Refrigeration Technician: Everything You Should Know

What is a Refrigeration Technician?

A refrigeration technician is responsible for helping to install, maintain, service, and repair several different types of refrigeration systems and related items such as ice machines, refrigerators, beverage dispensers, refrigerated storage units, or even refrigeration systems on trucks that keep goods at desired temperatures during transportation from factories and warehouses to the stores that they will be sold in. Refrigeration technicians are responsible for working in residential and commercial properties.

What Does a Refrigeration Technician Do?

Duties of a refrigeration technician include, but may not be limited to:

  • Processing and completing various work orders
  • Communicating directly with clients to determine exactly what their refrigeration requirements will be 
  • Ordering supplies, equipment, repair modules, and sundries as per order requirements
  • Ordering tools in some cases
  • Reading and interpreting various types of blueprints and understanding compliance schematics
  • Installing, repairing, maintaining and servicing several different types of refrigeration units, climate control systems and even beverage refrigeration units in some cases
  • Testing and observing equipment after it has been newly installed, serviced or repaired to ensure that it’s working properly
  • Troubleshooting faulty refrigeration equipment and making accurate diagnoses regarding why it’s malfunctioning or has stopped working
  • Maintaining stock levels of equipment needed to perform installations and repairs
  • Compiling detailed and accurate quotes for clients for repairs or installations
  • Informing clients of available options for their specific circumstances and budgets
  • Testing components, lines and connections for potential leaks
  • Performing heavy lifting of parts and refrigeration units as needed
  • Working with an extensive range of hand and power tools that will enable them to fabricate and assemble the various components that are needed to put refrigeration systems together, install and repair them
  • Installing the required wiring for building-mounted refrigeration units
  • Keep accurate records regarding specific repairs and maintenance that have been performed for clients 
  • Knowing how to prioritize jobs to ensure that emergencies are attended to as quickly as possible

As a refrigeration technician, you’ll also need to possess the following skills, qualities, and attributes:

  • Patience – this will be required to spend time troubleshooting and diagnosing faults that are found on refrigeration systems
  • Physical health and general fitness – your job will entail lifting heavy pieces of equipment every day when doing installations and repairs, so it’s essential for you to be physically fit and healthy
  • Excellent reading and comprehension skills – these are crucial because of the fact that you’ll have to read and fully understand various types of building blueprints and other related documents
  • Above average listening skills – you’ll need to be able to give your full attention to clients while they’re providing information regarding their requirements so that you can ask the appropriate questions to ensure that the job gets done correctly 
  • A knowledge of the various types of tools and equipment and experience in using them – this aspect is crucial, as you’ll need to be able to use an extensive variety of tools and equipment in a safe and efficient manner when installing, repairing and maintaining refrigeration systems
  • Good mathematics skills – these are needed to perform the required calculations when planning a new installation of refrigeration equipment
  • Decent writing skills – you’ll need to be able to write effectively when compiling quotes for clients and requesting quotes from your suppliers
  • Exceptional time management skills – you’ll need to know how to manage your time as effectively as possible because this will enable you to stick to a pre-planned schedule each day. This will help ensure that you get as much as possible done while you’re working
  • Effective verbal communication skills – you will need to speak directly with clients, building managers and many other people while performing your duties as a refrigeration technician, so you will need to know how to speak well
  • Complex problem-solving skills – part of your duties as a refrigeration technician will involve spending a lot of time troubleshooting and diagnosing faults on various residential and commercial cooling systems
  • You will also need to be highly client service orientated to ensure that customers are completely satisfied once you have completed an installation, maintenance or repair project for them

Is Refrigeration the Same as HVAC?

Although many people tend to think that refrigeration and HVAC are the same things, this is not the case. There are quite a few differences between these two fields of employment, which will be discussed below:

HVAC and Refrigeration – The Main Differences

Technicians in the HVAC field will usually have their main focus on central heating and cooling systems that are used to improve quality or provide a comfortable air temperature for occupants in a building. While refrigerants are normally also used to lower the air temperature inside buildings, they are used more often to control the temperature in more confined areas such as residential and commercial refrigerators and freezer units. 

Although HVAC technicians and refrigeration technicians will often use many of the same tools, their overall scope of work will be a little different from each other. 

Comparing Tools Used for HVAC and Refrigeration

While tools such as ratchets, screwdrivers, and wrenches will be used by refrigeration and HVAC technicians, other tools will vary between the two:

Commonly Used Tools and Equipment by HVAC Technicians

These can include, but may not be limited to:

  • Manifold hoses
  • Gauge manifolds
  • Temperature gauges
  • Air velocity measurement instruments
  • Oxygen indicators
  • Carbon monoxide indicators
  • Carbon dioxide indicators
  • Vacuum pumps
  • A wide range of tools that will be used for bending, cutting and crimping various types of piping used to install, repair and maintain HVAC system components

Tools and Equipment Commonly Used by Refrigeration Technicians

Some of the most common tools and pieces of equipment used by Refrigeration Technicians will include:

  • Thermometers
  • Multimeters
  • Refrigerant leak detector units 
  • Refrigerant recovery units
  • Refrigerant recovery tanks
  • Manifolds
  • Gauges
  • Welding torch kits
  • Vacuum pumps
  • Valve core removers
  • Service valve wrenches

Comparing Working Environments between HVAC Technicians and Refrigeration Technicians

HVAC technicians will be responsible for installing, servicing, and repairing systems that comprise an intricate setup of filters and ductwork, and these systems work to keep air circulating while keeping its temperature at a constant level. HVAC systems can run hot or cold, allowing them to keep building occupants comfortable all year round. 

