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Heating and Cooling System Mechanics

At a Glance

  • Install and repair furnaces, air conditioning, and refrigeration units
  • Use a variety of power, hand, and testing tools
  • Read and interpret blueprints and manuals
  • Usually train through one- or two-year programs
  • Additional training is on the job
  • May need to be certified

Career summary

Heating and cooling system mechanics install and repair heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems.

Heating and cooling system mechanics may also be called refrigeration mechanics or HVAC mechanics. They may specialize in one type of equipment and be referred to as furnace installers, oil burner mechanics, or gas burner mechanics.

#linked to 3146 heating/cooling system mechanics

Heating system mechanics install oil, gas, electric, and other systems. They may install dehumidifiers, heat pumps, air filters, or ventilators. They read blueprints and manufacturers' directions. They cut or drill holes in floors, walls, and roofs for air ducts. They may assemble the ductwork. Mechanics install fuel and water lines, pumps, ducts, and vents. They connect the electrical wiring and controls. They check the unit for proper operation.

Heating system mechanics also maintain and repair these systems. They clean and oil parts, replace filters, and clean vents and ducts that have collected dust. If the system is not operating properly, mechanics check thermostats, nozzles, and controls to diagnose the problem.

Mechanics may install new controls to reduce energy use. In large buildings, they may install controls to control temperature in specific areas.

Cooling system mechanics install air-conditioning and refrigeration units. To set up these systems, mechanics install motors, compressors, piping, and many other components. They connect the equipment to the ductwork, refrigerant lines, and electrical source. They charge the system with refrigerant and check its operation. Mechanics also set or program the controls.

When cooling systems break down, mechanics diagnose the problem and make repairs. They test parts such as compressors, relays, and thermostats. They also talk to owners and users to understand any issues.

Mechanics must follow government regulations when working with refrigerants. They must conserve the refrigerant by plugging any leaks in the system. If they take out the old refrigerant, mechanics must contain it. They replace it with new non-toxic refrigerant.

Heating and cooling system mechanics use a variety of tools, such as:

Heating and cooling system mechanics keep records of the repairs and replacements they make.

Some mechanics work in pairs or teams. They may assist another mechanic or work as a supervisor.

Related careers

This career is part of the Architecture and Construction cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to heating and cooling system mechanics.

Common work activities

Heating and cooling system mechanics perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, heating and cooling system mechanics:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Heating and cooling system mechanics frequently:

It is important for heating and cooling system mechanics to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for heating and cooling system mechanics to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Heating and cooling system mechanics need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a heating and cooling system mechanic, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Many heating and cooling system mechanics complete a formal training program in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration technology. Professional-technical schools or two-year colleges offer these programs. They grant a certificate or associate degree. In these programs you learn to read schematic drawings, analyze problems, and follow safety procedures. You also learn to determine whether to replace or repair parts.

On-the-job training

After completing a formal training program, most heating and cooling system mechanics learn additional skills on the job from an experienced worker. You begin as a helper and do basic tasks. As you gain experience you work on more difficult tasks. Training includes:

Training may last several years.

Military training

Some branches of the military train people to be heating and cooling mechanics. Training lasts for eight to 22 weeks, depending on your specialty. Additional training occurs on the job.

If you receive this type of training in the military, you may earn credit for previous work experience when you enter a civilian apprenticeship program.

Washington apprenticeships

Heating and cooling system mechanics' apprenticeships fall under plumbers, steamfitters, pipefitters, and refrigeration fitters apprenticeship programs. These programs require 4,000 to 10,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as additional classroom time. Some programs schedule classroom time in the evening. Entry requirements include:

Apprentices also may need to be a resident of the county for one year.

For further information on apprenticeships in Washington, contact:

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries
Apprenticeship Program (external link)

PO Box 44530
Olympia, WA 98504-4530

#Fine. 3/22/13 lh & 3/18/14 cj. 2/12/15 lh, 4/25/16 cj. Made some changes to list 4/3/18 cj.

Helpful high school courses

You should take a general high school curriculum that meets the state's graduation requirements (external link). You will be required to take both math and science classes to graduate. You should consider taking Algebra and Geometry as your math courses and Chemistry and Physics as your science courses.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers prefer to hire mechanics who attended technical school. This is because of the increasing complexity of heating and cooling systems. Employers also prefer to hire cooling system mechanics who are certified to handle refrigerants.

Employers prefer applicants with good electrical and communication skills, a good driving record, and the ability to be insured at a reasonable cost.


Computer technology is used to control heating and cooling systems. Any related knowledge or experience will be useful, as well as any knowledge or experience in solar technology. Keep up with changes in the field through classes and trade publications. Learn as much as you can about the basics: theory, hands-on lab activities, and communications skills by attending a trade school. Become a student member of a trade association. Talk with employers and people who work in the field. Get as much training related to the electrical aspects of heating and cooling systems as possible. A mechanical aptitude is important.

Costs to workers

Some workers may be required to supply their own tools, uniforms and footwear. They also may be required to join a union and pay an initiation fee and dues.


