Working in the HVAC industry can be a good business move. The industry is growing significantly and the salary of HVAC engineers and technicians is growing too.
In fact, it is growing at a pace much faster than other careers. Perhaps this growth is due to changing technologies that make HVAC systems more complex and varied.
More importantly, HVAC engineers are always needed when a building is constructed. HVAC systems are an industry-standard in the construction of buildings, including offices, homes, schools, and some public transit systems.
Needless to say, HVAC engineers are crucial to the construction and maintenance of buildings.
Differences Between HVAC Engineers and Technicians
It is important to note that there is a significant difference between HVAC engineers and HVAC technicians.
- HVAC technicians are more hands-on. They are in the field fixing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and installing HVAC systems.
- HVAC engineers are more likely to oversee and manage the design and installation plan of the HVAC system. They often manage the budget, meet with clients to discuss system needs, design the equipment, and plan updates to old systems.
- For a comprehensive understanding, HVAC engineers design, develop, test, and build HVAC systems, which include mechanical and thermal devices, sensors, tools, engines, and machinery.
In this guide, we'll look at HVAC Engineer salaries, including how much HVAC Engineers make in different states, what kind of HVAC jobs are available, and the skills you need to become a HVAC Engineer.
What Education and Certifications Do HVAC Engineers Need?
The kinds of education and licenses you may need is dependent upon where you live and the kind of job you are pursuing.
What Education Does an HVAC Engineer Need?
While a GED is a minimum requirement for HVAC technicians, HVAC engineers have a higher degree requirement. Since engineers oversee the projects, it only makes sense they have more education and training.
HVAC engineers need a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Usually, engineers hold a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Engineers could also pursue a degree in HVAC engineering technology, or architectural engineering. Some schools may only offer mechanical engineering.
Engineers that want a management role must usually have a master’s degree. The crucial jobs in research and development often hire those with a PhD.
What Licenses and Certifications Do HVAC Engineers Need?
While there are a few certifications that all HVAC technicians and engineers need, most required licenses, education, or certifications are dependent upon the state in which you work in and your own local counties. The licenses required are also dependent upon whether you are a contractor or not.
For instance, HVAC technicians in Idaho are required to hold a Certificate of Competency that is given through the Idaho Division of Building Safety. This is state-level, required certification.
On the other hand, Illinois does not have a state-required license, but each local jurisdiction has its own requirements. For instance, some counties require technicians to pass an examination through the Department of Development or pass an International Mechanical Code and International Fuel Gas Code test.
All technicians are required to have the EPA Section 608 Technician Certification. This allows technicians to use, handle, manage, and dispose of coolants, refrigerants, and similar hazardous chemicals. The EPA also offers other types of certifications.
EPA Certifications include:
- Type I: This allows for the service of smaller appliances
- Type II: This allows for the service of appliances that function under high or significantly higher pressures. It also allows for the disposal of these appliances.
- Type III: This allows for the service and disposal of appliances that function under low pressures.
- Universal: This allows for the service of all types of equipment above
HVAC technicians can also receive certifications from professional and certified organizations like HVAC Excellence, the North American Technician Excellence organization (NATE), and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society. These organizations offer certifications and licenses in specializations within the field.
On the other hand, HVAC engineers have different license and certification requirements. Engineers that work with the public, approve projects, and manage or approve the work of others are held to higher standard. These engineers must have a license to work in any state in the United States. These licenses expire annually, and engineers must renew them in order to continue work.
Like HVAC technicians, engineers in the HVAV industry can obtain certifications that demonstration specialized skills or validate specializations and knowledge in the field.
HVAC Engineers can seek certifications and licenses from the following professional and recognized organizations:
- The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
- The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
Both of these organizations certify and validate HVAC engineers.
Many licenses as an engineer require fieldwork. Engineers can work as a trainee, or engineer-in-training, which is work that is supervised by a licensed and professional engineer. This is typical and offers good experience before obtaining the license.
What is the Salary for HVAC Engineers?
Since HVAC engineers have higher levels of education and training, they are naturally given a higher salary. Their way is significant higher compared to yearly technician salaries and technician wages. However, the salary of an engineer is also dependent upon where he/she works what he/she does exactly.
HVAC technicians, mechanics, and installers have a median wage of about $48,000 a year. The highest earning technicians make around $76,000 a year. The lowest earning technicians make about $30,000 a year.
HVAC engineers, on the other hand, make a median salary of almost $87,500 a year. The highest earning technicians make around $136,550 a year. The lowest earning technicians make around $87,000 a year. Those who make the highest salary as an engineer work in the following fields:
- Research and Development of Services
- Electronic and Computer Product Manufacturing
- Architectural Engineering and Related Design Services
- Transportation Equipment Manufacturing
- Machinery Manufacturing
Again, understand that salary is dependent upon where you work, the responsibilities you have in your role, your experience, and your seniority in the company.
When looking at a comparison, the lowest-earning HVAC engineers make about $10,000 more a year than the highest-earning HVAC technicians. While this may seem like a big difference, you must understand that HVAC engineers have more education and are performing tasks that have higher financial and temporal stakes. The mistakes of an HVAC engineer can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and several months of delayed or extra work.
