If you don’t like the idea of sitting at a desk all day for work and prefer working with your hands and fixing things, becoming an HVAC technician may be the right career choice. Getting your HVAC certification is a step-by-step process you can complete.
The demand for professionals in the HVAC industry is high, and HVAC technicians get paid a respectable salary for practicing the trade.
But what does an HVAC technician do? And how does one get their HVAC certification?
We’ve answered those questions and more in this comprehensive career guide.
How Do I Get My HVAC Certification?
There are two different ways of obtaining your HVAC certification after earning a high school diploma. Aspiring HVAC technicians must be good at math, physics, and shop in high school.
Some students choose to volunteer or get a job in electronics, mechanics, or another related field to learn some of the fundamentals of being a technician.
After you get your high school diploma or equivalent, you can work towards getting your HVAC certification in one of two ways:
Step #1: Complete a HVAC Certification Program or Apprenticeship
Most aspiring HVAC technicians choose to complete classroom-based HVAC training at a trade school or a community college. HVAC certification programs teach the students entry-level design, service, and repair of HVAC-R systems.
A student needs to enroll in a program accredited by organizations such as HVAC Excellence or PAHRA. This ensures that a student’s credentials will remain valid wherever they go and that they can pursue further education if they choose to.
Most HVAC certification programs that students can enroll in provide them with a Section 608 certification and prepare them for other certifications as a part of training. Depending on the course you enroll in, you may also receive on-the-job training when you work under licensed contractors.
Experience in the field is necessary since most HVAC certification exams require at least one or two years of experience. A certification program takes between six months to two years to complete.
You could get hired after completing the HVAC certification program as long as you meet your state’s requirements.
However, many HVAC technicians choose to take up an HVAC apprenticeship program after completing a certification program. In these programs, you complete 2,000 hours of training. Further, you will also receive 144 hours of technical education.
Depending on your circumstances, you could skip enrolling in a program and directly join an apprenticeship and start your career.
Most HVAC apprenticeship programs are offered by joint committees of local organizations such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. Completing an apprenticeship takes between three and five years. You can find the right program to enroll in at the US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Finder site.
Step #2: Apply for HVAC Certifications and Pass Exams
HVAC certification programs are offered by several agencies, some of the best-known of which include:
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE): Besides hosting the Industry Competency Exam, NATE also provides its students with several HVAC specialty certifications. You can choose to specialize in air distribution (AD) or aim to become a senior-level HVAC efficiency analyst.
- Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES): This agency partners with NATE to provide certification exams such as commercial refrigeration, commercial air conditioning, and EPA Section 608.
- HVAC Excellence: It is one of the better-known agencies since it provides employment-ready certification exams and offers an accredited program. You can get a certificate in areas such as air conditioning and charging procedures.
- Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA): This agency mainly offers certifications for technicians involved in industrial refrigeration. You can become a Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator or a Certified Industrial Refrigeration Operator, depending upon your level of expertise.
Step #3: Pursue Licensure
Most states require HVAC technicians to earn a license before they can begin working in the field. In some states, licensure may not be needed at the state level but is required at the local or municipal level.
For instance, in states such as Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and New York (among others), a state license is not required for HVAC technicians to work. Most other states require HVAC technicians to have a state-wide license.
If you need a license to practice in your state, you must pass a written exam to get it. The licensing process is different in different states. You will need to get plumbing and electrical licenses separately if you’re in Alaska. But if you’re in Delaware, you will need to get your license by going through the apprentice-journeyperson-master licensing model.
Any professional in this field needs to do their due diligence about licensing and meet the necessary local licensing requirements. You can refer to a state-wise guide to help you determine what you need to do to get licensed after you get your HVAC certification.
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HVAC Certification Boards and Certification Options
The requirements for an HVAC certification aren’t the same across certification boards. Some certifications require the candidate to have completed HVAC training. In contrast, others require the candidate to have a year or two of experience to ensure they know enough to pass the certification exam.
