| Last Updated June 2, 2022
HVAC training can help you get into a fascinating skilled trade.
Practical education in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technology can provide the foundation you need to build a stable and successful career. This path has opened many doors for motivated Canadians like you. And it's an option that frequently leads to the kind of work that's engaging, physically satisfying, and even fun.
Check out the topics below to answer your questions about HVAC trade school programs, apprenticeships, and the career field.
- What is HVAC?
- What do HVAC technicians do?
- Is getting formal HVAC training worth it?
- What's involved in HVAC technician training?
- What can a formal program teach me?
- Do I need HVAC certification to start working?
- What career options will I have?
- Why does Canada need HVAC technicians and refrigeration mechanics?
- What are the benefits of working in HVAC?
- What is the average HVAC salary in Canada?
- What is the job outlook in Canada for this trade?
1. What is HVAC?
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. (You may also see the term HVAC/R. The "R" stands for refrigeration.) It's an industry-standard abbreviation for the broad field of indoor heating and cooling. The HVAC systems in our homes, schools and offices keep us comfortable inside regardless of the temperature or conditions outside.
But this field is not just about controlling indoor temperatures. It's also about controlling indoor air quality and humidity. That means the work of HVAC technicians can be especially important to people with asthma or allergy issues.
Depending on their area of focus, HVAC technicians may also be known as:
- HVAC mechanics
- HVAC installers
- Air conditioning mechanics
- Refrigeration mechanics
Some HVAC techs specialize in either installation or maintenance, but many others are proficient in both areas.
2. What do HVAC technicians do?
The work can be quite diverse. HVAC technicians work on heating, cooling, ventilation, and refrigeration systems for residential, commercial, and industrial properties. That means they service the systems in homes, offices, factories, airports, hospitals, and many other types of buildings. Some HVAC techs specialize in just one kind of system.
Depending on their particular focus, HVAC technicians might:
- Install furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, walk-in coolers, humidification units, or air filtration systems
- Follow blueprints for installing pumps, vents, and air ducts
- Connect heating and cooling systems to water and fuel supply lines
- Install electrical controls
- Test systems to see if they are functioning correctly and performing at peak efficiency
- Inspect systems to check for leaks or other maintenance issues
- Repair or replace components as necessary
- Follow government regulations for the handling and disposal of refrigerants
3. Is getting formal HVAC training worth it?
The Canadian HVAC industry, in general, values high standards and looks for technicians with quality credentials. Before an HVAC business or other organization invests in hiring a new apprentice technician, it usually wants to know that they have at least a basic level of skills related to the trade. As a result, those with some formal trade education tend to be preferred by most employers. That's why it can pay to get some pre-apprenticeship education.
Plus, trade schools for HVAC are geared toward your future employment, meaning that they can help you succeed from the beginning of your training to when you start your job search. You'll learn and practice the skills that technicians need to deal with real-world scenarios so you can feel confident in your abilities when you start working. These schools also provide career services that will prepare you to find a position or apprenticeship after you graduate.
4. What's involved in HVAC technician training?
Certificate programs (typically take one year or less) or diploma programs (usually two years long) can prepare you for an entry-level position as an HVAC installer or service technician.
Becoming an air conditioning or refrigeration mechanic generally requires completing an apprenticeship, which combines paid hands-on work with HVAC courses at a vocational school. The process is a bit different in each province and territory, but these are the basic steps:
- Find an employer who will sponsor you as an HVAC apprentice.
- Register as an apprentice in your province or territory.
- Enroll in an approved heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or refrigeration training program at a vocational school.
- Log a designated number of work hours for your employer and complete a prescribed amount of in-school training.
- Pass all mandatory exams.
- Receive your Certificate of Qualification or similar credential and become a fully qualified journeyman in your province or territory.
It can be easier to get an employer to agree to take you on as an apprentice if you have a bit of formal education first. In many areas, you can take HVAC college courses or short pre-apprenticeship programs to boost your chances of convincing an employer to sponsor you. You can even take some of your HVAC schooling online.
Once you've landed a paid apprenticeship, it generally takes three to five years to become a qualified journeyman or woman. Some HVAC programs allow you to earn credit toward your apprenticeship, meaning that if you complete the program, your actual apprenticeship will be shorter.
In most regions, HVAC certification is required to earn that status, but each province has its own requirements. And many journeypersons in the refrigeration and air conditioning trade also choose to earn a Red Seal endorsement to have their abilities recognized nearly anywhere in Canada.
Many schools across Canada offer HVAC training. Ontario and BC, for example, are home to streamlined programs that can help you gain an advantage when looking for an employer to sponsor your apprenticeship. And they don't take long to complete. Some programs take as little as 18 weeks. Plus, it's even possible to get some of your HVAC training online. Just think about the many potential opportunities that could quickly open up for you in growing places like the Greater Toronto Area or an expansive Vancouver suburb like Surrey.
5. What can an HVAC training program teach me?
A typical school offers hands-on instruction in designing, installing, and maintaining residential or commercial heating and cooling systems. Technicians need to be comfortable with various subjects, so training in plumbing, framing, sheet metal, pipefitting, and electrical work can often be found in HVAC courses. Programs may include instruction in:
- Piping and venting methods
- Basic electronics
- Heating fuels
- Building codes
- Installing sheet metal
- Handling refrigerants
- Interpreting mechanical drawings
- Safety protocols
6. Do I need HVAC certification to start working?
Requirements vary across Canada. In British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and all three territories, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics certification is available but not mandatory. Similarly, specialized transport refrigeration mechanics certification is available (but optional) in BC, Alberta, and New Brunswick.