In all states, mechanics who purchase or work with refrigerants or substitute refrigerants must be certified. In this case, certification indicates that mechanics know how to handle refrigerants properly. To become certified to purchase and handle refrigerants, mechanics must pass a written exam. Exams are administered by organizations approved by the EPA, such as trade schools, unions, and employer associations. For additional information about certification, contact:

Environmental Protection Agency (external link)

#link check 2/12/15 lh & 4/25/16, 4/3/18 cj. 2/25/19

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers (SOC 49-9021)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $16.70 $20.40 $26.24 $33.96 $44.15
Monthly $2,894 $3,535 $4,547 $5,885 $7,651
Yearly $34,740 $42,430 $54,580 $70,630 $91,830
    Bellingham Hourly $16.65 $19.81 $26.03 $29.94 $34.37
Monthly $2,885 $3,433 $4,511 $5,189 $5,956
Yearly $34,636 $41,216 $54,137 $62,285 $71,481
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $12.22 $14.57 $17.81 $23.39 $27.87
Monthly $2,118 $2,525 $3,086 $4,053 $4,830
Yearly $25,402 $30,300 $37,030 $48,657 $57,985
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $14.89 $18.44 $22.88 $29.38 $35.97
Monthly $2,580 $3,196 $3,965 $5,092 $6,234
Yearly $30,966 $38,367 $47,597 $61,110 $74,812
    Longview Hourly $14.17 $16.71 $19.62 $24.86 $36.22
Monthly $2,456 $2,896 $3,400 $4,308 $6,277
Yearly $29,483 $34,753 $40,806 $51,699 $75,333
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $19.13 $23.55 $30.35 $48.40 $57.10
Monthly $3,315 $4,081 $5,260 $8,388 $9,895
Yearly $39,808 $48,992 $63,120 $100,671 $118,761
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $15.64 $17.61 $22.27 $27.30 $30.71
Monthly $2,710 $3,052 $3,859 $4,731 $5,322
Yearly $32,526 $36,641 $46,328 $56,776 $63,874
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $19.85 $22.81 $28.92 $38.27 $47.71
Monthly $3,440 $3,953 $5,012 $6,632 $8,268
Yearly $41,297 $47,453 $60,155 $79,593 $99,233
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $13.71 $15.97 $19.19 $27.91 $35.76
Monthly $2,376 $2,768 $3,326 $4,837 $6,197
Yearly $28,520 $33,226 $39,915 $58,035 $74,378
    Vancouver Hourly $14.44 $16.82 $22.01 $32.43 $40.08
Monthly $2,502 $2,915 $3,814 $5,620 $6,946
Yearly $30,054 $34,992 $45,779 $67,457 $83,372
    Walla Walla Hourly $16.03 $19.48 $25.85 $30.09 $35.51
Monthly $2,778 $3,376 $4,480 $5,215 $6,154
Yearly $33,341 $40,511 $53,759 $62,602 $73,855
    Wenatchee Hourly $16.71 $19.41 $22.74 $27.73 $31.03
Monthly $2,896 $3,364 $3,941 $4,806 $5,377
Yearly $34,767 $40,377 $47,291 $57,689 $64,522
    Yakima Hourly $13.46 $15.72 $20.38 $26.29 $29.92
Monthly $2,333 $2,724 $3,532 $4,556 $5,185
Yearly $27,998 $32,697 $42,394 $54,693 $62,231
United States Hourly $14.16 $17.56 $22.89 $29.28 $36.65
Monthly $2,454 $3,043 $3,967 $5,074 $6,351
Yearly $29,460 $36,520 $47,610 $60,900 $76,230

Wages vary depending on the employer and the area of the country.

Most heating and cooling system mechanics receive benefits. These include paid vacation, sick leave, and health insurance. Some employers also pay for work-related training and provide uniforms, company vans, and tools. 

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers (SOC 49-9021)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 7,364 20.1% 16.1% 1,079
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 196 22.4% 13.4% 30
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 145 29.7% 8.6% 25
    Benton and Franklin Counties 341 22.6% 15.0% 52
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 157 19.1% 11.9% 23
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 285 24.6% 15.2% 45
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 357 20.2% 14.1% 53
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 436 22.7% 14.6% 66
    King County 2,689 16.2% 19.6% 366
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 219 26.5% 13.8% 36
    Pierce County 859 23.7% 15.2% 133
    Snohomish County 926 21.8% 12.4% 139
    Spokane County 516 20.5% 13.9% 76
United States 367,900 12.6% 5.2% 42,800

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand will be strong for this occupation as the construction industry continues to grow. Climate-controlled systems also create demand for qualified HVAC mechanics. Most systems need to be upgraded every ten-15 years. Increasing emphasis on energy efficiency will also increase the demand for HVAC mechanics to replace and repair systems.

Job prospects will be best for those with apprenticeship training or technical training in electronics.

Other resources

Air Conditioning Contractors of America (external link)
2800 Shirlington Road, Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22206
Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (external link)
2311 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 400
Arlington, VA 22201
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (external link)
1791 Tullie Circle NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Building Performance Institute (external link)
(Training and certification information)
International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (external link)
4755 East Philadelphia Street
Ontario, CA 91761
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (external link)
901 D Street SW, Suite 930
Washington, DC 20024
Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (external link)
180 South Washington Street, Suite 100
Falls Church, VA 22046
Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (external link)
1911 Rohlwing Road, Suite A
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (external link)
4201 Lafayette Center Drive
Chantilly, VA 20151
United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and HVAC Service Techs (external link)
Three Park Place
Annapolis, MD 21401
US Small Business Administration (external link)
Seattle District Office
2401 Fourth Avenue, Suite 450
Seattle, WA 98121


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupations

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational clusters