How to Become an HVAC Technician or Mechanic in Canada
Heat up your career prospects, while staying cool under pressure, as a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning expert.
Ever tried to endure a Canadian winter without a solid heating system? No, we haven't either. No wonder HVAC technicians are so important all across the country!
HVAC is an abbreviation for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. HVAC experts might be called HVAC technicians or HVAC mechanics, but either way, they're the people who keep the warm and cold air flowing, right where you need it to be. You may also see the field called HVACR — to include "refrigeration," another cornerstone of HVAC life.
On average, HVAC techs can expect to earn around $65,000 per year, and that's not accounting for overtime or seniority and experience. Plus, HVAC mechanics are often unionized, so you can rely on workplace protections as you grow your career.
HVAC is another of the many trades across Canada that will require new workers in the coming years. Training to become an HVAC technician only takes a short time, so you could start your career almost before you know it! Here's how to become an HVAC technician or mechanic in Canada.
Step 1: Getting an HVAC education
If you weren't born in a furnace, you'll need some formal training to ensure you've got the chops to work as an HVAC technician. No experience in the HVAC realm? Going to school is your best bet for getting into the industry.
Chances are this will mean a college program somewhere in Canada, likely at the diploma level. Many colleges with a trades department will offer programs in "HVAC techniques," "HVAC technician," or "HVAC technology" (or "technologist"). So what's the difference?
Techniques, technicians, technologists
In some cases you'll see programs listed with "techniques," "technician," or "technology" in the name. While these programs will cover similar material, they vary in length. "Technique" certificates may only last a year. "Technician" programs usually take two years, while "technology" (or "technologist") programs can take up to three years.
You may be able to start school with a one-year "technique" certificate, then build upon it for a second or even third year if you want to deepen your knowledge before entering the HVAC industry.
The third and final year, for those taking "technology" programs, offers more in-depth teaching around the theory and operation of HVAC systems. This isn't mandatory, by any means — you'll be perfectly able to start your career as an HVAC tech if you take a two-year "technician" program.
Getting admission to an HVAC program
Most HVAC technician or technologist programs require a high school diploma, with English and math at the grade 12 level. Depending on the school, you may be able to get entry as a "mature student," or a transfer student from another college or university.
While you take your program, you may also want to explore apprenticeship.
Step 2: Getting an apprenticeship
Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics are part of the Red Seal trades — as are gasfitters, in most provinces. (There's some overlap in duties between these two trades.) Earning your Red Seal will let you work as an HVAC tech all across the country!
HVAC techs who undergo an apprenticeship have the opportunity to earn more money over the course of their careers, so it's a worthwhile path for those who are dedicated to this field.
Residential vs commercial apprenticeship
Apprenticeship length varies depending on your goals. If you want to work primarily in people's homes, you can go the residential route, which in Ontario takes about two years. Alternatively, you can choose the commercial route, which takes five years, and gives you access to more work opportunities.
Becoming an apprentice means working alongside an expert in the trade, called a "journeyperson," learning from them and doing as they do. You'll soak up their expertise as you face real-world challenges that HVAC technicians face every day. Plus, you'll get paid for your work: roughly $40,000 in your first year, up to $80,000 or more in your fifth (for commercial apprentices). Wages rise each year of your training!
Of course, it's a lot of hard work! You'll need four or five years of training — apprenticeship requires 9,000 hours of experience in Ontario. About 1,200 of those hours will be in school: depending on your college, you may do several weeks at a time, full-time, or you may attend once a week. You'll want to speak with your program coordinator and your journeyperson to work out a schedule.
You'll do three or four "levels" of apprenticeship, with increasing complexity as you rise up the ranks. Overall, you'll earn anywhere from 7,200 hours of experience — including training and field work — up to 9,800 in Quebec.
Not everyone who applies for apprenticeship will get the opportunity. Building relationships with people in the field may help you secure a spot.
Step 3: Safety exams and further training
You don't necessarily need to become an apprentice to work in HVAC. Graduates from college programs can get further training through HRAI, the Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, a membership body that offers tools to test your HVAC knowledge, and runs frequent sessions on topics of special interest to HVAC experts.
HVAC workers in Ontario can explore further training and certification through the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, where you'll find study guides for various certifications.
Having more training and certifications completed may help you earn a better salary down the line!
Step 4: Working as an HVAC technician in Canada
HVAC workers may be employed by small businesses or large corporations, and some may work independently. If you're not an apprentice with connections to journeypersons in the field, you'll want to check out job boards to find a role for you. Here's a few options:
The median salary for HVAC techs is roughly $65,000 per year, but the more experience you get, the more money you'll earn. At the high end, HVAC techs can earn $100,000 per year or more! As you build your expertise, you may have the opportunity to take on a management role, where increased responsibilities comes along with increased pay.
Though it seems like a lot to take in, the short version is clear: with just a couple of years of training, most of which is practical and hands-on in the field, you can become a working HVAC technician, earning a great salary, and building the future for the country.
After all, Canada's in need of more skilled tradespeople, so if you're interested in working with your hands, why not consider becoming a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration technician?
Explore requirements for HVAC techs