HVAC vs. Refrigeration Careers

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HVAC and refrigeration are similar fields but with distinct differences. While students can receive HVAC training at a vocational school or a community college and learn about both at the same time, they may eventually choose to specialize in only one. Each field requires tools, equipment and licensing that are industry-specific. While being trained in both is beneficial, specializing in one or the other allows you to focus on new trends and techniques that will keep you up to speed for your particular line of work.

Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration: Primary Differences

HVAC is an acronym for heating, ventilating and air conditioning. Technicians in the field primarily focus on central heating and cooling systems in a given space to improve quality or provide a comfortable temperature of the air. Refrigerants are often used to lower the temperature of air in homes and buildings; however, they are also used to control the temperature in more confined spaces, such as in residential and commercial refrigerators and freezers. Therefore, technicians working in air conditioning and refrigeration tend to use many of the same tools and materials.

HVAC vs. Refrigeration: Equipment & Tools

HVAC and refrigeration systems require many of the same basic tools and equipment, such as a hammer, saws and a variety of screwdrivers, wrenches and ratchets. Tools may vary, however, for technicians controlling the temperature of the air in large spaces compared to small ones like refrigerators.

HVAC Tools

  • Gauge manifolds
  • Manifold hoses
  • Temperature gauges
  • Instruments to measure air velocity
  • Carbon monoxide indicators
  • Carbon dioxide indicators
  • Oxygen indicators
  • Specific tools for working with tubing that includes cutting, bending and crimping
  • Vacuum pump

Refrigeration Tools

  • Multimeter
  • Thermometer
  • Refrigerant leak detector
  • Refrigerant recovery unit
  • Refrigerant recovery tank
  • Welding torch kit
  • Manifold/gauges
  • Vacuum pump
  • Valve core remover
  • Service valve wrench

HVAC vs. Refrigeration: Working Environments

Technicians who work in the field of heating and air conditioning install and repair systems that have an intricate layout of ductwork and filters. The system works to keep air moving and circulating while maintaining a constant temperature. HVAC systems can run either hot or cold, heating an area in the winter and cooling in the summer. They have both indoor and outdoor components. Most air conditioning units are located on the outside of a dwelling or building, while furnaces and the connecting ductwork are located inside. Since these systems may be in need of repair or located outdoors during periods of extreme temperatures, these technicians may encounter uncomfortable working environments.

If you choose to work within the refrigeration industry, units are self-contained and designed to cool a specific area, such as a refrigerator, freezer or large storage area. There is little ductwork to worry about, but in its place are a variety of tubes and coils that must be maintained to remain efficient. Refrigeration units come in several different sizes and are mostly found indoors. This can limit the amount of space a technician or repairman has to do their job. In either line of work, irregular hours are common, as these systems can malfunction at any time, causing great discomfort or inconvenience to customers.

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HVAC and refrigeration units are found in both residential and commercial settings. While some vocational training programs offer courses in both HVAC and refrigeration, students often choose to only work in one field and in one setting upon graduation. Opting for a career in commercial HVAC or refrigeration may require stricter licensing, as well as being bonded and insured at a higher rate than residential.

HVAC vs. Refrigeration: Special Licensing Requirements

HVAC and refrigeration technicians must be licensed according to their state’s guidelines. It is important to maintain an active license in good standing if a technician expects to remain bonded and protected by their insurance. The EPA also requires specific types of licensing for air conditioning and refrigeration technicians—or anyone handling refrigerants.

Licenses to Validate the Expertise of HVAC and Refrigeration Technicians

  • NATE, or North American Technician Excellence, certification is one of the most respected in the industry. Although not required by law, it covers all of the areas in which an HVAC and refrigeration technician needs to do their job efficiently. This includes air conditioning, heating, refrigeration and ventilation.
  • Certifications in HVAC Excellence includes certifications for technicians who have achieved recognition at both a professional and a master level, depending on their level of education and work experience.

EPA License Required for Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technicians

  • The EPA requires a Section 608 Certification for anyone who works with chemical refrigerants and other chemicals that can have an adverse effect on the environment. There are several levels that can be achieved through this certification.

Choosing the certification will depend on your job duties and personal career goals. Both fields are similar but have subtle nuances that make them each worthwhile and rewarding careers. To learn more about receiving training today, contact The Refrigeration School.

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