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Going To School for HVAC - Advice?

smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member
So at 37 years old I've decided to make a major career change and will be enrolling in a 2 year HVAC program at a local tech college. After trouble shooting my own home heating issues I've come to find I really enjoy HVAC, especially Hydronic Heating and after being self employed sales for almost 12 years I need a life change. Just wondering if any of the professionals out there have any advice they'd like to share on what I can expect on everything from the schooling to job outlook, job stability etc.. ANY advice would be appreciated!
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Comments

  • Solid_Fuel_ManSolid_Fuel_Man Posts: 1,879Member
    Learn electrical! In my specialized feild of doing troubleshooting, repair, and installation, electrical skills are lacking. Controls on equipment, relays, low voltage are all areas that most local guys just scratch their heads and throw parts at till "it's fixed".

    Neat, workmanlike installs which are planned for future service.

    It's the hottest and coolest job there is!
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • ZmanZman Posts: 5,529Member
    I like John siegenthaler for hydronics, Carol Fey for control basics and Robert Bean for thermal comfort and building science.
    John and Robert used to do online courses through heat spring.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member

    Learn electrical! In my specialized feild of doing troubleshooting, repair, and installation, electrical skills are lacking. Controls on equipment, relays, low voltage are all areas that most local guys just scratch their heads and throw parts at till "it's fixed".



    Neat, workmanlike installs which are planned for future service.



    It's the hottest and coolest job there is!

    Thanks! So basically you do your schooling then look for an apprenticeship? Is that usually the route most newbies take?
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member
    Zman said:

    I like John siegenthaler for hydronics, Carol Fey for control basics and Robert Bean for thermal comfort and building science.
    John and Robert used to do online courses through heat spring.

    Thanks, I'm going to be doing as MUCH studying as possible before I even start the school!
  • Steve MinnichSteve Minnich Posts: 2,514Member
    @smithfan - My son-in-law, Tim, has a degree in business, worked in the corporate world for 6 years, and walked away from it all 2 1/2 years ago to become a boiler man. I guarantee you, he'll never go back.

    You have the same enthusiasm and attitude he has and that will carry you very far. I applaud your decision. Dive into as many books and legit training videos as you can and always remain teachable.
    PHC News Columnist
    Minnich Hydronic Consulting & Design, LLC
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/minnich-hydronic-consulting-and-design
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 6,528Member
    Again, learn electrical. Electrical was my schooling and stepping into the HVAC arena was much easier with that background.

    Today, when talking shop with HVAC peers who just learned on their own many are electrically challenged and have to troubleshoot electrical problems by trial and error. (gets expensive)

    And if you read here, you are aware of the shortage of techs, especially in steam heating. (that need will depend with the area of course).
    For me this site is just like going to school every day......I read probably 75% of every posting and the responses.
    What is your current occupation IIMA.
  • PinkTavoPinkTavo Posts: 64Member
    edited February 2017
    If you have the summer off classes after the 1st year, see if you can get hired on as a helper, even if the wages are low. Soak in as much as you can. In addition to HVACR shops if there is a commercial temperature controls company in your area they always need summer help because typically there are a lot of schools that are renovated in the summer and the job has to be done between mid-June and mid-August.

    I picked up a job like that on the recommendation of a teacher and put in 12 hr days, 6 days a week that summer. It was not for much hourly, but I got overtime.

    By the next summer I was a full-time employee and got into termination of controllers (in addition to wire pulling) and then dropping in RTU programs and doing point-to-point checkout. Pay went up accordingly. I then started programming, then engineering, then project management (which I don't recommend). I am back to engineering and love it.

    As others have said....electrical! Also, I think anyone who can, thread, weld, or braze with great skill will be valued.

