Heating and Cooling Technician
Install and maintain heating and cooling devicesThe workweek is usually 40 hours, but that may include early mornings, nights and weekendsYou'll need technical ability and troubleshooting skillsTraining may be done through a three- to four-year apprenticeship or trade school

The feeling of being barefoot on ice-cold bathroom tiles first thing in the morning isn't the most pleasant sensation. Many people are investing in radiant floor heating to combat this problem.

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 construction industry.

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 finished.

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 well."

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 cleaned.

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 refrigerant.

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.

RegionAverage Annual EarningsAverage Hourly EarningsU.S. National$42,240$20.31RegionOutlook2008 Workforce2008 to 2018 Growth RateU.S. NationalIncreasing308,22028.09%

Training is usually done through a three- to four-year apprenticeship, or in trade schools and community colleges.

"You really need the formal education, because the industry is changing so fast as the technology changes," says Mel Croonenberghs, who owns a heating and cooling company. "On-the-job training alone isn't enough anymore."

In some areas of the United States, technicians require a certificate indicating sufficient training and ability.

Here is just one example of a school offering a related program:Massasoit Community CollegeHeating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning Technology Program
One Massasoit Blvd.BrocktonMA02302USA
Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
180 S. Washington St.P.O. Box 6808Falls ChurchVA22046USA
Mechanical Contractors Association of America
1385 Piccard Dr.RockvilleMD20850USA
Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute
200-4100 North Fairfax Dr.ArlingtonVA22203USA
Plumbing and Mechanical
P.O. Box 157WindsorMA01270USA