In most cases, air conditioning units are situated on the outside of a building, while their required furnaces and connecting ductwork are normally installed on the inside. Because these systems often require servicing and repairs and they’re located outdoors, HVAC technicians may often have to perform their duties in uncomfortably hot or cold working conditions outside. 

Technicians who choose to specialize in refrigeration, you’ll work with self-contained units that are designed to cool a particular area such as a freezer, refrigerator, or large cold storage area. Although there isn’t a lot of ductwork to worry about with these installations, it is replaced by a plethora of tubes and coils that have to be correctly maintained to ensure maximum cooling efficiency at all times. 

Refrigeration units are available in several different sizes, models, and types and are mostly used indoors. While this may make working conditions a little more pleasant weather-wise, it can sometimes be inconvenient when a refrigeration technician has to perform their duties in a severely limited space. 

One of the main aspects that HVAC technicians and refrigeration technicians will have in common is that they will both often be required to work over weekends and during holidays to perform repairs. 

Is it Hard to be a Refrigeration Technician?

One of the most important things to keep in mind when deciding to become a refrigeration technician is that you will have to be willing to perform a lot of hard physical labor. If you are looking for a career path that keeps you physically busy, this will be a great choice for you. 

If you’re not keen on performing physical labor and you’d prefer to work at a job that involves being in an air-conditioned office for most of the day, this will not be the right line of work for you to pursue. In addition, if you’re only keen to log 9 to 5 workdays and be off over weekends and holidays, this job will not be a suitable fit for you.

Does Refrigeration Pay Well?

At present, the average starting salary for a refrigeration technician in the U.S. runs at around $24 per hour, with more experienced and knowledgeable candidates earning as much as $45 per hour in some cases. This means that a large number of these technicians can earn salaries of as much as $56,000 to $65,000 per year – without taking any overtime or holiday pay into account. 

Once fully qualified and extensively experienced, a reputable refrigeration technician may be able to command a salary of over $70,000 per year – especially if they decide to start their own business. 

The rate of pay for a refrigeration technician will also depend on which part of the country they decide to work in because some areas offer better hourly rates than others. For example, Alaska offers some of the highest hourly rates for refrigeration technicians at the moment, while Mississippi offers some of the lowest known rates for performing the same tasks. 

Along with above-average hourly rates of pay, many refrigeration technicians have reported that the companies hiring them offered a range of other benefits as well, such as:

  • Discounts for fuel
  • Prescription drug insurance
  • Partial or even full reimbursement for cellphone bills
  • Paid time off
  • 401(k) as well as matching contributions
  • AD&D insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Disability cover
  • Health insurance
  • Life Insurance 
  • Vision Insurance

When considering which career path to follow, another important aspect to consider is the job outlook for it over the next few years. Will the number of job vacancies be increasing or decreasing for that specific field?

The current job outlook for refrigeration technicians is excellent in that job growth rates are expected to reach more than 34% year upon year between now and 2026, making this career path an excellent choice if you’re keen on job stability. 

Refrigeration technicians who are willing to learn and continually update their qualifications and knowledge will find that they will be able to enjoy highly successful and financially lucrative careers for several years to come. 

How Can I Become a Refrigeration Technician?

Although not every refrigeration technician will have to follow the same path to becoming accredited, the information in the steps below will provide a basic idea of what all will be required before you’ll be allowed to work in this field.

1. Obtain your High School Diploma or Obtain a GED

Although there are technically no specific educational requirements for becoming a refrigeration technician, most people working in this field will at least have some form of post-secondary training or a degree – and you will need to have your high school diploma or GED before being able to study towards these. 

If you intend to follow this career path, you will need to ensure that you obtain excellent results for mathematics and/or science. You may also want to enroll in a recognized vocational refrigeration technician-training course as well. 

2. Enroll in a Recognized Certificate or Degree Program (Six Months to Two Years)

After finishing high school, a large number of prospective refrigeration technicians decide to enroll in a post-secondary training program to either earn an associate degree (two years of study) or a recognized certificate (six months to two years of training). 

One example of a course that can be enrolled in is that which is offered by Gadsden State Community College in Alabama, namely a two-year associate of applied science degree in air conditioning and refrigeration. The institution also offers a short-term and regular certificate course in these fields. All of these programs will cover topics such as math, circuitry, and the fundamentals of refrigeration systems.