    P.S....I started at 37 also! Gave up a systems engineering job in aerospace.
  • John Mills_5John Mills_5 Posts: 935Member
    I started in my 30s too. Learned all I could from books for years before "retiring" from my first career and going to school. At school, I played with the machines as much as possible since I didn't get the hands on from reading books. This field is getting very computerized between the equipment and the controls, knowing electrical and computer technology will be a big plus. We can't be outsourced to India so we have great job security. Get good and you can write your own paycheck. Firms will be fighting over you. Commercial pays better but can be harder work.
  • BryanOrrBryanOrr Posts: 1Member
    If you have good people and conflict resolution skills you are already way ahead of the game. The biggest challenge of starting later in life is that there are physically taxing parts of the work that junior techs especially are expected to do. My advice is to exercise your core 3+ times a week (Not just cardio and pumping iron) maintain a really healthy diet and jump in there with the physical parts of the work. The only bad experiences I have had with second career techs is those who are unwilling to jump in there and do the physical or dirty parts of the job.

    In addition to that, dedicate at least 2 hours a week to learning new things. Read manufacturer install and service manuals. Watch quality YouTube videos, read industry articles and study quality books.

    If you maintain your health and physical conditioning, maintain and improve your people skills, keep a positive outlook and learn new things INTENTIONALLY every week, you will be find it to be a very rewarding career.

    Best of luck to you!
    Bryan Orr
    Technician, Trainer, Contractor
    HVACRSchool.com
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 6,536Member
    I agree with most of the above about electrical training.

    I have racked my brain about this and teach at the local union hall.

    It always seems that the guys who are able to pick up and retain the electrical end of the business are the better technicians...by far.

    If someone can retain the electrical you can teach them plumbing, piping refrigeration burners and combustion ...anything.

    the ones that can't grasp electrical.................it just doesn't work out
  • Harvey RamerHarvey Ramer Posts: 2,211Member
    Best of luck with the new endeavor!! I applaud your decision to move into the trades. It's very rewarding.

    I agree with my peers. Learn electrical. It is a fundamental skill required for almost every trade.
    Ramer Mechanical
    ramermechanical.com
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Posts: 4,334Member
    What is your location? I perhaps can help you out. My background is Electronics, gas heating equipment, hydronics and warm air. I have written 35 manuals on controls and wiring troubleshooting etc. Get in touch with me at [email protected] I would be more than happy to help you out if I can.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Posts: 4,334Member
    Sorry I did not read the entire post, if Carol, John and Robert are already on board to help you they are the best and way out of my league. Wish you the best.
  • njtommynjtommy Posts: 1,105Member
    edited February 2017
    Ive been a commercial HVACR tech for over 10 years now. I did a little bit of residential before that. Commercial work is definitely more challenging and has a lot more heavy lifting. It's also more complicated, but it all will start to make sense within a couple years. Studying is also good or any type of trade related books, but if you've never seen the equipment or parts first hand it's some times hard to understand how things work. I would try and find a job with a local company even its only has a parts driver or shop guy. That will give you good experience see what parts are first hand.

    Just realize this trade is generally not for those who only like to work 40 hours a week. Plains will always get ruined it's bound to happen while being stock on a job.

    Dont be afraid to ask questions and keep your ears and eyes open.

    Not everyone in this field is willing to help. Some guys have no interest in training other guys. It's just how they are.

    Good luck
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member

    What is your location? I perhaps can help you out. My background is Electronics, gas heating equipment, hydronics and warm air. I have written 35 manuals on controls and wiring troubleshooting etc. Get in touch with me at [email protected] I would be more than happy to help you out if I can.

    I'm in Northern WI..Much appreciated!
  • RayWohlfarthRayWohlfarth Posts: 787Member
    I would urge you to consider Dan's books. The following are must have books: Lost art of Steam Heating, Classic Hydronics, Pumping Away
    Good luck to you
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
    Click here to take Ray's class.
    Click here to buy Ray's books.
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member
    njtommy said:

    Ive been a commercial HVACR tech for over 10 years now. I did a little bit of residential before that. Commercial work is definitely more challenging and has a lot more heavy lifting. It's also more complicated, but it all will start to make sense within a couple years. Studying is also good or any type of trade related books, but if you've never seen the equipment or parts first hand it's some times hard to understand how things work. I would try and find a job with a local company even its only has a parts driver or shop guy. That will give you good experience see what parts are first hand.



