What Does an HVAC Apprentice Do?

The climate in your home is controlled by a complicated system of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—HVAC—that makes use of a wide array of different mechanisms and technology. In order to run optimally, this HVAC system needs regular maintenance and care. Of course, as with any mechanical system, your heating and air conditioning will also occasionally require repairs.

Because the system that heats and cools your home is so complex, maintenance and repairs need to be performed by a highly trained professional. In most cases, the work will be done by an HVAC technician: someone who maintains and services the equipment that keeps your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You may also have to employ an HVAC installer if you’re purchasing an entirely new system.

The work that these technicians and installers do is considered a “skilled trade,” which means that learning it must be done largely in the field, as opposed to in colleges or other schools. While there are certain courses required to enter the HVAC industry, the trade is still largely learned by doing. This means that new people entering the industry start with an apprenticeship, studying the trade under an experienced and highly skilled mentor.

Basic Qualifications

Before beginning an apprenticeship, a person interested in learning the HVAC trade should have a few qualities that lend themselves to the job. Basic math skills are key, as they’re necessary for all sorts of construction work. The ability to communicate effectively with clients and other workers is a must. A willingness to get their hands dirty and to work in dark, narrow spaces is certainly important. Above all, an HVAC apprentice should have a can-do attitude and be highly motivated.

What an HVAC Apprentice Needs to Know

An HVAC professional has to be sort of a jack-of-all-trades due to the complexity of the equipment they’ll be working with. As soon as a prospective technician begins their apprenticeship, they’ll start learning about how ventilation in a home works, how heat is generated, how refrigeration works, and how to read blueprints to assist with the installation process. They’ll have to be electricians too. HVAC systems make use of wiring and electrical equipment that must be regularly maintained since it’s also prone to wearing out and failing over time.

Modern HVAC systems also make use of a lot of computer technology, which is extremely convenient for the homeowner but also adds another skillset that the apprentice must learn. Today’s HVAC apprentice will learn how to read and ultimately create their own digital blueprints, as well as learn to navigate “smart” heating and cooling technology.

What Tools Do They Use?

An HVAC technician needs to be proficient with the tools of the trade, so an HVAC apprentice has to learn about a variety of them. Some are simple, such as wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers. Others are more complex, such as the vacuum pumps, which are used to detect refrigerant leaks. They’ll use voltage testers to ensure thermostats are working properly. They may also use HVAC software in a handheld instrument, such as a tablet. Of course, they’ll also utilize plenty of old-fashioned power tools, such as power drills and reciprocating saws when installing or repairing HVAC technology.

What Type of Classwork Do They Do?

The majority of an apprentice’s time will be spent doing on-the-job training, learning the ins and outs of their trade by working on actual jobs under the watchful eye of their mentor. Nevertheless, some of the basic science behind HVAC and HVAC technology is learned in the classroom.

For example, an HVAC apprentice will study the principles of heat, pressure, and energy in a classroom, and then immediately turn around and translate this to the real world as they apply their knowledge to actual buildings. They’ll also study how HVAC systems are designed and the scientific theories and principles behind refrigeration.

What About Certification?

The best and most reputable HVAC companies, such as Watts Heating & Cooling, will only hire technicians who have been certified by a number of reputable organizations. This is because an HVAC apprentice needs to learn to be more than just an expert in their field. They also need to be an expert on HVAC safety.

After all, a faulty HVAC system can do more than just leave your home uncomfortable: it can create a serious safety risk. Fire hazards, carbon monoxide leaks, and other issues can occur if an HVAC system isn’t maintained properly. For this reason, all prospective HVAC workers should be certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

NATE is an organization founded and run by professionals in the HVAC industry, and they offer certifications that are earned through a series of exams. NATE certification covers basic construction, the use of tools, sciences such as electricity and magnetism, electricity, and measuring of temperature and humidity. Certifications such as these are critical for an HVAC apprentice who wants to be taken seriously in the industry.

What Will an HVAC Apprentice Do On the Job?

If you hire an HVAC contractor to come do a job on your heating and air conditioning, they may arrive accompanied by an apprentice. There are several levels to an apprenticeship, and the technician-in-training may do more or less depending on how much their skill level has developed. Sometimes, they may simply observe their mentor at work. In other cases, they’ll do much of the work while under supervision.

Over the course of their apprenticeship, an HVAC technician-in-training will perform basic maintenance, clean ducts, replace refrigerant, service the various components of heaters and air conditioners, as well as many other jobs.

Note that being an apprentice doesn’t necessarily mean a worker is inexperienced. Hundreds of hours of on-the-job training are required to become a full, certified technician. Apprenticeships often last anywhere from three to five years, with the prospective HVAC worker building their skills more and more each day. That means that in order to progress to the next level as an HVAC installer or technician, an apprentice will have already completed many, many jobs.