HVAC/R Students Put Their Skills to Good Use

A recent class project created a sign for the Culinary Arts program

Five students from the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration (HVAC/R) program are all smiles as they present their beautifully shaped and soldered copper piping sign in the Culinary Arts kitchen. It’s hard to believe these gentleman had never touched pipe or a torch before they started their classes – great job guys!

Branford Hall students at the Springfield campus recently worked together to create a sign for the kitchen of the Culinary Arts program. These technicians are in training in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration (HVAC/R) program. This class project gave them an opportunity to showcase what they’re learning in class, by crafting pipe into the shape of the letters that spell “Culinary.”

In his recent “Introduction to HVAC/R” class, instructor Blaise Palmieri taught his students to pipe solder as well as braze (a kind of soldering for high-pressure operations). “This helps the students to get acclimated to using a different style of torches,” Palmieri says. The project required all aspects of the techniques the students were learning. “They had to form the pipe into the different letters without kinking it,” he says, “which is what produces that rounded effect.” It turns out this is also valuable in HVAC/R work—it avoids creating restrictions in the pipe.

An introductory experience

Six students participated, and this course comes very early in their program. Palmieri says very few of his students have experience with these materials when they begin. “No one in this particular class had ever touched pipe before,” he explains. “Then, within three or four weeks, all of them are able to work with this equipment up to this level.” The sign is a kind of culminating project for the class. In the past, Palmieri’s classes have created similar signs for the campus, including creating a “Staff only” sign to hang over a picnic table.

What attracts students to the HVAC/R program

Palmieri explains that lot of his students come to Branford Hall because they want to work with their hands, and many of them like the freedom the HVAC/R work can provide. By “freedom,” he says he means, “Whether you’re on the service side of the industry or on the installation side, you often have the opportunity to work alone, and have responsibility for a number of jobs at different locations over the course of a day.” He notes that the scenery in Springfield is so lovely that it can be an added bonus to enjoy the nice views during the commute from one job to the next. (He himself commutes over an hour each way, from Pittsfield to Springfield, to teach at Branford.)

“Some people prefer work where you aren’t confined to a desk all day, and don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder,” he says. “With HVAC/R, there is always a different puzzle to tackle.” On the other hand, he says, the job does require a lot of self-motivation. “It’s good for students to learn to stay on schedule,” he says.

Other courses in the program

Palmieri teaches a number of classes at Branford Springfield, including:

  • “Introduction to AC”, which covers rooftop systems as well as commercial ones, including the “split systems” that are located inside and outside a property;
  • “Fundamentals of Electricity,” in which students learn about the wiring of systems and how to troubleshoot them;
  • “Introduction to Gas,” which covers gas boilers as well as furnaces; and
  • “Fundamentals of Oil.”

Students in the program also learn all aspects of refrigeration, for walk-in freezers and coolers as well as ice machines.

Why these skills are marketable

“Everyone needs refrigerated food, and everyone in the Northeast needs heat during the winter,” Palmieri notes. The program teaches students to learn their way around home and commercial heating and cooling systems, as well as those that regulate indoor air quality, such as humidity. “Homes are built so tightly today, in terms of insulation, that people can be vulnerable to the number-one cause of sickness: a lack of fresh air circulating in their living spaces,” Palmieri says. Given this, the work that HVAC/R technicians do can be essential to maintaining indoor air quality.

The Branford Hall courses teach students about the direct digital controls that can regulate several factors in large residential systems as well as commercial applications, both of which now run off of a computer. These projects require a combination of mechanical hands-on know-how and a familiarity and adeptness with technology, and Branford provides its students with learning experiences in both of these areas.

It might surprise you to learn that one thing HVAC/R students don’t do is learn to repair window AC units. “Unfortunately,” Palmieri says, “window AC units are designed to throw away and don’t tend to be serviceable, because it generally costs more to repair a unit than it would to simply replace it.” He says the current technology in those units don’t allow a technician to check the refrigeration charge. As a result, homeowners and businesses tend to replace them altogether.

The perspective of an industry veteran

Palmieri has more than two decades of experience working in the HVAC/R industry, and because he has hired (and fired) a lot of technicians over the years, he knows first-hand what the jobs require once students graduate. “I have found that, with students coming out of some other training programs, there’s a gap between what they’re taught and what they need to know once they’re on the job,” he says. “At Branford we help fill that gap, so the students are well-equipped with a base understanding as well as hands-on experience.”

He’s also proud that Branford trains its students on equipment that is up to date and similar to what they’ll find once they’re out in the field—which is not always the case with some schools. “We do all we can to equip them so they’re prepared after graduation to get in the truck and go,” he says.

“The industry definitely needs technicians who can troubleshoot as well as do installations,” Palmieri says. “We’re proud to produce graduates in this line of work who are up to the task and provide excellent service once they’re out in the working world.”

This article is part of the Branford Hall weekly blog. We’re committed to the personal and professional development of all our students. Find out more about the several professional training programs we offer at ten campuses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Reach out to us for more information today, call 800.959.7599, or schedule a visit.