California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

   Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers in San Diego County

May also be called: Furnace Converters; Gas Furnace Installers; Heating and Air Conditioning Technicians and Installers; Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Technicians; Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) Technicians; Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers; Retrofitting Specialists

What Would I Do?

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers,* more commonly known as "HVACR Technicians," maintain and repair heating, cooling, and refrigeration equipment in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. The heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems that they work on are sometimes referred to as HVACR systems.

Technicians work from blueprints, design specifications, and manufacturer instructions to install compressors, motors, condensers, thermostats, fans, ducts, pipes, and other technical, electrical, and electronic components. They use a variety of hand tools to connect parts to duct work, gas and refrigerant lines, and other piping. After attaching temperature and pressure-control testing devices, the Technicians charge the system with refrigerant, and then test it for proper operation, making any necessary final adjustments.

These Technicians often specialize in areas such as installation or maintenance and repair, although some may be trained to do both. However, Technicians who are new to the job will most likely begin with equipment installation. Additional education is required of those who perform maintenance and repair duties. They may further specialize in one area, such as heating, air-conditioning, or refrigeration work. Some specialize in one type of equipment, for example, geothermal systems, hydronics (water-based heating systems), solar panels, or commercial refrigeration. Other Technicians may work on retrofits, replacing and installing new equipment or systems that are energy efficient.

A complex task known as "troubleshooting" requires that Technicians examine and, if necessary, take apart a unit when a breakdown occurs. After the source of the problem is identified and the necessary repairs are made, the unit is reassembled and tested.

Technicians usually work independently but, depending on the job, may work with electricians or sheet metal workers. On large projects, electrical work may be done by electricians, pipe and other component installation by plumbers and pipefitters, and duct work by sheet metal workers.

Technicians install, service, and repair industrial and commercial refrigerating systems and a variety of refrigeration equipment. They follow blueprints and manufacturer specifications to install motors, compressors, condensing units, evaporators, piping, and other parts. Technicians connect this equipment to the ductwork, refrigerant lines, and electrical power source. After making the connections, they charge the system with refrigerant, check it for efficient operation, and program the control systems.

When Technicians service equipment, they must use care to conserve, recover, and recycle chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), and other refrigerant gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. The release of these refrigerants can be harmful to the environment. Technicians conserve the refrigerant by making sure there are no leaks in the system. They recover it by venting the refrigerant into proper cylinders; recycle it for reuse with special filter-dryers; and ensure that the refrigerant is properly disposed.

Technicians may be called in to assist solar photovoltaic (PV) installers set up the systems that generate solar electricity to heat and cool entire homes and buildings. They may perform just the HVAC aspect of the job or be cross-trained to assist the installer, depending upon the employer.

Tools and Technology

The HVACR Technicians use a variety of tools and technology in the course of their work, including wrenches, acetylene torches, hammers, caulking and soldering guns, flowmeters and sensors, levels, metal cutters and benders. They also use digital thermometers and manometers, duct blasters, power drills and saws, pressure indicators, refrigerant compressors, voltage/current meters, and software, such as computer-aided design (CAD), customer relationship and facilities management, spreadsheet, and word processing.

Green Economy

The HVACR Technicians is expected to play an important role in the emerging green economy. They will assist with the distribution, installation, and maintenance of energy efficient products. HVACR Technicians will also perform retrofitting duties in order to maintain existing HVAC systems and keep them performing efficiently.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

