Heating System Mechanic

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Heating System Mechanic


Before the invention of modern heating systems, imagine how cold houses and buildings were during the winter! People did heat their houses by fires and wood stoves, however one can imagine how people needed to bundle up a bit more. Brrrrr. Also, fires just do not emit the same amount of central heat as newer sophisticated heating systems and furnaces that live in our basements today. Alas, we have grown accustomed to having heat in the winter to stay cozy and warm in our homes. When a heater breaks, especially during the winter, we depend on a heating system mechanic to come to the rescue.

Heating System Mechanics install, maintain, repair and overhaul residential, commercial and industrial heating systems. They measure and cut piping and connect piping using welding and brazing equipment. Examples of heating systems are oil, coal, gas, electric, wood, solid fuel, and multiple-fuel heating systems. Heating 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 system 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 to make sure it is working properly.

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 trouble shooting, 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 heater breaks down in the middle of the winter and they put their faith into your hands to warm them.

After a heating system has been installed, mechanics often perform routine maintenance and repairwork to keep the system operating efficiently. The volume of work depends on the season. During the fall and winter, for example, when the 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 when people do not use their heat, mechanics will go around and service the heaters by replacing filters and cleaning ducts.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful heating system mechanics need good manual dexterity, and a steady hand. Good vision and hand-eye co-ordination are essential along with having the ability to concentrate on detailed work with a great deal of patience. They must be good trouble shooters and be able to work under stressful conditions. They also enjoy working with people, as they are confronted with client's each and everyday.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read and interpret drawings or specifications to determine work to be performed
  • Lay out oil burner heating system components and assemble components using hand and power tools
  • Position, install and connect oil burner 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 oil burners
  • Install, maintain and repair coal and wood heating systems
  • Perform scheduled maintenance service on oil and solid fuel heating systems
  • Heating systems mechanics generally work standard forty-hour weeks, however during the winter months or peak season, they could work up to twelve hours per day. They may be required to work early mornings, evenings and weekends to accommodate client's schedules. Heating 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.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Heating system mechanics work in heating 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 system 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, gasfitter, roofer and insulator.

  Educational Paths  
Heating system 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 states to become a heating system 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 from state to state, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position however wages are about 50% less of what an employer pays the Journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their state industry training and apprenticeship office awards the heating system mechanic 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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