    Just realize this trade is generally not for those who only like to work 40 hours a week. Plains will always get ruined it's bound to happen while being stock on a job.



    Dont be afraid to ask questions and keep your ears and eyes open.



    Not everyone in this field is willing to help. Some guys have no interest in training other guys. It's just how they are.



    Good luck

    Thanks for the advice!
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member

    I would urge you to consider Dan's books. The following are must have books: Lost art of Steam Heating, Classic Hydronics, Pumping Away
    Good luck to you

    Yup, plan on buying them FOR SURE.
    JUGHNE said:

    Again, learn electrical. Electrical was my schooling and stepping into the HVAC arena was much easier with that background.

    Today, when talking shop with HVAC peers who just learned on their own many are electrically challenged and have to troubleshoot electrical problems by trial and error. (gets expensive)

    And if you read here, you are aware of the shortage of techs, especially in steam heating. (that need will depend with the area of course).
    For me this site is just like going to school every day......I read probably 75% of every posting and the responses.
    What is your current occupation IIMA.

    Great advice..School starts in the fall, so I'm going to be studying the electrical concepts ahead of time so I have a decent grasp before I take my first class. I currently own a small call center, telemarketing/customer service. My job entails HR/Computers/Training/Payroll/management/team building/General office work..Owned it for 12 years and ready to move on to something I'm more passionate about with a little more job security.
  • Dave H_2Dave H_2 Posts: 371Member
    Also, take advantage of the "system"

    What I mean is find those people in your neck of the woods and listen. Find the right rep firm and wholesaler and manufacturers and then understand the relationship and how it all works.
    They are not out to just sell you something. Find that person(s). Alot of us have spent our entire lives to tech support and mentoring. And when someone finds us and listens, all we want to do is to continue that process and make you as good as you want to be.

    Dave H.
    Dave H
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member
    edited February 2017
    Dave H said:

    Also, take advantage of the "system"

    What I mean is find those people in your neck of the woods and listen. Find the right rep firm and wholesaler and manufacturers and then understand the relationship and how it all works.
    They are not out to just sell you something. Find that person(s). Alot of us have spent our entire lives to tech support and mentoring. And when someone finds us and listens, all we want to do is to continue that process and make you as good as you want to be.

    Dave H.

    Thanks Dave.. I intend on finding those people, and learning as much as possible. If the folks on this forum are any representation of the HVAC community as a whole, I'm very, very excited. To me, it seems like an exceptional community of people passionate about their work and willing to teach! Also seems like the learning never stops either..Love it.
  • GWGW Posts: 3,526Member
    Good for you!

    Lots of people become good at this, fewer become very good. You know how you have general practitioners in the MD field, then you have specialists? The specialist have more experience at certain disciplines.

    If you want to be very good, once you get a foundation, check out national comfort institute,a and comfort institute. I've spent many weeks between the two.

    To be very good it's gonna take years and years, 10 plus but the leaning never stops. Anyone who thinks they know everything is a knucklehead. You've got ac, water boilers, steam boilers, gas combustion (find Jim Davis, it's a must), oil burner service, sheet metal fabrication, plumbing (water heaters, domestic water lines, knowing where to connect condensate), duct work diagnosis (static pressure issues) with NCI, whole home energy diagnosis ( blower door, duct blaster) with CI, water treatment for boilers, control diagnostics (Tim McElwaine here on the wall, i spent a week with him years ago).

    Installing:
    Some dudes can't install pipes straight to save their lives, can't solder a fitting, can't see in 3D when installing a new system. An installer that thinks about service down the road as he is installing is above average

    You may need to bounce around as a helper because it's rare that companies are good at different disciplines. Heck I started out as a plumber. That's not a bad thing, I know mountains of stuff an HVAC guy doesn't. I just can't fix a clapped out, clunked out system as well as some furnace and ac guys. And I'm very content with that fact. My company installs more new systems than we install compressors and heat exchangers.