*This product was partially funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Install radiator controls for room-level zone control heating of residential or commercial buildings.Mechanical
Discuss heating or cooling system malfunctions with users to isolate problems or to verify that repairs corrected malfunctions.Customer and Personal Service
Study blueprints, design specifications, or manufacturers' recommendations to ascertain the configuration of heating or cooling equipment components and to ensure the proper installation of components.Design
Test pipe or tubing joints or connections for leaks, using pressure gauge or soap-and-water solution.Troubleshooting
Repair or replace defective equipment, components, or wiring.Repairing
Install, connect, or adjust thermostats, humidistats or timers.Installation
Recommend, develop, or perform preventive or general maintenance procedures, such as cleaning, power-washing or vacuuming equipment, oiling parts, or changing filters.Equipment Maintenance
Assemble, position, and mount heating or cooling equipment, following blueprints or manufacturer's specifications.Critical Thinking
Test electrical circuits or components for continuity, using electrical test equipment.Operation and Control
Lay out and connect electrical wiring between controls and equipment, according to wiring diagrams, using electrician's hand tools.Complex Problem Solving
Fabricate, assemble or install duct work or chassis parts, using portable metal-working tools or welding equipment.Systems Evaluation
Install and test automatic, programmable, or wireless thermostats in residential or commercial buildings to minimize energy usage and leakage for heating or cooling.Quality Control Analysis
Connect heating or air conditioning equipment to fuel, water, or refrigerant source to form complete circuit.Manual Dexterity
Repair or service, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to improve efficiency, such as by changing filters, cleaning ducts, maintaining motor controls, or refilling non-toxic refrigerants.Inductive Reasoning
Install or repair self-contained ground source heat pumps or hybrid ground or air source heat pumps to minimize carbon-based energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions.Deductive Reasoning
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Technicians work wherever the equipment to be installed or repaired is located. They may work outdoors either on the ground or on rooftops, and inside office buildings, warehouses, or private residences. Most employers require Technicians to supply their own hand tools, which can be an expensive initial investment.

Technicians are exposed to all types of weather when working outdoors. They may also work in buildings that are uncomfortable because the air-conditioning or heating equipment is broken. Technicians must be in good physical condition and have above average strength and coordination in order to lift or move heavy pieces of equipment. Work may require using ladders or scaffolding. Technicians must assume awkward and cramped positions to reach parts of the unit during installation, servicing, and maintenance. They are exposed to various occupational hazards, such as electrical shocks, burns from welding equipment and operating machinery, and exposure to refrigerants and fuels, such as heating oil and natural gas. However, risks are minimized when proper safety procedures are followed and safety equipment is used.

The majority of Technicians work at least a 40-hour week. During peak seasons they often work overtime or irregular hours. Maintenance workers, including those who provide maintenance services under contract, often work evening, weekend, or on call shifts. Most employers try to provide a full workweek year round by scheduling both installation and maintenance work. In most shops that service both heating and air-conditioning equipment, employment is stable throughout the year.

Many HVACR Technicians are members of unions such as the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbers and Pipe Fitting Industry or the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of HVACR Technicians will appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions. This occupation involves technical or mechanical activities and often requires working outside.

Aspiring Technicians must be a team player, work in a timely and efficient manner, have good customer service and communication skills, and able to handle stressful situations in a fast-paced environment.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

The wages for Technicians in California differ widely depending on job duties and responsibilities, work experience, type of industry, and location of work. Workers in large cities or urban areas usually earn higher wages than those who work in smaller towns and rural areas.


The median wage in 2016 for Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers in California is $51,700 annually, or $24.86 hourly. The median wage for Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers in San Diego County is $55,250 annually, or $26.56 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$43,488$55,250$63,523
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Technicians may receive benefits that include health and dental insurance, vacation, and retirement plans. For union members, the benefit packages are negotiated in contracts between employers and unions. Self-employed contractors must pay for their own insurance and retirement plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

As the population and number of buildings increase, so does the demand for residential, commercial, and industrial climate-control systems. The complexity of today’s climate control systems increases the possibility that equipment may malfunction, creating more employment opportunities for Technicians. Technicians who specialize in installation work may experience periods of unemployment when new construction activity declines, but maintenance and repair work usually remains relatively stable. People and businesses depend on climate-control systems and must keep them in good working order, regardless of economic conditions.

