As this process becomes increasingly popular, heating and cooling
technicians will be called upon more often to install and service these systems.
It's a blistering 95 degrees outside. Not a cloud in the sky to shield
the sun's rays. It could be a long, miserable summer if it weren't for heating
and cooling installers.
Heating and cooling technicians install and maintain heating and cooling
units, and sometimes plumbing. A big part of the business is driven by the
These technicians need to be able to find their way around a construction
site or a set of blueprints. They may be called upon to lay down sheet metal
in air ducts, install vents, set up air conditioning systems, make all the
needed electrical and water connections and test the whole thing when they're
This vocation requires technical ability, troubleshooting skills and the
ability to work with a whole array of equipment. Pressure gauges, voltmeters,
electrical drills and pipe cutters are just a few of the tools of the trade.
Mel Croonenberghs, owner of a heating and cooling company, looks for employees
who have the technical aptitude for the job and who can relate to customers.
"The technicians represent the company, so they have to be able to interact
Maintenance work for technicians is seasonal, but steady. In winter months,
heating units may need simple work like adjusting a burner or thermostat.
But over the summer when heat isn't needed, filters are replaced and ducts
When air conditioning is in use, very little work is done unless there's
a problem. But as soon as it cools off, a major overhaul of a unit's compressor
or vent systems may be required.
An average work schedule is a 40-hour week, but that may include early
mornings, nights and weekends. In the busy season it can even mean some 12-
to 13-hour days.
Some mechanics and technicians also work on refrigeration units, like the
ones that keep food and medical supplies fresh. This work brings with it a
special challenge -- managing environmentally unfriendly chemicals.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires that all heating and
cooling technicians be trained in proper handling and recycling of this material.
The EPA provides a special course and certification.
This line of work comes with its share of hazards. One of the biggest challenges
is dealing with the weather: repairs on a heating unit in the dead of winter
may require the technician to stand out in the cold to do the work. An AC
repair may include working in the hot sun for many hours.
Other dangers include electrical shock, burns, muscle fatigue from lifting
and working in small spaces, and even frostbite from improper handling of
The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) has a specific category for heating,
air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers. There were 286,000
people employed as heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and
installers in 1998. This number is expected to grow to 334,000 by 2008.
Salaries for heating and cooling technicians vary widely and depend on
experience. Promotions usually take the form of higher wages. The median annual
wage for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers
was $29,160 in 1998, reports the OOH. Earnings ranged from $18,260 through
$46,360. Apprentices usually earn about half the going rate.
Opportunities in this industry are closely related to the overall economy,
and especially to growth and development in construction. The United States
has seen great growth in heating and cooling.
According to the OOH, employment for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration
mechanics and installers (including heating and cooling technicians) is expected
to grow about as fast as average through 2008.