However, it's becoming increasingly common for companies to look for formal education and certification in potential employees, even in areas of the country where trade certification is not legally required.
The following provinces strictly regulate refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics:
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
In the provinces listed above, you generally have to be a registered apprentice or hold provincial certification to work as a refrigeration or air conditioning mechanic.
It's important to note that certifications earned in one province are not necessarily transferable to another province. However, if you take and pass the interprovincial exam, you will receive your Red Seal endorsement, which means your credentials will be accepted in any area of the country.
7. What career options will I have?
Most technicians start out working with contractors. Others work at service and repair shops, while many sell furnaces, air conditioners, and heat pumps at the retail level. There are also opportunities with governments, school boards, and hospitals.
Here are three examples of the type of job you can find in this field:
Although your training will prepare you to both install and maintain the equipment necessary to run HVAC systems, you will probably end up specializing in either the installation of these systems, or their maintenance and repair.
As an installer, you will use blueprints and your knowledge of mechanical and electrical principles to install gas, oil, electric, and multiple-fuel heating and air-conditioning systems. You will also need some basic knowledge of plumbing and sheet metal technology for installing water and fuel supply lines, vents, air ducts, pumps, and other related components. Plus, once you have finished installing the equipment, you will need to check that it functions correctly. This is done using specialized testing equipment, such as carbon monoxide/oxygen testers and combustion analyzers.
Of course, the other side of the equation is the maintenance of these complex systems. As a service technician, you will replace malfunctioning parts (filters, pipes, and ducts) and take on repair work, such as overhauling compressors. Just like an installer, you will need to enjoy working with your hands and be good at dealing with people.
It also helps to have some reasonably refined problem-solving skills. Training can help you build these skills by teaching you about everyday problems and how to diagnose and fix them.
Another consideration that potential installers and service technicians should be aware of is the increasing sophistication of industry technology. A course or two to develop your computer competency can be very helpful, especially considering the increased presence of complex, automated systems in modern buildings.
Energy Efficiency Specialist
Service technicians already have a certain amount of environmental awareness built into their job requirements—they must know how to properly conserve, recover, and recycle the potentially harmful refrigerants used in air-conditioning systems.
However, suppose you are interested in going one step further. In that case, you can turn your training into a truly "green" career and take advantage of the rising awareness of the need to reduce energy consumption. To become an energy efficiency specialist, you could gain on-the-job training in the new energy-saving air conditioning and heating systems. Or you could try to find a program that incorporates some of this knowledge through courses that teach you how to perform energy audits. Finally, you could take a program in energy efficiency that will complement your HVAC training with learning to analyze the energy usage of residential and commercial systems.
As an energy efficiency specialist, you can learn how to analyze existing systems and adjust them to be more efficient or recommend alternative technology. You can also learn about installing and maintaining solar energy technology and other renewable energy technologies.
8. Why does Canada need HVAC technicians and refrigeration mechanics?
Without the technology to heat or cool our indoor environments, life would be a lot less comfortable and more challenging. Some people might take it for granted, but HVAC equipment is essential to our modern way of living. When it isn't working correctly, it seriously impacts our well-being and ability to contribute—whether at home, work, school, or almost anywhere else.
Heating and cooling make a lot of what we all do possible. It's why HVAC schools offer such essential training. They help aspiring tradespeople become skilled at installing, fixing, maintaining, and replacing equipment like furnaces, heat pumps, ventilation systems, and air conditioners. With those kinds of skills, a technician can contribute to making a building a lot more comfortable and energy-efficient, which also positively affects the environment.
9. What are the benefits of working in HVAC?
Working in this trade can have a lot of appealing advantages. In fact, a few of the benefits that are often cited by experienced HVAC mechanics include:
- Great income potential—2021 data from the Government of Canada's Job Bank shows the median hourly pay of full-time HVAC or refrigeration technicians was $31.66 per hour, with some earning above $48.00 per hour. Plus, it's possible to make an even higher income by owning an HVAC contracting business.
- Career reliability—The work performed by people in the HVAC trade cannot be outsourced to those in another country. It has to be done locally and on-site, meaning that your skills will likely be valuable for a very long time.
- A daily sense of accomplishment—HVAC involves a lot of hands-on tasks. So you get to see the results of your work tangibly. And you often receive thanks from the customers and clients you help.
10. What is the average HVAC salary in Canada?
According to Job Bank figures from 2021, HVAC and refrigeration mechanics can earn anywhere from $18 to $48 an hour, depending on their location, specialty, and level of experience. Based on a 40-hour workweek, that translates to an annual salary range of $37,440 to $99,840.
The national median hourly wage was $31.66, which corresponds to an annual salary of $65,853.
Remember that average salary rates depend on which part of Canada you live in. Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Quebec report the highest median HVAC and refrigeration mechanics wages.
11. What is the job outlook in Canada for this trade?
HVAC professionals should see steady demand for their services in much of the country. Job Bank estimates for 2019-2028 indicate that refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics will enjoy a good employment outlook in B.C., Ontario, P.E.I., and Saskatchewan.
As HVAC systems become ever more complex, and as Canadians strive to make their homes more energy-efficient, the need for skilled technicians to install, repair, and service these systems will continue to grow. And with around half of the anticipated job openings coming from retirements, there should be consistent and reliable demand for new techs in the coming years.