Concern for the environment has prompted the development of new energy-saving heating and air-conditioning systems. An emphasis on better energy management should lead to the replacement of older systems and the installation of newer, more efficient systems in existing homes and buildings. Regulations prohibiting the discharge and production of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydro-chlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants should continue to result in the need to replace many existing air-conditioning systems or modify them to use new environmentally safe refrigerants.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers are expected to increase by 31.8 percent, or 7,100 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

In San Diego County, the number of Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers are expected to increase by 27.1 percent, or 390 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 710 new job openings per year is expected for Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers, plus an additional 340 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 1,050 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 39 new job openings per year is expected for Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers, plus an additional 36 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 75 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Employers prefer to hire candidates with a high school diploma or equivalent and related HVAC experience. Some employers are willing to train entry-level helpers on the job. However, completion of a formal apprenticeship, trade, or vocational college program greatly enhances employment opportunities.

Technicians will need to be compliant with the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). The California Green Building Standards Code will affect most of the new construction projects, including residential and commercial (non-residential) buildings.


The amount and type of work experience required varies from company to company. The Air Conditioning and Refrigeration apprenticeship program requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 216 hours of related classroom training during a five-year apprenticeship program.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer technology, electronics, technical drawing, and blueprint reading are helpful.

Heating and Air-Conditioning training programs are also available through Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.


Apprentices learn their trade while working on the job. They also attend evening classes for technical instruction. Most apprenticeship programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, valid California driver license, at least 18 years of age, physical ability to complete the duties of the trade, and a passing score on a written entrance exam. Some apprenticeship programs may require an oral interview. Apprentices also must take and pass a written union test at the completion of their apprenticeship program to become a qualified journey-level worker in the union.

Continuing Education

While continuing education is not required for Technicians, they will need to keep current on updates and changes to the current California Green Building Standards Codes. Code revisions may lead to changes in worker requirements such as tasks, knowledge, skills, and abilities. HVAC workers may acquire sustainable skills through training seminars, on-the-job training, conferences, and online instruction provided by colleges or professional training providers.

Licensing and Certification

Employees work under the license of the employer-contractor. Those wishing to enter self-employment as a Heating, Air-Conditioning, and Refrigeration contractor must pass a written exam along with a fingerprint background check to obtain a contractor’s license through the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractor's State License Board. Applicants for a contractor’s license must be over 18 years of age with a minimum of four years journey-level experience in their specific trade. Licenses are valid for a two-year period and must be renewed. A written test is not required to renew a license. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Required certifications or credentials will vary from employer to employer depending upon business needs. Numerous organizations offer professional certifications or credentials that will enhance employment opportunities. Professional credentialing is granted to individuals who meet the minimum education and work experience requirements, and who are able to pass an examination. The HVAC Installers may receive voluntary credentialing or certifications, such as Home Energy Raters (HERS), HVAC Excellence, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and the North American Technician Excellence, Inc. (NATE). For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Air-Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing, Refrigeration, Solar, and Ventilation.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Building Equipment Contractors 68.6%
Commercial Machinery Repair/Maintenance 5.0%
Local Government 3.3%
Hardware & Plumbing Merchant Wholesalers 1.8%
Household Goods Repair and Maintenance 1.4%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Many schools operate placement centers for their students. Newspaper classified ads and Internet job listings also provide helpful local job leads. Jobs may also be found through trade publications. Union members search for work by registering with their local hiring hall. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers.

  • Air-Conditioning Contractors
  • Air-Conditioning Equipment & Systems Repairing
  • Heating-Forced Air Units & Heat Pumps
  • Heating & Ventilation Contractors
  • Refrigeration Equipment, Parts & Supplies, Wholesale and Manufacturers

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Advancement usually takes the form of higher wages. The HVACR Technicians may begin their career as a trainee, advance to a journey level Technician, and end their career as a supervisor or service manager. Others may enter self-employment by opening their own contracting business. Still others may move into areas such as sales and marketing, while others may become building superintendents, cost estimators, or, with the necessary certification, vocational teachers.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Workers with links to more information.

Home Appliance RepairersProfile
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and SteamfittersGuide
Sheet Metal WorkersGuide
Stationary Engineers and Boiler OperatorsProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification49-9021
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers49-9021.01
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RIC
   Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers49-9021.02
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)REC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Eng150501
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Environmental Control Technology094600