In our August blog, we highlighted the basics of working in our industry. But once you have your certification and your training, what’s next? You could focus your skills solely on residential systems, and become that local technician that knows every customer’s name. Stepping into the light commercial sector will send you from retailer to retailer, repairing coolers in restaurants and five-tons at shops. Or how about working on a semi-truck sized HVAC system for an industrial, commercial client? Each sector offers select advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the path that works best for you will make an already satisfactory career just that more rewarding.
Light and Standard Commercial
Light commercial, our specialty here at RESSAC, covers A/C equipment up to roughly 50 tons in size, and commonly services customers in the retail sector. Depending on the company you choose, you’ll also see plenty of restaurants, office buildings, warehouses and some grocery stores. Climbing ladders is an essential task throughout the industry, but expect to climb more stories than you would in a standard residential position.
Package units, split systems, swamp coolers; you’ll see them all working light commercial jobs. VAVs are common for stores in regional malls, and many businesses have exhaust fans for their restrooms. If you’re HVAC only, the majority of your day will be up on the roof. Your primary contacts will be the onsite staff and security workers. Most commercial companies keep cost discussions at the office level. You’ll be expected communicate clearly with the managers you check in and out with for all other aspects of the job.
A technician skilled in refrigeration will have the chance to work on a variety of equipment. You could be repairing a drink cooler at retailer’s checkout in the morning and fresh food freezer at a pet food store in the afternoon. Prep tables and cold drawers in restaurants will require coordination with the cooking staff to work on, especially if you’re dispatched during lunch hours. With comprehensive knowledge of the refrigeration cycle and several years of field experience, competent refrigeration technicians are highly sought for in our industry.
Industrial applications make up the majority of the Commercial sector. Locations such as factories, large medical facilities, and warehouse-sized cold-storage facilities require considerably more tonnage. Expect to work with multi-stage package and split systems, as well as built-up systems that require a higher level of technical experience. You’ll also encounter specialized ventilation equipment, such as fume hoods at paint facilities or laminar flow hoods in hospitals. Many of these commercial HVAC/R components offer critical support to their facilities, and red-alert emergency requests can come in at any time.
Rack refrigeration is found in many grocery stores and large scale refrigerated store facilities. These parallel compressor systems are extremely efficient for these bigger sites, and you will require specialized training under a qualified senior technician to work on these.
Homes, condos and apartment buildings will be your specialty as a residential technician. Unlike the commercial sector, your scheduling will be based on a combination of your and your customer’s availability. Be prepared to handle a myriad of unexpected factors when in the home for your visit: pets, sleeping babies, overflowing closets hiding your attic access. And don’t forget the occasional condenser lost in backyard jungle of weeds.
Split systems are common in homes and apartment buildings here in California. Instead of popping a ceiling tile, you’ll be up in attics to service the air handlers. And being inside won’t always protect you from the heat, as low airflow attic spaces can rise quickly in temperature. When working on the outside condensers, keep an eye out for the unexpected in an unfamiliar yard. Snakes and rodents can be attracted to the heat created by a condenser, and wasps will sometimes nest in poorly maintained air conditioners.
In cooler climates, furnaces may take the place of condensers. You’ll provide a critical service during fall maintenance, confirming all heating components are safe for the homeowner. Smaller window units are typically cheaper to replace than repair after major failures, but may occasionally be included on your service calls.
A solid understanding of standard A/C and refrigeration mechanics can get you started in any of the sectors we’ve covered. But you can bring more to the table by specializing in additional areas.
Mastering boilers is a skill set viable in both commercial and residential applications. With additional training, adding chillers and chiller boiler systems to your resume will open up work with apartment complexes and hotels that have not opted for mass-installations of split systems.
If the idea of working with complex interfaces and web-based programming sounds intriguing, then controls systems may be the specialty for you. You’ll find the majority of controls work in the light commercial and commercial sectors. These can be small jobs such as zoning controls for the different play areas of a pet hotel, or large scale projects installing BMS equipment for an entire chain of retail sites. A strong electrical background is a plus for this specialization.