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Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic


Description

Before the invention of air conditioners, imagine how hot buildings were during the summer! Think about those scorching summer days when you sweat through your clothes and dream of being inside an air-conditioned room. What about the pre-refrigeration days, when people had to keep iceboxes cold and try and eat non-perishable food items. Alas, we have grown accustomed to having air-conditioning and refrigeration systems, especially in the summer, to cool us down and chill our foods. When an air conditioner or refrigerator breaks, especially during the peak of the summer, we depend on a refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic to come to the rescue in a hurry.

Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, sometimes called heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians or HVAC technicians, install, maintain, repair and overhaul commercial and residential refrigeration and air conditioning systems. They measure and cut piping and connect piping using welding and brazing equipment and also recharge systems with refrigerant gases. Refrigeration and air conditioning systems consist of many intricate and complex mechanical, electrical, and electronic components such as motors, compressors, pumps, fans, ducts, pipes, thermostats, and switches.

Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics must be able to find their way around a construction site and 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 refrigerator or air conditioner 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 maintain, 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 the air conditioning system in a large office building breaks down in the middle of the summer and hundreds of employees are counting on the refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic to to cool them off. Also, when people's refrigerators break down, they risk losing an entire fridge full of food, which can be expensive to replace.

After an air conditioning system or refrigerator has been installed, mechanics often perform routine maintenance and repair work to keep the system operating efficiently. The volume of work for air conditioners depends on the season, whereas refrigerators break all the time. During the spring and summer, for example, when air conditioning systems are used most, mechanics service and adjust all components. If the air conditioning system is not operating properly, they check the thermostat, burner nozzles, controls, or other parts to diagnose and then correct the problem.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$21,507
 
Median Salary:
$34,902
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$54,496

  Interests and Skills  
Successful refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics need good manual dexterity, and a steady hand. 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 confronted 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 air conditioning components such as control devices, thermostats, motors, gauges and electric power outlets using condensers and compressors
  • 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
  • Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics generally work standard 40-hour weeks, however during the summer 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. Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics say their biggest challenge is dealing with the weather as they may be required to work outside in the heat, during the summer to fix air conditioners or refrigerators.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics work in air conditioning systems installation and service companies, appliance refrigeration 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 refrigeration and air conditioning 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 mechanic, heating systems mechanic, machinist, plumber, gasfitter, roofer and insulator.
 

  Educational Paths  
Refrigeration and air conditioning 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 areas to become a refrigeration and air conditioning 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 and 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 refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic with a certificate of completion.
 

Sources:
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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