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Heating and Cooling Mechanic


We have grown accustomed to having heat in the winter to stay cozy and warm in our homes, and air conditioning in the summer to cool us down. When either appliance breaks, especially during the peak of the winter or summer, we depend on a heating and cooling mechanic to come to the rescue in a quick hurry.

Heating and cooling mechanics install, maintain, repair and overhaul residential, commercial and industrial central air conditioning systems and heating products. They measure and cut piping and connect piping using welding and brazing equipment and also recharge systems with refrigerant gases. Heating and cooling systems consist of many intricate and complex mechanical, electrical, and electronic components such as motors, compressors, pumps, fans, ducts, pipes, thermostats, and switches. For example, in central heating systems, a furnace heats air that is distributed throughout the building via a system of metal or fiberglass ducts.

Heating and cooling mechanics must be able to find their way around a construction site or read a set of blueprints. Besides installation, they may also connect electrical wiring and controls. Before they finish a complete installation, they must test the heater or cooler to make sure it is working properly. Also, they must be able to use and adjust computerized controls and use computer software to calculate loads.

When mechanics get called in for an emergency repair, they need to identify, diagnose, and correct problems throughout the entire system, in a short period of time. To do this kind of high-pressure troubleshooting, they adjust system controls to recommended settings and test the performance of the entire system using special tools and test equipment. Imagine the stress involved when someone's air conditioner breaks down in the middle of the summer and they are counting on the heating and cooling mechanics to cool them off.

After a heating or cooling system has been installed, mechanics often perform routine maintenance and repair work to keep the system operating efficiently. The volume of work depends on the season. During the fall and winter, for example, when the heating system is used most, mechanics service and adjust burners and blowers. If the heating system is not operating properly, they check the thermostat, burner nozzles, controls, or other parts to diagnose and then correct the problem. Over the summer months, air conditioners are the prime systems they work on. In off season for both systems, mechanics will go around and service the heaters and air conditioners by replacing filters and cleaning ducts.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful heating and cooling mechanics need good manual dexterity, and steady hands. Good vision and hand-eye coordination are essential along with having the ability to concentrate on detailed work with a great deal of patience. They must be good troubleshooters and be able to work under stressful conditions. They also enjoy working with people, as they are dealing with clients each and every day.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read and interpret drawings or specifications to determine work to be performed
  • Lay out oil burner heating system components or air conditioning parts and assemble components using hand and power tools
  • Position, install and connect heat and air conditioning components such as control devices and thermostats to motors and electric power outlets
  • Test installed unit and adjust controls for proper functioning
  • Troubleshoot and repair malfunctioning heating and cooling systems
  • Install, maintain and repair coal and wood heating systems and air conditioners
  • Perform scheduled maintenance service on heating and cooling systems
  • Heating and cooling mechanics generally work standard 40-hour weeks, however during the winter months or peak season, they could work up to 12 hours per day. They may be required to work early mornings, evenings and weekends to accommodate client's schedules. Heating and cooling mechanics say their biggest challenge is dealing with the weather as they may be required to work outside in the cold, during the winter to repair heating systems or in the severe heat of the summer time to fix air conditioners.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Heating and cooling mechanics work in heating and cooling systems installation and service companies, appliance service companies, electrical and other repair shops, electrical equipment manufacturers' service shops, maintenance and repair departments of retail, wholesale and manufacturing companies and independent service organizations. Others work for the government, in schools or repair shops.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced heating and cooling mechanics could move into design and layout work or in estimating the cost of installations. They may advance to supervisory positions, or go into business for themselves. With additional training, they can transfer their skills to related occupations such as refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic, machinist, plumber, gas fitter, roofer and insulator.

  Educational Paths  
Heating and cooling mechanics receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all regions to become a heating and cooling mechanic, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training with classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the heating and cooling mechanic with a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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