scholarships to women and incentivizing them with reimbursement for education costs. This is because the industry is expecting a severe shortage of skilled trades workers because of the growth rate and a retiring workforce. HVAC will need women to survive.
Women of HVAC brings awareness, showcases women in the field and gives them the necessary tools to begin a successful career in the trades. The benefits are appealing, too: steady work, a great job outlook and the opportunity to work in a variety of places, from medical facilities and research labs to offices and homes. Wages are also a draw, but how much do heating and cooling technicians make? In 2018, the median pay was $47,610 per year.
Although jobs are available in HVAC for women, it never hurts to have an advocate. Contact WomenofHVAC.Org to find schools that will train you to work as an HVAC technician, as well as resources, opportunities and support for those already in the field.