    Here's some philosophy to wrap this up. Do you drive a clapped out beater or something safe and modern? Yes that was rhetorical, no need to answer. Do your future customers have crank windows and no ac in their cars? So my point is don't try to save every piece of poo you come across. Get your customers educated and get them into a modern HVAC sysyem, at least discuss the options.


    Gary
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • lchmblchmb Posts: 2,960Member
    only word of advice I can offer...never allow someone to talk you into doing something unsafe "to help them out". Never jump a safety, never shortcut on venting, never "patch" a heat exchanger to get them through. Yes they may be cold, but they'll be alive to complain...
  • Solid_Fuel_ManSolid_Fuel_Man Posts: 1,879Member
    Absolutly true @lchmb the only and I mean only time you can bypass a safety such as a high limit, low water cutoff, etc is for troubleshooting purposes. And that applies only when you are there-onsite-looking-at-the-equipment. If you leave for any reason, turn it off!

    We in the HVAC feild have to be good detectives, collect evidence, come up with a working theory, test your theory, then test your theory. If it proves true, then change the parts necessary, clean up, test once again to confirm, and send a bill.

    Also I highly recommend reading Caleffi's idronics series. One of my favorite reads :smiley:
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • LeonardLeonard Posts: 874Member
    edited February 2017
    Commendable that your studying electricity before you go to school, that will help you understand things in school. One thing I'ld recommend is ask the school what's a good book to read to learn electricity at the level you'll need to know it at. Some books are written for only changing a wall light switch or outlet, others on a higher level.

    Also good that the book not need extra info from instructor, so you can learn on your own. Sometimes you get workbooks that need extra info from instructor to fully understand them.

    At school also pay attention to the fundamentals, like electricity, electronics, plumbing, refrigeration basics. The basics won't change in 30 years even though the equipment will.

    Len
    MSME
  • HVACNUTHVACNUT Posts: 2,838Member
    I work for a company that services the 1%ers on eastern Long Island NY with their 30k sq ft summer homes.
    The point being, not only do you need to know your trade, but be neat and reliable. First time clients frequently meet the tech outside to get a feel of who they're dealing with. The inside of my service van is organized with everything in its place. No clutter on the floor etc. Its goes a long way in the eyes of a customer.Every day is a new learning experience so absorb all you can.
    Most of all, love what you do.
    Good luck!
  • Mad Dog_2Mad Dog_2 Posts: 3,456Member
    Read, read, read. Then, just get in there to put theories and concepts to work. Good luck kid! Welcome to the club. Mad Dog
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Posts: 4,334Member
    I have written 35 manuals covering all phases of both hydronics and warm air systems and controls along with gas related material. If I can be of some assistance contact me at [email protected] or 401-437-0557.
  • FredFred Posts: 8,274Member
    Take a page from all the kind words, great advice and generosity you are getting from the Pros here. Pay it forward whenever, wherever the opportunity presents itself. It costs nothing to say a kind word, offer support and be that example for others you meet on your journey and in your new profession.
  • steamfittersteamfitter Posts: 161Member
    Dan Holohan's books and Caleffi idronics are great sources. Also, Taco flopro videos and literature are good.
    There is so much info online today to choose from. Sometimes it is easy to find much visual help by just going to the image section of Google.
    May I suggest looking up any specific info on systems by using government websites. The DOE, U.S. Dept. of Energy has a boatload of information on many HVAC subjects. ASHRAE, American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers is another valuable source.
    New technologies are not only interesting, but the wave of the future. Don't hesitate to learn about them right away. (Geothermal, Chilled Beams, Variable Refrigerant Flow systems, etc.)
    Have fun and best of luck!
  • ktully1973ktully1973 Posts: 12Member
    I wouldn't enroll in a two year program, you just need to get your certifications. Where I live in PA the community college offers a accelerated evening program. I got my EPA card and HVAC certificate in about eight months. If you can start applying for jobs in the field ASAP. One the job training is the best.
  • BigErlBigErl Posts: 27Member
    Look into any licensing/apprenticeship requirements your state or local government may have for performing HVAC work. If your end goal is to have your own HVAC business, you don't want to be done with your HVAC program after 2 years and then find out you need x amount of years of W-2s from an HVAC company to take a licensing exam when you could have been accumulating those hours while going to school.
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member
    Wow, you guys are awesome! Just floored by the support on this forum. More reassurance I've picked the right career. Just hope I get accepted into the program! Are apprenticeships still common these days? And do many companies hire HVAC techs that are still in school so they can simultaneously get the "on the job" training?
  • GWGW Posts: 3,526Member
    I'm unsure how many companies hire you as a full scale technician with two years of Tech school. I went to a 4 year voke high school and when I finally got to the real world I was shocked, but whatever I was a young kid too. You may need to ride shotgun for a year or so.

