About me Ok i don't have 15 years of experience in the HVAC field. I have only but 3 months field experience. But i do know how to get a start in HVAC fast and properly! I went from working late nights in a kitchen with no mechanical experiance for 12 bucks an hour to being a certified tech (helper more or less) in just 5 1/2 months! Now i'm gaining experience in a field i can advance and i love the hours.
You need EPA certification to work with refrigerants. This is a must have no way around it.
Bust your ass studying, find a place to take the proctored exam, get your EPA. You need a Universal EPA, you need to pass Core, type 1, type 2, type 3. If you miss a section you need to retake the test until you have a universal certificate. Otherwise you are useless to any employer. Test is pretty easy if you read and study!! It took me two try's so don't get bent if you need to go back two or three times.
In the state of New Hampshire (where i live) you need a gas fitters license. This allows you to work with gas piping (natural gas and propane) for heating units and water heaters. I imagine the process is similar in all states, you need to be sponsored by a licensed gas fitter or company. They must sign your paper work with their gas fitters ID number. So be pro-active save the 250 dollars for the license and have the paper work ready to go when you get hired.
Schooling Honestly I would not recommend a corporate tech school doing a 2 year program. I took a few classes at a tech school, they are slow paced, packed with students looking to nickle and dime you forcing you to take English classes and what not. If you search around you could find a private owned school which hopefully would get you up to speed on the basics in 2-3 months. Here is a link to my schools curriculum website to help you aide your choice of schooling.
When choosing a school you want to make sure there is a emphasis on:
EPA Certification and Testing
Basic refrigeration cycle
Basic Components of a Gas System
Sequence of Events, Gas Parameters
Low Voltage Wiring
Recovery, Evacuation, Charging
Superheat and Subcooling Applied
Pressure and Temperature Controls
Soldering and Brazing, Leak Testing
These subjects will give you the basics to apply to what you see (or will see) in the field. Everything else you can learn in the field with your employer. Remember you should want these basics down fast 2-3 months to learn this is more than enough time. If a school wants to take longer than this to cover these topics then they are trying to squeeze dollars from your pocket. You should be looking to spend $5000 +/- 500. (hopefully they will include some tools for you)
Searching for a job If you have your universal EPA. Have finished (or are still attending school) you can look for a job. Make a good resume - keep it short if you have no mechanical background. Your goal here is to get an interview not wow them with you resume because you have no experience! Show you are responsible and hard working on paper and you will land a interview. Keep sending resumes until you get a call back, just keep sending i sent over 75 resumes before i got a call back. Send them even if they are looking for 5+ yrs experience, send if they are not even looking for help! The worst that can happen is you wont get a call back!
Once you make contact for an interview make sure to ask for the company name or website. Do your home work know what and where they are in the industry. Do they do residential a/c installs, commercial, industrial? Does their business match what you picture your self doing 3+ years from now.
Find their office the day before. You don't want to be late because you could not find their office. Go the day before, find it go inside introduce yourself say "Hi, i am ____ i was just stopping in to make sure i had the right building i'm having a interview tomorrow morning." You might even luck out and get a interview right then.
In the interview if you don't know something DON'T LIE! Say I've not learned that or we haven't covered that in class, I'd like to learn it! Let them ask the questions. You are new you don't want to show your wealth of knowledge because honestly you don't know **** and they already know this. Let them find out what they want to know and answear as best you can!
Expect to answear questions such as:
Have you worked with, refrigeration a/cs, coolers? (what can you tell me about how they work?)
Have you worked with gas furnaces? (what can you tell me about how they work)
Have you brazed and solder'd?
Have you worked with sheet metal and duct work?
Very basic questions! Don't go into depth explaining the refrigeration process. Say "hey in class we've we've worked with ac units and coolers. The teachers put "bugs" in them and we trouble shoot them. We use our multi-meters to find electrical problems!" "we use recovery cylinders and units, recovered and re charges units. we use a vaccum pump to check micron levels"
Drop part names - say "last week we looked at furnaces, we learned about inducer fans, re-wired the boards, hook-ed up gas piping. We replaced hot surface ignitors and roll out switches and high limit switches."
Here is the heart breaker unless you're lucky you wont be making 20 dollars an hour to start. Look for something 13-15. Don't get bent if this is low because at this point they are helping you!
Lastly you want to work for a good company. If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, chances are its a duck!! When he/she is done asking questions be ready to have some of your own. For me i asked. "How much commercial/industrial work do you do.? Do you work with chiller systems? Do you work with oil heat? Will i be working with an experience tech if so the same one everyday? What should i expect to wear ex. foot ware?
Look around is their office neat, clean & smelling good. Are their company vehicles in good shape with proper advertising? Remember you want to work for someone who is going to get you good experiance and will let you move forward. You don't want to be working with some hack part changer who wants to cut corners and get call backs everyday.
Tools If you don't have ANY tools at a bare minimum for the first day/week you should show up with: And don't go cheap buy nice stuff!
Steel toe boots ($100)
LED lithium flashlight ($15-20)
10-1 screw driver ($10-15)
Channel locks ($15)
Gloves (less than $10)
The guy your working with should have the proper tools for you to use, if you don't know what something is ask what it is called and how is it use. Take mental notes of what tools get used more often than others write them down and plan to buy them. Plan to buy a lot of tools if i this is the case - look to spend 100-150 a week on tools if you do not have any.
First day The guy your are working with he better like you, and you better like him. He is going to make your future for you, you are his ***** do what he says. If he says clean the truck go above and beyond, clean and organize it. If you are unsure or not comfortable with something your doing just say "hey am i doing this right? can you explain what you want again?" by the 3rd or 4th time you have done something YOU BETTER KNOW IT FOR THE FUTURE.
Remember when you are on his truck you are IN HIS HOUSE treat his tools and things with respect. Put things back where you found them! Don't leave messes sweep and clean up after yourself! If you can clean/organize the truck with out him asking the better and he will notice this.
Watch what he is working on. If you have seen him do this before get the tools for him with out him asking. Your goal here is to make him faster! Hand him the tool he needs before he asks, hand him the part before he needs it. Take out pen and paper write down the model / serial of a part if it needs to be replaced. After a week you should know his habits and prepare for them!
If you don't understand something it is your responsibility to ask, but make sure it is a good time to ask, not when you both are trying to bust ass because you are short on time. Do it right the first time, take the extra minute even when short on time to do it properly!
I hope this helps you get your start in HVAC!