HVAC technicians are in high demand in the U.S. labor market. To break into this industry, you will need to have the proper HVAC training and certification.
How long does it take to be an HVAC technician? Here is our guide on how to become certified and fully licensed.
What is the role of a certified HVAC tech?
The term “HVAC tech” is used to describe anyone who works with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. There are different terms for HVAC professionals with different qualifications.
The terms used may vary from state to state, but generally:
- An HVAC Apprentice works in an HVAC training program under supervision.
- An HVAC Journeyman is an HVAC technician who has finished their apprenticeship and obtained a journeyman’s level license. They may not yet be licensed contractors.
- An HVAC contractor has obtained a contractor’s license. An HVAC contractor can supervise larger HVAC projects. This includes hiring other HVAC technicians and obtaining permits from local officials.
1. Understanding the requirements
It’s important to understand the local rules before you begin your journey to become a certified HVAC technician.
No federal requirements exist for HVAC certification or licensing. But many states and municipalities require HVAC contractors to have a license.
You’ll need to pass an exam and show that you have supervised experience. This could be from an HVAC apprenticeship, a trade school, or by working as an “assistant” for an HVAC technician. You will also have to provide proof of insurance.
HVAC technicians are required by federal law to obtain an EPA certification. This is called a Section 608 certification. This teaches how to safely handle equipment that may release harmful refrigerants into the air. You’ll need to pass an EPA-approved exam to get the 608 certification.
You may decide to get additional certifications later on in your HVAC career.
2. Select an HVAC learning path
You can learn HVAC skills in two ways: by attending school and by working. Many techs combine both.
You may be able to gain experience in some states without having to go through a formal program by working as an “assistant” for a licensed HVAC contractor. If you want to open your own HVAC company, it is a good idea to learn your skills within a structured environment.
The HVAC program can provide you with entry-level training and prepare you for the EPA 608 test. These programs may take between one and two years to complete. They also include some supervised experience.
In addition to the classes, you can also choose an HVAC apprenticeship that involves up to 8,000 hours — or 4 years — of supervised training. HVAC industry groups often offer these apprenticeships.
If you have an HVAC apprenticeship with a union, the union may offer the classes free of charge.
You may want to look at whether the program offers job placement and mentorship programs. This will help you get a return on investment.
Online HVAC programs are also available. It’s a great way to save money and learn at your own pace, but you won’t get the same hands-on training or mentorship that an in-person course would.
4. EPA Section 608 Certification:
The Environmental Protection Agency requires anyone who uses certain refrigerants to become certified under Section 608.
There are four types of 608 certificates that are valid for life.
- Small Appliances (Type I)
- High-pressure Appliances (Type II)
- Low-pressure Appliances (Type III)
- All equipment types (Universal)
Some HVAC schools offer the opportunity to take an EPA certification test. Some organizations offer short courses that focus solely on the EPA Certification and include the exam at the end.
This exam is helpful to someone who wants to get their EPA certification or complete their requirements, but it’s not enough for an HVAC technician to be successful.
Apprentices do not need to be certified if their mentor is certified.
4. Get licensed
After you have completed your HVAC training or apprenticeship program, and have passed the EPA certification exam, you can take the state licensing test if required. You’ll need to show proof of insurance to get licensed.
You’re ready to go once you meet the licensing requirements in your area. You may be able to get assistance from your school’s or apprenticeship’s Career Office to find an HVAC technician position. You can ask your mentor if they know of any companies that are hiring.
5. Additional HVAC Technician Certifications
You may want to consider getting additional HVAC certifications. These can help you demonstrate your HVAC expertise to clients, and they could open up more job opportunities. HVAC certification groups include:
- North American Technical Excellence
- HVAC Excellence
- Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
6. Start your own HVAC Business
If your state requires an HVAC contractor license, you can apply for one after a few years in the field as a licensed HVAC technician.
A licensed HVAC contractor will typically take on larger HVAC projects and hire other HVAC technicians. A licensed HVAC contractor may also “pull” permits, which is to say that they obtain permits from local officials.
You’ll require HVAC contractor coverage if you are an HVAC contractor. It’s a requirement for most states and will protect you and your company in the event of an accident.
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