Different certification boards test candidates in different ways. Some boards require you to pass a written test. Other boards require you to fix a real-life problem with your hands to complete the certification process.
Here’s a look at the top HVAC certification agencies in the country and the types of certifications they offer.
#1 HVAC Excellence
This agency offers a large variety of HVAC certifications. There are programs available for aspiring HVAC technicians who haven’t started their careers and more experienced technicians who want to specialize.
HVAC Excellence provides two programs for high school students: HEAT and HEAT Plus. HEAT stands for heating, electrical, air conditioning technology. The HEAT program requires students to answer a hundred questions on HVAC topics. The HEAT Plus program requires students to clear a hands-on exam and 25 additional questions besides the 100 questions in the HEAT program.
The board also offers certifications for students who are out of trade school or have completed a vocational program. There are exams available in 15 areas, and you must answer between 50 and 100 questions to clear each topic.
There are specialty HVAC certifications available for technicians with two years of work experience in a specific area. Specialty certification requires the candidate to clear an exam. If you have more than three years of experience, you may be eligible for the master specialist certification.
Certified Subject Matter Educator certification is offered to HVAC professionals with experience skilled enough to teach aspiring HVAC technicians. Certifications such as the CMHE credential are perfect for HVAC technicians with expertise in multiple fields. After passing the six CSME exams and completing a project, you will be set for a gratifying, high-paying career.
You can also get a certificate in specialty areas such as residential heat load analysis and green awareness.
#2 EPA Certification
The Environmental Protection Agency requires all technicians that work with refrigeration systems or refrigerants to get a Section 608 certification. You can find more details about it on the official site.
You can get certified depending on the type of appliances you work with. The Type I certification is sufficient for working with small appliances. If you work with high-pressure appliances, you need a Type II certification. On the other hand, a Type III certification is required if you work with low-pressure appliances.
You can also opt to get the Universal certification for working with all kinds of appliances. Coursework, prep material, and exam sites are provided by organizations such as the RSES and ESCO Institute.
#3 North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
NATE offers a variety of specialty certifications for technicians with different proficiency levels. To get any NATE certification, in addition to passing a core exam, you must also pass a specialty exam.
There are two categories of these specialty exams: installation and service. There are several certifications available under each category.
Besides those certifications, NATE also offers Industry Competency Exams. These exams cover a range of HVAC skills for residential and commercial systems. Section 608 certification and other certifications are also included in ICE.
Some states require certification from the state government, and other states only require local certification. You can find out about the HVAC training opportunities in your state in the table below:
|Alabama||Alabama State Board of Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors|
|Alaska||Regulation of Mechanical Administrators|
|Arizona||Arizona Registrar of Contractors|
|Arkansas||Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Licensing Board|
|California||Contractors State License Board|
|Colorado||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Connecticut||Department of Consumer Protection|
|Delaware||Board of Plumbing, Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Examiners|
|District of Columbia||Board of Industrial Trades|
|Florida||Construction Industry Licensing Board|
|Georgia||State Construction Industry Licensing Board|
|Hawaii||Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs, Professional and Vocational Licensing|
|Idaho||Division of Building Safety|
|Illinois||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Indiana||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Iowa||Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board|
|Kansas||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Kentucky||Public Protection Cabinet, Department of Housing, Buildings & Construction|
|Louisiana||Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors|
|Maine||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Maryland||Board of Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Contractors|
|Massachusetts||Department of Public Safety|
|Michigan||Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs|
|Minnesota||Department of Labor & Industry|
|Mississippi||State Board of Contractors|
|Missouri||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Montana||Montana Department of Labor & Industry|
|Nebraska||Department of Labor|
|Nevada||State Contractors Board|
|New Hampshire||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|New Jersey||Division of Consumer Affairs|
|New Mexico||New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department|
|New York||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|North Carolina||State Board of Refrigeration Examiners|
|North Dakota||Secretary of State|
|Ohio||Department of Commerce|
|Oklahoma||Construction Industries Board|
|Oregon||Construction Contractors Board|
|Pennsylvania||Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry|
|Rhode Island||Department of Labor and Training, Workforce Regulation and Safety|
|South Carolina||Residential Builders Commission|
|South Carolina||Contractor’s Licensing Board|
|South Dakota||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Tennessee||Board for Licensing Contractors|
|Texas||Department of Licensing and Regulation|
|Utah||Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing|
|Vermont||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
|Virginia||Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, Board for Contractors|
|Washington||Department of Labor & Industries|
|West Virginia||Division of Labor Contractor Licensing|
|Wisconsin||License, Permit and Registration Services|
|Wyoming||State licensing not required. Local licensing may be.|
What is an HVAC Technician?