    Another Lil tip, listen more than you talk when you land your first job. You very well may know a certain topic better than your future superior, but how you present yourself is key

    But I must say it's sure a good feeling when you catch up to or better yet surpass your future mentor

    Keep at it
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • GWGW Posts: 3,526Member
    Oh apprenticeship is more of a licensing term than traditional term. I was an apprentice in my plumbing days, then I got journeyman license
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • DZoroDZoro Posts: 1,019Member
    I'm also in Northern WI, I would be interested in talking with you, let me know if you wish. It would be a pleasure to train a person with drive and motivation. Yes learn electrical, and this site is awesome, I'm a 25 yr veteran and learning daily!
  • smithfansmithfan Posts: 91Member
    edited February 2017
    Dennis said:

    I'm also in Northern WI, I would be interested in talking with you, let me know if you wish. It would be a pleasure to train a person with drive and motivation. Yes learn electrical, and this site is awesome, I'm a 25 yr veteran and learning daily!

    Wow, small world!!! I actually meet with the program instructor tomorrow and then the school counselor on Friday.

    After that, I just wait to hear if I'm accepted! I'm personally ready to for any hands on training I can get before school starts in the fall, and would be humbled at any opportunity to do so. I'll be in touch :)
  • my advice is similar to the others. keep your eyes and ears open to new techniques as well as the tried and true methods that have worked for decades. if you don't understand what to do, ASK what to do until you fully understand. I learned my trade from guys who came out of WW2 and Korea. they weren't long on patience, short on praise, but they cared about their craft, doing the job right, and you'd ask them why are we doing this this way, and lots of times they didn't know, they'd just say "shut up and do it the way I showed you!" Don't worry, the day will come in some class you take or book you'll read, it'll click, and then you'll say "that's why we are doing it that way!"
    after 45+ years at this I feel like Marley's ghost in the Christmas Carol, "I bear the chains I forged in life." I mean my back, my neck, my arms, my knees, etc., all hurt. keep yourself in shape. Don't bust a gut or get a hernia when there is equipment at hand to make the job easier.
    Lastly, share what you've learned with a newbie, give him or her a leg up on a very fulfilling career.

