Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are crucial to maintaining a comfortable and healthy environment within buildings, from private residences to the largest of skyscrapers and commercial buildings. These systems are installed, repaired and maintained by skilled technicians, usually referred to as HVAC techs. HVAC techs can learn on the job through informal mentoring or formal apprenticeships, but as systems grow more complex formal training is increasingly common. HVAC technicians enjoy one of the better blue-collar pay scales.
In its May 2011 Occupational Employment Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average wages of $21.89 per hour, or $45,540 per year, for HVAC technicians. The pay scale in this trade is broad, with the lowest-earning 10 percent of technicians reporting incomes of up to $12.89 per hour or $26,810 per year, while the highest-earning 10 percent earned wages of $33.10 per hour, or $68,840 per year, or higher. Their median income was $20.86 per hour, or $43,380 per year.
Technician salaries are determined in large part by their choice of workplace. Building contractors are by far the largest employer of HVAC technicians, paying a national average of $44,370 per year. Direct-sales outlets are the second-largest employer, at an average of $47,360 per year. HVAC equipment wholesalers are the third-largest employer, paying an average of $48,950 per year. Power generation utilities were the highest-paying employers in the country, at an average wage of $70,920 per year. Car-parts and aerospace manufacturers also paid well, averaging $64,610 and $64,580 per year, respectively.
Wages are higher in some states than others, owing to variations in living cost or local levels of demand for HVAC technicians. The bureau's figures show Alaska's wages to be the highest in the country, averaging $61,660 per year. The District of Columbia has the second-highest wages at $59,090 per year, while New Jersey is third at an average of $55,560 per year. Massachusetts and Connecticut round out the five highest-paying states. At the other end of the scale Mississippi has the lowest average wage in the country, at $34,560 per year. West Virginia and Kentucky are next, at $35,670 and $35,620 per year, with Arkansas and Alabama also in the lowest five.
As long as new buildings are being constructed, or older buildings upgraded, employment prospects will remain strong for HVAC technicians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 34 percent job growth between 2010 and 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the economy continues to rebound from the recession of 2008 and 2009, building starts will increase and with them, work for HVAC technicians. Many older buildings will also require upgrades and retrofits, either because their existing systems have reached the end of their planned lifespan or because they no longer meet environmental standards.