What Does it Mean to Study HVAC?
Since HVAC stands for "heating, ventilation and air conditioning," a HVAC major should have a serious interest in learning how these systems impact the comfort level in any space.
Pursuing an HVAC degree requires in-depth study of the various systems that regulate temperature and humidity within homes, offices and transportation systems. This can mean anything from components to functionality of air conditioning systems, furnaces, heat pumps, air circulation devices and more. Most students who enroll in HVAC degree programs learn about each of these systems, although some students choose to specialize in a specific area such as gas furnaces, air distribution or hydronics oil.
While it's not usually possible to complete an HVAC program entirely online, several HVAC programs can be taken in a hybrid format. Hybrid programs allow students to complete some of their coursework online and some on-campus, combining online flexibility with hands-on experience. Keep reading to learn more about these partially-online HVAC degree options and where they can lead.
Types of Online HVAC Degrees
Before you decide to pursue an HVAC degree, it's important to know which kind of program might work best for you. What is the difference between different HVAC programs? How long do they last? What kinds of classes are in their curriculum? Let's explore these questions to help narrow down what kind of HVAC programs you should consider looking into.
Online Certificates and Diplomas in HVAC
Most students who enroll in an HVAC certificate or diploma program are looking for a crash course introduction to the basics of heating, ventilation and air conditioning. These programs typically cover the fundamentals of how heating and air conditioning systems work, such as the function of different components, how to use different repair tools, and the process for installing common HVAC systems. Courses students might take during an HVAC certificate program include:
- Nature of Electricity
- Introduction to Refrigeration
- HVAC Maintenance
- HVAC System Design
- Residential and Commercial HVAC
Online Associate Degrees in HVAC
While a certificate in HVAC can teach students the basics of the field, HVAC associate degree programs often provide a more well-rounded education. In addition to key details of HVAC -- such as residential and commercial HVAC repair, refrigeration and small motor repair -- students usually take courses in other fields, which can help to enhance their career knowledge. For example, a student who takes business courses in their associate degree program may learn useful strategies for customer interactions, as well as how to better deal with payments and billing.
HVAC courses that are often seen during an HVAC associate program include:
- Small Business Basics
- HVAC Maintenance Basics
- Commercial and Residential Refrigeration
- HVAC Automated Controls
- Motors and Motor Control
Online Bachelor's Degrees in HVAC Engineering Technology
While bachelor's degrees in HVAC are rare, some students do choose to pursue a four-year degree in this field. This degree program was designed to help students develop the highest level of expertise when it comes to HVAC systems and their design.
During a bachelor's program, students usually take a wide range of core educational courses, including subjects like history, math and English. The core of their HVAC education may consist of HVAC systems, heating and cooling challenges in both residential and commercial settings, design principles and processes, and/or the purpose of energy audits in our increasingly energy-dependent world.
While bachelor's programs can vary, you may take the following courses as you pursue a four-year HVAC degree:
- System Controls and Design
- HVAC Manufacturing
- Advanced Refrigeration
- Energy Efficiency Evaluations
- Industrial HVAC
What Can You Do with a HVAC Degree?
While almost all HVAC careers have something to do with heating, air conditioning or ventilation, there are multiple ways to interact with these devices, which makes for multiple careers in the field as well. It's important to think about what you might want to do in this field before you decide to spend time and money on a degree program. To help you out, here are some of the common careers in the HVAC field, along with educational requirements and certification options.
HVAC technicians clean and maintain various HVAC systems. They install electrical components and wiring that help systems operate efficiently, and they troubleshoot programs that cause systems to break down.
HVAC technicians may also repair or replace defective parts, usually after consulting with a customer to let them know their options. Finally, HVAC technicians need to keep records of their work in a professional and organized manner.
- While most HVAC technicians complete a postsecondary certificate or associate degree program, many technicians also complete an internship.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires HVAC technicians that handle refrigerants to become certified. Some states and municipalities also require HVAC technicians to become licensed, so make sure to check the laws in your area.
While HVAC technicians perform the bulk of maintenance for HVAC systems, HVAC installers focus their efforts on installing new systems in homes and other buildings. These workers check that buildings have the proper electrical components and support in place before installation, then build or install new HVAC systems that help buildings regulate temperature and maintain a standard level of comfort. They may also add or remove ventilation through pipes or vents in order to increase or decrease air circulation throughout the building.
- While most HVAC installers complete a postsecondary certificate or associate degree program, many technicians also complete an internship.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires HVAC installers that handle refrigerants to become certified. Some states and municipalities also require HVAC installers to become licensed, so make sure to check the laws in your area.
General Maintenance and Repair Workers
General maintenance and repair workers are responsible for performing maintenance around homes and other buildings. They may assemble machinery and equipment; replace faulty electrical switches, outlets or circuit breakers; and conduct repairwork using blueprints or diagrams.
When it comes to HVAC work, these professionals typically perform basic maintenance and upkeep, along with replacing faulty components or parts. They may also clean air conditioning and heating systems top to bottom to keep them in working shape.
- General maintenance and repair workers usually learn their skills on the job.
- You do not need to become certified to do this type of work.
While boilermakers don't work directly with HVAC systems, their job duties are closely related. These workers assemble, install and maintain boilers and other large vessels that hold liquids or gases. They perform required repairs on boilers and similar systems, including repairing or replacing broken valves, pipes or joints.
Due to the nature of their work, boilermakers need to be versed in how to use heavy machinery and tools, including power tools, gas torches and welding equipment.
- Most boilermakers learn this trade through hands-on training and an apprenticeship.
- Certification is not required for this career.
Associations and Organizations
As an HVAC major, it's important to be aware of relevant changes and opportunities within the industry. The following associations and organizations may be useful sources of information for keeping your skills and knowledge in good condition.
- Air Conditioning Contractors of America -- This organization offers membership and networking opportunities for HVAC professionals who work with air conditioning. Accreditation is also available for contractors who work on air conditioning and appliance installation in new and existing homes.
- American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers -- This society offers a wide range of resources and professional development opportunities for HVAC professionals. They also offer several certifications, including the Building Commissioning Professional Certification (BCxP), the Building Energy Assessment Professional Certification (BEAP) and the Building Energy Modeling Professional Certification (BEMP).
- Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute -- The AHRI represents 315 member companies that focus on offering quality HVAC services and innovation. Explore their website to find educational resources, a job board and information about new products.
- North American Technician Excellence -- NATE offers members continuing education opportunities and contractor resources. They also offer several certifications for HVAC technicians, including entry-level and professional credentials in specializations such as air distribution, air conditioning, commercial refrigeration and ground source heat pumps.
- Boilermakers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/boilermakers.htm#tab-1
- Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- General Maintenance and Repair Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/general-maintenance-and-repair-workers.htm
- HVAC Associate Degree, Remington College, http://www.remingtoncollege.edu/hvac-associate-degree/
- HVAC Bachelor's Degree, Ferris State University, https://ferris.edu/college-degree-hvac.htm
- Online HVAC Programs, Penn Foster Career School, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/construction-and-maintenance/hvac-technician-career-diploma