3. Serve an Apprenticeship (Two to Five Years)

A large number of refrigeration technicians get a start on their career paths by serving an apprenticeship – that is, working under a fully qualified, licensed, and experienced refrigeration technician until they have gained sufficient knowledge and experience to work unsupervised. 

For more information about the getting an HVAC apprenticeship, click here.

Apprentices who are willing to work within an official union structure will be paid according to required union terms, meaning that they will be paid a predetermined minimum starting salary upon completing their apprenticeship – which will last between two and five years at the most. 

Although some businesses offer apprenticeships, these can often be difficult to find on your own. However, unions like the Pipefitters Local 537 (Located in Dorchester, MA) usually offer various apprenticeships to help train new technicians in the refrigeration trade.

Feel free to read our complete step by step guide to becoming an HVAC apprenticeship for more detailed information.

4. Complete the Required EPA Section 608 Certification

Every technician who intends to work with refrigerant products will be required to earn the EPA Section 608 Certification, and training for this will usually form part of the initial refrigeration training course. However, if it isn’t part of the course being studied, additional training will be needed to earn it. 

This particular certification has four different classifications that require four separate tests, and a technician will need to earn those that will be relevant to the types of equipment that they will be installing, servicing, and repairing. The four classifications include:

  • Type I – Small Appliances
  • Type II – High-pressure Appliances
  • Type III – Low pressure appliances
  • Universal – All types of refrigeration equipment are covered here

Any technicians who have started working without having been enrolled in a formalized program or where test prep was not included, the ACCA provides the opportunity for them to enroll in a three-hour online EPA Section 608 Certification Test Prep Course for a nominal fee. 

5. Apply for and Obtain the Relevant State or Local Licensure

These days, the vast majority of states will require refrigeration technicians to obtain some form of license before being allowed to work in this field. Each state has its requirements in this regard, so inquiries will need to be made to the relevant authorities to determine what will be required.

The institutions mentioned below offer an extensive range of certifications for refrigeration technicians:

  • HVAC Excellence offers a highly progressive system of certification that will enable technicians to demonstrate that they are more than just ‘suitably competent’ to perform the required tasks
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE) offers a range of generalized refrigeration certifications for technicians and contractors. Four difference certifications are offered for these technicians during the various stages of the first five years of them working in this field – natex.org
  • National Inspection Testing Certification (NITC) offers various specialized certifications for the more experienced refrigeration technicians in STAR HVAC/R mastery and various HVAC/R brazing processes – nationalitc.com
  • The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) offers a range of general refrigeration certifications, along with others to demonstrate that a technician is in possession of specialized skills such as R-410A, HVAC/R electrical and commercial refrigeration – reses.org

6. Be Willing to Pursue Advanced Certifications

Many more professional prospects will often be available for refrigeration technicians who are willing to obtain certifications over and above the minimum ones that are required to work in this field. 

Having one or more advanced certifications or qualifications will usually result in additional increases in salary in an existing role. Having additional qualifications on your resume will also demonstrate to prospective employers that a technician is willing to go the extra mile about learning as much as possible about the job. 

Basic plumbing and electrical skills may sometimes be required when working as a refrigeration technician as well. 

Obtained your Required Certifications and Searching for a Job as a Refrigeration Technician?

If you’ve recently obtained the required certifications to become a refrigeration technician, but you don’t have any work experience as yet, you may be finding it challenging to secure a position. However, there are a few hints and tips that will help ensure that your resume and application paperwork stands out as much as possible to prospective employers:

  • Proofread your resume before sending it off. Have at least two people thoroughly read through your resume before sending it off to apply for a position. This will help catch any spelling or grammatical errors beforehand – many recruiters will simply toss resumes aside that are littered with errors
  • Only apply for positions that match the certifications you have. Seriously. Attempting to apply for a position that you are not suitably qualified for could result in you having to demonstrate skills during a practical test that you may not be familiar with – if this occurs, many companies will go as far as blacklisting your resume to prevent you from applying with them again
  • Always reply promptly to emails, messages or phone calls from prospective employers. Keep in mind that in most cases, you need the job more than the company specifically needs you to fill the position, and candidates who are slow to reply – or worse, don’t reply at all – will simply be eliminated from the pool of applicants
  • If you’re fortunate enough to be contacted for an interview, ensure that you dress appropriately and arrive a few minutes early. Candidates who arrive late will usually be set aside in favor of those who are prompt
  • Turn your phone off during the interview. There is little else as annoying and rude as someone who constantly checks their phone while they’re being interviewed to fill a vacancy. This could also indicate to prospective employers that you’ll not pay as much attention to your job as you should
  • After your interview, be sure to thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them as soon as they’re ready

Keeping the above-mentioned tips in mind when being contacted to interview for a vacancy, as a refrigeration technician will help ensure that you leave a lasting memory for interviewers, HR employees, and managers – one that is positive.

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