Refrigeration mechanics install and repair refrigeration systems. Some may also work with heating and air conditioning systems. They are also sometimes called refrigeration technicians. Most specialize in either installation or maintenance and repair. Some specialize in more specific aspects such as commercial refrigeration as opposed to residential.
They generally work from blueprints to install systems and components. A knowledge of motors, compressors and evaporators is required. They also often connect equipment to ducts, refrigerant lines and, of course, power. They need to know how to test systems and program the control system. Recycling and preserving refrigerants is a very important part of the job, as most refrigerants are toxic and environmentally damaging. They therefore need to be recycled or disposed of properly.
The work requires knowledge of the safe use of a variety of tools, including hammers, pipe cutters, measurement gauges and acetylene torches. A refrigeration mechanic also needs to know how to efficiently use testing devices to check airflow, temperature and power. Basic maintenance of tools and equipment is also a required skill.
Experienced mechanics may advance to become supervisors or service managers. Some may also become teachers at trade schools or similar. It is not unknown for an experienced refrigeration mechanic to start his or her own business.
The job requires a lot of physical effort and a certain amount of physical strength. It requires a level of math knowledge, fluency in English and the ability to read blueprints, circuit diagrams and mechanical drawings. Some basic chemistry knowledge is also helpful.
Refrigeration mechanics often deal directly with the general public, especially if they specialize in small appliances such as household refrigerators. They therefore need to be courteous and polite to customers. Some may be at least to some degree involved in sales, as they commonly advise customers on when replacement of an appliance is necessary. Therefore, they need some aptitude for customer service and the ability to deal with people and show a good attitude.
Refrigeration Mechanic Training and Education Requirements
Refrigeration training is offered by technical and trade schools as well as junior and community colleges. For high school students, computers, blueprint reading, electronics, applied physics and chemistry, mechanical drawing and shop math are recommended. Students should also develop knowledge of electronics and plumbing.
Alternatively, a prospective refrigeration mechanic can enter into a three to five year apprenticeship which combines classroom instruction and on-the-job training. These apprenticeships are paid work and include a lot of practical training. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED and good reading and math skills. Some apprentices may receive college credits.
A few technicians acquire their skills entirely on the job, working as assistants to experienced mechanics.
Refrigeration Mechanic Salary and Wages
Most refrigeration mechanics are paid hourly. The average rate was $19.08 as of May, 2008. In general local government and wholesalers pay better, while building contractors pay worse. Apprentices start at about fifty percent of the rate paid to qualified workers. Also, some mechanics are self employed, with earning prospects that vary widely.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Some mechanics belong to a union, generally either the Sheet Metal Workers International Association or the Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada.
Refrigeration Mechanic Certifications
Some states and localities require that refrigeration mechanics be licensed. The process varies, but always involves a test. Many also require either two to five years of experience as an assistant or completion of formal apprenticeship. Additionally, certification is required for handling refrigerants, due to the potential danger. This certification is split into three areas: Type I for small appliances, Type II for low pressure and Type III for high pressure refrigerants. Because of this most mechanics specialize in one of these three areas.
Additional certification can also be obtained, including tests to prove competency in areas such as commercial refrigeration. These tests are commonly offered at technical and trade schools. Various certificates of competency are also available from the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute, HVAC Excellence and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society. Although not a legal requirement these certifications are highly useful for advancement and higher rates of pay.
Refrigeration Mechanic Professional Associations
There are a number of professional associations to which a refrigeration mechanic might choose to belong. These include HVAC Excellence, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society. In addition, some unions take refrigeration mechanics as members. Some mechanics might also choose to belong to the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association.