If technicians are performing and maintaining the design of an engineer, then that HVAC engineer must execute and design a plan perfectly to avoid mistakes and to allow the technicians to perform their jobs successfully.
Therefore, if you are considering becoming a technician or engineer, understand that a higher salary comes with more education requirements and higher job demands. Technicians also have the option of working and then returning to school with the aim of becoming an HVAC engineer. This is one of many potential career trajectories.
What is the Working Environment for HVAC Engineers?
The working environment for HVAC engineers is significantly different from that of the technicians.
Since technicians are performing hands-on tasks, they can be working outside in the heat or the snow. They can also be working in basements and crawlspaces. These spaces can be cramped, damp, hot, and dark. They are also working with electricals, heat, and chemicals. Technicians are at a higher risk of injury and body strain.
Unlike technicians, HVAC engineers usually work in office. They meet with clients to discuss the needs of the build or project. They discuss what kinds of design may work in the space. They may visit buildings, worksites, or construction sites where there are problems with the design or equipment that require more expertise or design-knowledge.
HVAC engineers work with colleagues, HVAC technicians, and professionals like accountants to manage projects.
HVAC engineers usually work full time. In fact, they are likely to work over 40 hours a week, especially if they are designing or managing a larger project that needs specialized and focused attention.
What Skills Do HVAC Engineers Need?
The HVAC industry is dynamic and ever-changing. Science and technology is always changing and adapting to changing needs and demands. Therefore, engineers work in an environment where projects are always unique, and demands are different.
HVAC Engineers need to be adaptable and innovative. This comes with the need of being a good problem-solver. Engineers will be faced with a variety of problems, some that are apparent and others that only appear later. It is the job of the engineer to plan for possible problems, but they also need to solve problems as they arise.
HVAC engineers need to have excellent math skills, which is true for any science or engineer-related field. Building and designing systems, especially systems that fit specific requirements, requires numerous and crucial calculations. An error in math can set a project back in both time and money.
Engineers also need to understand basic thermodynamics and mechanics. Since HVAC stands for “heating, ventilation, and air conditioning,” then engineers clearly need to understand the science and dynamics of how air works—both hot and cold.
Since engineers work alongside team members, like technicians and administrators, as well as clients, engineers need to have good management and people skills. They need to listen to clients’ needs and then design between clients’ wants and what the project can feasibly achieve. They need to be accessible and have strong communication skills—both written and verbal.
They should have a strong command of technology, both communicative and specialized instruments used in their industry.
This is not a career path for those that do not like to interact with others or manage others. Those with poor communication skills or poor math skills will not do well in this profession.
What Kinds of Positions are There For HVAC Engineers?
Since salary and responsibility depends upon your position, it is good to research the different kinds of positions that HVAC engineers can fill.
Design in Engineering
Just as the title says, design engineers control and manage the design and mechanics of the HVAC system that is being used, built, or installed. They can completely design and build a new system, or they can retrofit and redesign a system that already exists by making improvements and changes.
They can use computers and paper to design these systems. They work in offices to design systems that fit the needs of the space in a project. They can sometimes go to a worksite if they are needed for installation or if there is a problem that needs their expertise.
Control systems are pieces of equipment that control the entire HVAC system. It can be electrical or digital/computerized. These are a small part of the entire HVAC system
Engineers of control systems have a very specialized job. Their skill is focused on the control system and making it work for the entire system. They often work as a team member with other engineers.
The Engineer that Sells
A sales engineer has understanding of HVAC systems and spends a significant amount of time with clients. They discuss the needs of the client. They also work to get approval needed for equipment and design.
They may also have the job of obtaining parts and equipment that the rest of the engineering team needs to complete the design and installation of the project.
What Do Engineers Make in Different States?
Salary does differ between states. You can do research in your state or the state you are interested in to find out more details. Typical salaries are accessible through Occupational Wages information that is available to the public through government websites.
Here is the median salary for HVAC workers in some states:
- HVAC Salary Florida: Salaries range from $51,000-$89,000 a year. The average is $65,000 a year. This is around $34 an hour.
- HVAC Salary in California: Salaries range from $67,00-$118,000 a year. The average is $84,000. This is around $44 an hour.
- HVAC Salary in Texas: Salaries range from $52,000-$113,000 a year. The average is $83,000. This is around $43 an hour.
- HVAC Salary in NYC: Salaries range from $74,000-$114,000 a year. The average is $89,000 a year. This is around $46 an hour.
- HVAC Salary in Michigan: Salaries range from $57,000-$82,000. The average is $75,000 a year. This is around $39 an hour.
Are You Thinking About Becoming an HVAC Engineer?
Becoming an HVAC engineer does take time because it requires a specific skill set, but it can be more lucrative than becoming an HVAC technician. However, if you do not to manage a team, design systems, or have the added responsibilities, then becoming a technician may be the best route for you.
HVAC engineers have a high level of job satisfaction. The job may be demanding and challenging, but engineers seem to find their work important. If you are looking for a job that is crucial to society, then you may consider becoming an HVAC engineer.
- Bureau of Labor and Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm