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How to became a HVAC Engineer

Updated: Mar 14

How to became a HVAC Engineer

Introduction to HVAC Engineering

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) engineering is an exciting and growing field focused on the design and maintenance of thermal comfort and air quality systems. HVAC engineers work on everything from small residential units to the vast climate control systems integral to skyscrapers and industrial facilities. Their job responsibilities relate to indoor air quality, energy efficiency, mechanical systems, and beyond.

HVAC technology dates back centuries, with early civilizations implementing passive designs that cooled and ventilated indoor spaces. The advent of mechanical systems increased climate control capabilities exponentially, especially in the 20th century as electricity became widespread. Modern HVAC engineering yields incredible control over indoor environment - vital for health, productivity, and comfort.

HVAC engineers fill a crucial role in constructing and maintaining much of the built environment. Their expertise ensures occupants can live and work in safe, comfortable spaces with good air quality. HVAC systems profoundly impact energy use, making optimization key for environmental sustainability and cost savings. With global infrastructure expanding rapidly, skilled HVAC engineers are essential for properly outfitting new constructions. Their integration of HVAC principles into architecture, construction, and beyond is integral to modern society.

Educational Requirements

To become an HVAC engineer, you will need to complete substantial coursework in engineering along with hands-on training.

The first step is earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical or HVAC engineering. In these programs, you will take courses that cover topics like:

  • Thermodynamics - Understanding how thermal energy transfers between systems

  • Fluid mechanics - Studying liquids and gases in motion and how they exert forces

  • Heat transfer - Learning how thermal energy moves from one object or system to another

  • HVAC design - Gaining skills in designing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration systems

Many programs also include classes in areas like mathematics, physics, computer-aided design (CAD), electronics, and more. Coursework may include a mix of traditional classroom lectures, lab sessions, and interactive projects.

In addition to a bachelor's degree, HVAC engineers can pursue voluntary certifications and licenses which are not always required but can improve job prospects. These include:

  • LEED certification - Demonstrates your knowledge of sustainable HVAC design

  • Professional Engineer (PE) license - Allows you to approve design plans and offer services directly to the public

  • NATE certification - Validates your expertise in installing and servicing HVAC systems

When researching schools, look for ABET-accredited engineering programs that will set you up for a successful career as an HVAC engineer. Hands-on learning opportunities like internships are also highly recommended.

Skills Needed to Succeed as an HVAC Engineer

To thrive and advance in the field of HVAC engineering, you'll need a diverse set of technical, interpersonal, and analytical skills.

Technical Skills

  • Understand the fundamentals of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer. These form the scientific foundation of HVAC engineering.

  • Proficiency using computer-aided design (CAD) software to create system designs and blueprints. Know programs like Revit, AutoCAD and Solidworks.

  • Ability to accurately size HVAC equipment and determine airflow, refrigerant piping and ductwork needs.

  • Knowledge of building codes, safety standards, and environmental regulations relating to HVAC systems.

  • Experience with tools like psychrometric charts, load calculators and building automation systems.

  • Hands-on troubleshooting skills to diagnose and repair problems with HVAC equipment.

Interpersonal Skills

  • Communication skills to confer with clients, explain proposals, and provide oversight on projects.

  • Collaborative abilities to work effectively with other engineers, architects, technicians and construction crews.

  • Listening skills to truly understand the client's goals, building requirements and budget constraints.

  • Project management skills to deliver projects on time and on budget.

Analytical Skills

  • Critical thinking to choose optimal HVAC solutions for different scenarios.

  • Math skills for calculations involved in load analysis, equipment sizing, material requirements, budgeting and more.

  • Attention to detail when evaluating building specs, creating blueprints and monitoring project progress.

  • Resourcefulness to find creative solutions to complex technical challenges.

Day In The Life Of An HVAC Engineer

An HVAC engineer's daily responsibilities can vary greatly depending on their specific role and the projects they are working on. However, some typical duties may include:

  • Conducting site visits and surveys to analyze the heating, cooling, and ventilation needs of clients. This may involve inspecting buildings, taking measurements, and assessing equipment.

  • Creating technical drawings and documents that specify the HVAC systems and components required for a project. This is usually done with CAD software and engineering modeling tools. The engineer must map out ductwork, equipment locations, piping, control systems, and other details.

  • Sizing and selecting the proper HVAC equipment needed for a space, such as air conditioning units, furnaces, heat pumps, chillers, air handlers, fans, etc. They must consider factors like building size, climate, usage, codes, efficiency, cost, etc.

  • Performing calculations and simulations to analyze the thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid flow, and energy efficiency of HVAC designs. This may be done by hand or with building information modeling (BIM) software.

  • Writing specifications, cost estimates, bid documents, reports, and manuals related to HVAC projects and equipment. Clear technical writing skills are crucial.

  • Overseeing the installation, testing, and balancing of HVAC systems to ensure proper performance. Commissioning a system for initial operation is a big responsibility.

  • Providing expertise and technical guidance to tradespeople, clients, and other parties involved in the construction process regarding HVAC systems.

  • Staying up-to-date with the latest codes, regulations, technologies, and industry practices that impact the design and integration of HVAC systems in buildings.

While some time is spent in the office, HVAC engineers must also be comfortable doing field work at construction sites where they can directly observe and troubleshoot equipment installations and issues. They split their time between hands-on project site work, design and analytical work, meetings with clients and tradespeople, and drafting and documenting their engineering plans and assessments.

Career Advancement

There are many opportunities for career advancement as an HVAC engineer. Here are some of the common paths:

Entry-Level Roles

Most HVAC engineers start their careers in entry-level roles such as HVAC technician, installer, or junior design engineer. These roles allow you to gain hands-on experience and develop your technical skills. With 1-2 years of experience, you may be promoted to HVAC design engineer or project engineer.

Management Positions

With 6-8 years of experience, HVAC engineers can move into management positions such as project manager, engineering manager, or department head. These roles involve leading teams, overseeing projects, and managing budgets. Strong leadership skills are essential.

Engineering Certifications

There are various HVAC certifications that can help engineers advance their careers:

  • Professional Engineer (PE) license - Requires passing the PE exam and 4 years of experience. Can lead to higher level engineering and management roles.

  • LEED certification - Helps HVAC engineers demonstrate expertise in green building practices. Useful for sustainability-focused roles.

  • Certified Energy Manager (CEM) - Granted by the Association of Energy Engineers. Valuable for energy-efficiency focused HVAC roles.

Continuing education and specialization in fields like green technology or refrigeration technology can also open doors to more senior-level positions. Overall, HVAC engineers have excellent advancement potential to supervisory, managerial and leadership roles.

Job Outlook for HVAC Engineers

The job outlook for HVAC engineers is very promising, with strong demand and excellent projected growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for mechanical engineers, including HVAC engineers, is projected to grow 9% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Several factors are contributing to the solid job growth for HVAC engineers:

  • Population growth and rising standards of living around the world are increasing demand for HVAC systems in residential, commercial and industrial facilities. HVAC engineers will be needed to design advanced HVAC and refrigeration systems to meet this demand.

  • There is an increasing need to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. This requires upgrading older HVAC systems and designing more sustainable technologies. HVAC engineers play a key role in developing innovative solutions.

  • New technologies and government regulations continue to drive advances in HVAC system design. Engineers are needed to integrate emerging technologies like smart HVAC controls, as well as meet changing building codes and emissions standards.

  • The growing complexity of HVAC systems creates demand for specialized engineering expertise. Fewer companies have "generalist" engineers - instead they seek engineers focused specifically on HVAC.

  • HVAC engineering services are less vulnerable to economic downturns than many other industries. Buildings always need HVAC systems designed and maintained regardless of market conditions.

Overall, excellent job opportunities are expected for HVAC engineers due to rising demand coupled with average growth projections. Job prospects should be best for engineers specializing in areas like energy efficiency, emerging technologies, and environmentally sustainable design.

Average Salary

The average salary for HVAC engineers in the United States is around $80,000 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, salaries can vary significantly based on factors like location, education, experience, and type of employer.

The typical salary range for HVAC engineers at different experience levels is:

  • Entry-level: $50,000 - $65,000

  • Mid-career: $65,000 - $95,000

  • Experienced: $95,000 - $120,000

Some of the key factors that can affect HVAC engineering salaries include:

  • Geographic location - Engineers in major metropolitan areas and cities with a high cost of living tend to earn higher salaries. The top paying states are California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York.

  • Education and certifications - Engineers with advanced degrees or specialized HVAC certifications can command higher salaries. Some certifications like Professional Engineer (PE) licensing are required for managerial/senior roles.

  • Industry - Engineers in industries like pharmaceuticals, oil/gas, technology and construction tend to earn higher average salaries than those in other industries.

  • Type of employer - In general, large multinational firms, engineering consulting firms and the federal government tend to pay HVAC engineers higher salaries than smaller companies or local firms.

  • Experience level - As engineers gain more work experience designing, installing and maintaining HVAC systems, their salaries increase accordingly. Senior-level engineers can make well over $100,000 per year.

Overall the future job growth and earning potential make HVAC engineering an attractive career path, especially for those with aptitude in math, science, technology, and design. With the right education and experience, six-figure salaries are reachable for many HVAC engineers.

Finding Jobs as an HVAC Engineer

When it comes to finding job opportunities as an HVAC engineer, there are several effective strategies and resources to leverage.

Top Companies to Work For

Some of the best companies to work for as an HVAC engineer include:

  • Carrier - A leading company in the HVAC industry, Carrier offers job opportunities across the world for HVAC design engineers. They are known for their competitive salaries and excellent training programs.

  • Trane - Another leader in the HVAC field, Trane has job openings globally and is seen as a stable, reputable company. Trane provides good work-life balance for engineers.

  • Johnson Controls - This company specializes in building efficiency and automation. They hire HVAC engineers to work on innovative projects for commercial buildings.

  • Jacobs Engineering Group - Jacobs is a large engineering firm working in various industries. They have opportunities for HVAC engineers in the building systems division.

  • AECOM - A multinational engineering firm, AECOM hires HVAC engineers to work on large-scale construction and renovation projects.

Job Boards and Resources

Some of the top job boards and resources for finding HVAC engineering roles include:

  • Built In - Has job listings for startups and tech companies hiring HVAC engineers. Focused on major US cities.

  • CareerBuilder - Features HVAC engineering job openings for various companies and industries. Allows uploading resume to match jobs.

  • Indeed - Large general job board with many HVAC engineer openings that can be searched by location.

  • LinkedIn Jobs - Professional networking site has job listings and allows connecting with HVAC professionals.

  • ASHRAE job board - The professional association for HVAC engineers lists open positions on their site.

Networking Opportunities

Networking can be hugely beneficial for landing HVAC engineering jobs. Consider connecting with other professionals at:

  • ASHRAE and ASME industry events and conferences

  • Your local ASHRAE chapter meetings

  • Industry trade shows like AHR Expo

  • Alumni mixers and events at your college

  • Professional gatherings hosted in your city

  • LinkedIn groups for HVAC engineers

Networking establishes critical connections that could make you top of mind when new opportunities arise.

Pros and Cons of an HVAC Engineering Career


  • Work with cutting edge technology like smart HVAC systems, renewable energy, and automation

  • Opportunity to see projects and designs come to life

  • Solve complex problems that require creative thinking

  • Improve sustainability, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality

  • High earning potential, with experienced engineers making $100K+

  • Job opportunities across industries like construction, manufacturing, commercial real estate, etc

  • Work on a variety of building types from homes to factories to skyscrapers

  • Travel opportunities to inspect job sites and provide on-site expertise


  • Deadline and budget pressures can cause stress

  • Long hours may be required to troubleshoot issues and mistakes

  • Worksites may be loud, hot/cold, or uncomfortable at times

  • Keeping up with changing technologies, codes, and regulations requires continuous learning

  • Licensing and certification processes can be lengthy and costly

  • Expectations to be on call to handle emergencies or equipment failures

  • Stationary desk work designing systems contrasts with active field work

Work-Life Balance

  • Irregular hours and on call responsibilities can disrupt work-life balance

  • Travel to job sites reduces time at home with family

  • High stress periods can be draining and lead to burnout

  • Difficult to disconnect from work fully if accessible by phone/email

  • Health risks from sedentary desk work and computer strain

  • Benefits like flexibility and generous time off help offset challenges

  • Strong time management skills essential for proper work-life balance


If you're motivated to pursue a career as an HVAC engineer, the path ahead is clear. Start by earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a related field. Make sure to take courses in thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and HVAC systems. Consider completing an internship to gain hands-on experience. After graduation, look for entry-level roles as an HVAC design engineer or technician. This is crucial for building up your practical skills.

Aim to get licensed as a professional engineer once you meet your state's requirements. Continue taking classes and training to stay current with the latest technologies and codes. Join industry organizations to build your professional network. With 5+ years of experience, you'll be ready to advance to lead engineering or management positions. Some HVAC engineers even open their own consulting firms.

The most important things are to stay curious, keep learning, and gain as much on-the-job experience as possible starting out. HVAC engineering offers stable job prospects and excellent salary potential. For mechanically-minded people seeking a hands-on, high-paying career, it's an ideal path worth pursuing.

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