  • bruce_21bruce_21 Posts: 236Member
    Study Physics, everything we do is Physics, get the fundamental Laws down in your mind and the applications (which keep changing ever more rapidly these days) will take care of themselves. Troubleshooting systems and designing new ones requires an ability to picture the whole operation at once and see it functioning and how the parts interact. Take some Art and drawing classes to build up your fundamental visualization skills. You may have to go to another community college if the tech school only focuses on the trade specific stuff. Good Luck to you.
  • LanceLance Posts: 141Member
    By 1970 while in high school I finally got it, I was in charge of my education and future. In 1974 while attending college, I worked the odd jobs for a construction firm. Ditch digger, haul concrete, etc. My boss liked me. I worked profitably for him. Eventually I was taught most everything there was to building a home. But I was still in school for a Psych major, & business law, economics. So when the company decided to change and buy a different business I was given an opportunity / decision to make. They would pay my training but I had to decide what I needed to be trained in to fit the business as I would be part of the business future.
    The company purchased was plumbing & hydronic heat. The first decision made was to expand the company adding HVAC, electrical, etc. to insure year round sales.
    I determined the required training, licensing & experience. I apprenticed with a master plumber/ gasfitter, required by local authorities for license. Apprentice license registered the hours to the county. I took a gas fitter course with the utility. Who better to learn it from? Our industry is run by codes I took a code class for plumbing. There was no hvac license back then. I found no one willing to train. It was a home improvement licensed which simply taught sales contract regulations so I got a home improvement license. I needed sheet metal, refrigeration, electrical, controls, and plumbing knowledge. I needed skill sets for brazing, welding, most anything dealing with the industry. I enrolled simultaneously in two different 4 year night schools; ABC and PHCC. To get A/C training I went to several factory classes. Best money ever spent. I found out quickly the people in the trade, 80% did it wrong. Today about 60%-70% get it right. Sadly you only need to be right 70% of the time to get licensed. Customers want us right 100% of the time.
    I needed 8600 Hours to become a Journeyman. At the end of 5 years, I had my Journeyman plumbing gasfitter licenses and 2 years later my Masters.
    My plan was to become a master of my trades. Along the way I sought specialty training in electric, controls, oil, propane, duct design, air balancing, and areas. Little did I realize our ever evolving industry would keep part of me in class. Today I work with all fuels, (except nuclear), most all methods of delivering or moving, water, steam, air, heat energy, electrical energy, and still do the occasional concrete work, wall work, road work, drive and operate most any kind of building tool or machinery. Go figure. Half of this training was planned; the other was part curiosity or job necessity.
    Most important I took charge of and developed me. Today I own two companies, have a great reputation & teach others. I had three who completed their apprenticeship with me and eventually became Masters and built their own companies. This is a trade that works best by the indentured servitude / apprentice model.
    Big or small this field is profitable & recession proof. Unfortunately the learning curve is steeper than ever. Changes are more rapid in equipment. One may have to specialize more but not too much. The more talent the more employable the more sellable you are.
    Loss of personal time was a huge sacrifice for me. This career is best started when you are young, live with parents, not be involved with a spouse and kids. No one wins by just showing up. The neat thing is you just have to do a little every day. Master the skills and grow forward.
    Unlike my college mates I was not strapped with a large debt. None at all actually. I did not fall into some trade school trap that cost 10K or more but did not fully teach what we need to know. One cannot learn this trade from a book. And if the code book is not part of the book list well they are not serious about you succeeding.
    It must be experienced, skills learned and practiced to perfection. Imagine graduating from baseball school never throwing or batting a ball. You know all the physics, but….
    As a person starting this late in the trade, it is best you learn what is needed the most and learn that first. A contractor will pay you if he can sell your skills. The tools you need and how to use them are important. I was taught the first most important tool is the one between the 6 inches of your ears.
    My last class I took was end of last year. My next is in another month. I am 62 Years young.


  • kkrrjrkkrrjr Posts: 12Member
    Can't add much to the above posts. But what I loved about the business was the, sometimes not quite so 'instant', gratification - Troubleshooting. To see the system, find the problem and get it back to proper operation is the most fun in working in HVAC. And it's not just in service work, you can do it in design, too.
    You will need all the new systems knowledge but don't forget the old. Find a mentor like mine who said - the worst thing you can do is take your knowledge and expreience to the grave. Use this person as the basis for your learning while getting all the modern abilities you'll need for our constantly evolving industry.
    And one basic hint - Steam, water, electricity and most everything else take the easiest path they can find.
    Have fun - you're gonna love it.
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