An HVAC technician is responsible for installing and maintaining air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, and ventilation systems in residential and commercial buildings.
HVAC-R technologies are quickly becoming more complicated, and for this reason, an HVAC certification is a must. It helps companies ensure they’re hiring a professional who understands these systems’ inner workings. It also assures customers that the money they’re spending for installation or maintenance isn’t going to waste.
Certification is not mandatory in all US states. That said, earning an HVAC certification is an excellent option for HVAC technicians that want to learn more skills and display their competence to employers and customers alike.
What Does an HVAC Technician Do?
HVAC technicians have a lot of different responsibilities that they must perform on a day-to-day basis.
An HVAC certified technician may spend their day installing or running maintenance procedures on climate control systems, ventilation systems, and refrigeration systems. In addition, the technicians periodically perform safety, energy efficiency, and air quality tests during inspections.
An HVAC technician primarily works to integrate heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. These professionals also install and repair wiring and control devices related to these systems.
Some specific responsibilities an HVAC technician may complete on a day to day basis include:
- Reading blueprints
- Using tools such as metal cutters and flow sensors to repair HVAC systems
- Connecting wires
- Ensuring that all components of a system are working appropriately
- Welding pipes
- Inspecting electrical circuits
- Inspecting tubing and pipes for leaks
Some technicians specialize in work areas such as solar heating, and these certified professionals typically earn a higher salary for their expertise.
Where Do HVAC Technicians Work?
An HVAC technician can work in various work settings. The technician must travel to homes or commercial spaces to install new machines. Replacing a system or adding a new system in any building sometimes involves using an existing structure, and other times calls for new construction.
HVAC technicians must visit the customer’s home or workplace, so they typically travel across a large territory for work. That said, some buildings and facilities hire an HVAC technician to take care of the installation, maintenance, and repair of all the machinery on the property.
HVAC Technician Salary
Per the latest analysis by the BLS, an HVAC technician makes $50,590 per year, which works out to $24.32 per hour. However, the average median wage doesn’t provide us with the whole picture of how much you can earn in this role.
Your salary depends on how much experience you have, your education level, and your location. If you’re open to moving to another state to earn a better salary, you can think about moving to Alaska. The state data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that HVAC technicians make an average annual mean wage of $79,630 in Alaska.
The District of Columbia is another good state to move to if you want to make a high salary in the role, with professionals in the state making an annual average of $73,460.
HVAC technicians in Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts earn between $64,000 and $66,000 annually, making them some other great states to work in.
Per the BLS, the HVAC industry has a 5% growth rate, which is slower than the average growth rate. That said, there are 380,400 jobs for HVAC technicians as of 2020, and the bureau projects that there will be 19,000 more openings by 2030.
Finding a job in the industry shouldn’t be too difficult in the coming years.
Conclusion: Should You Get Your HVAC Certification?
Pursuing education and certification will give you a solid understanding of how various systems work, and you will learn to install, maintain, and repair them. The average annual salary is respectable, and you will earn more as you progress in your career.
If you have excellent communication skills and have a knack for problem-solving, obtaining your HVAC certification may be the right career choice.