Modern furnaces and air conditioners incorporate a variety of high-tech components to provide exceptional comfort and low operating costs. These improvements are reflected in rising efficiency ratings and enhanced features. In fact, a new 17 SEER air conditioner can save up to 30 percent on annual cooling costs when compared to a 12 SEER unit installed in the mid 2000s.

The Role of the HVAC Service Technician

Heating and cooling units endure a great deal of stress and wear in extreme weather conditions. The equipment must be serviced regularly to continue operating at peak performance and avoid an unexpected breakdown. When furnace and AC repairs are required, the technician should have a thorough understanding of the refrigeration cycle and heating process. Unfortunately, most states do not have certification requirements for HVAC technicians. In many instances, a person is only required to pay a nominal registration fee and agree to train under the supervision of a qualified contractor.

The pathway for aspiring technicians often begins by engaging in unskilled activities like installing duct systems and running refrigerant lines. This is a key part of the learning process where the apprentice gains valuable hands-on experience while immersed in the fundamentals of the trade. Jobsite work is important, but the value of the training is largely dependent on the skill and knowledge of the supervisor. The lack of consistent national standards allows for a wide disparity in the skill level of technicians employed by different companies.

Formal Educational Opportunities

Those looking for a career in HVAC service can pursue a variety of industry-specific opportunities offered by community colleges and vocational schools. Formal classes cover basic concepts including equipment removal, proper equipment cycling, refrigeration physics and system testing. Higher level courses cover subjects like essential troubleshooting and fundamental equipment repairs.

Recognized apprenticeship programs are offered through high profile industry organizations such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the National Association of Plumbing Heating and Cooling Contractors (NAPHCC). Many HVAC companies understand the value of formal training and compensate their apprentice technicians for educational expenses.

Understanding the NATE-Certification Process

The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) organization was established in 1997. NATE is the largest independent agency focused on technician certification for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry. Applicants who earn a NATE certificate have demonstrated an advanced knowledge of HVAC related concepts including equipment repair, maintenance and installation.

NATE administrators have developed an array of comprehensive tests that cover virtually every industry discipline. The tests are designed to determine the level of working knowledge the technician has in the following areas:

* Gas Furnaces
* Air Conditioners
* Heat Pumps
* Light Commercial Refrigeration
* Hydronic Systems
* Oil Furnaces
* Commercial Refrigeration
* Air Distribution Systems
* HVAC Efficiency Analysis

NATE is controlled and governed by the HVAC/R industry as a collective entity. There are currently over 30,000 NATE certified service technicians nationwide. Each one of them helps to advance the image of the HVAC industry as they demonstrate their skill, professionalism and knowledge to consumers on a daily basis.

Always Choose a NATE Certified Technician

Quality HVAC contractors always maintain a full staff of NATE certified technicians in their service departments. For air conditioning and heating service, the NATE logo is your assurance that every repair will be completed efficiently, effectively and honestly. That is why almost 90 percent of homeowners surveyed said they would prefer to have a NATE certified technician repair or replace their HVAC system.

When a service tech is NATE certified, the consumer enjoys numerous benefits including:

* Peace of Mind: Certified technicians have the ability to identify minor issues before they can affect system performance. Advanced training helps determine the most cost effective solution for every heating and cooling challenge, and each system is tested, evaluated and tuned for better comfort and efficiency.

* Reduced Equipment Downtime: Some technicians lack the training to accurately diagnose malfunctioning equipment, which leads to extended downtime and higher repair costs. NATE certified techs typically locate the worn parts and repair the unit in a single visit.

* Longer Equipment Lifecycle: Since their knowledge is extensive, technicians with NATE certification can offer authoritative recommendations that will help reduce wear and stress on vital system components. Proper maintenance by a qualified technician can help extend the service life of your equipment.

There are several other heating and cooling technician certification programs available, but most are not recognized by the major HVAC industry organizations. Many of these independent programs have a very high pass rate, and the thoroughness of the training is suspect. NATE’s testing procedures and exacting standards serve to quickly separate the knowledgeable applicants from those who require further training and education.

Insist on a NATE-Certified Technician

There is nothing more aggravating than a furnace or air conditioner malfunction, especially in severe weather. Before you select an HVAC contractor, make sure they only employ NATE certified service technicians.