The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) industry is constantly growing. People are...
Step-by-Step Guide to HVAC Certification
When someone is looking to hire an HVAC professional to work on their home or commercial property, they will want to know they are hiring a professional with the necessary expertise to get the job done right. Requiring your technicians to hold HVAC certifications can help your business stand out from the competition and assure prospective clients that your technicians know what they’re doing.
As an HVAC technician in the job market, holding a certification will make you more hirable and give you leverage to negotiate a higher salary when a job offer is made. It’s important to know, however, that there are numerous HVAC certification programs out there, and certification requirements vary by state.
This blog will offer some insight on how to get HVAC certified and choose the right area of focus for this professional certification.
What Is an HVAC certification?
There is no single certification that covers the entire HVAC industry. Instead, there are several different certification options offered by trusted industry organizations like North American Technical Excellence (NATE), Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), and Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA).
Some certification programs cover general industry knowledge, while others focus on specialized areas like indoor air quality and preventive maintenance. In addition, governmental bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide certification programs specifically for technicians working with hazardous materials.
How Much Does It Cost to Become HVAC Certified?
The cost to become HVAC certified can vary significantly. Like any professional training program, HVAC certification programs have associated costs, but these costs will differ depending on the type of certification you pursue, the type of school you attend for training, the length of the program, and the area where your school is located.
Bob Vila’s Nicole Fallon offers a breakdown of the costs of HVAC certification programs:
Depending on what a student is looking to get out of the school, an online certification program could cost between $800 to $3,000… It’s also important to remember that online courses will typically be much less expensive than in-person ones: HVAC trade school could run as much as $15,000. (1)
How Long Does It Take to Become HVAC Certified?
The timeframe for how long it takes to become HVAC certified can also vary depending on several factors. Typically, programs will last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
There may also be additional training time required through paid apprenticeships and continuing professional education, which may be required for certain certification programs. Some certifications even require a minimum amount of work experience to become eligible.
Different Types of HVAC Certifications
There are different types of HVAC certifications. (2) A good HVAC technician will have at least one of them, if not several.
8 Main HVAC Certifications
- NATE – North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is the most recognized and respected certification in the HVAC industry. NATE certification is not required for HVAC technicians, but employers and knowledgeable clients will generally want technicians to have it. There are many different specialty areas in which technicians may become NATE certified, and each certification showcases in-depth knowledge of different types of HVAC equipment that you may encounter on the job.
- R-410A – R-410A is a type of refrigerant that is held at extremely high pressure, so it requires that technicians be certified to handle it. This type of refrigerant is being phased out in favor of more environmentally friendly alternatives like R-32, so having this certification has become less important. Still, technicians who handle any type of refrigerant will still need EPA certifications, which are discussed in more detail below.
- Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) – Particularly in the post-pandemic era, homeowners and businesses are very concerned about indoor air quality to ensure the health of the occupants of their home or commercial property. With IAQ certification, technicians can demonstrate that they know how to install, maintain, and repair air quality systems in various HVAC setups.
- Preventive Maintenance – Many HVAC companies prioritize preventive maintenance for their customers because it can prevent significant, unexpected repairs and ensure the longevity of any HVAC system. Preventive maintenance HVAC certification provides technicians with the knowledge to diagnose potential repair issues early during routine maintenance and properly perform system upkeep.
- Type 1 EPA – EPA certifications are the only HVAC certifications that are federally required. These are necessary for any technician who handles refrigerant, which is a hazardous material that requires specialized training. Type 1 EPA certification allows technicians to work with small appliances like residential refrigerators that only require small amounts of refrigerant.
- Type 2 EPA – Type 2 EPA certification is common for technicians who perform residential HVAC installations, repairs, and maintenance. It covers outdoor AC units and commercial refrigeration equipment.
- Type 3 EPA – Type 3 EPA certification allows technicians to work with low pressure appliances that use refrigerant with a boiling point above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Universal EPA – Technicians who hold all 3 EPA certifications will have Universal EPA certification, meaning they can work with all types of appliances and equipment requiring refrigerant.
What Are the Benefits of an HVAC Certification?
Aside from EPA certification for technicians who handle refrigerants, HVAC certification is not federally required in the United States. Each state has its own unique requirements for certification and licensing of HVAC professionals. But there are more reasons to earn certification beyond government mandates.
For individual technicians, certification can provide greater confidence on the job and ease in completing complex HVAC repairs. It can also make you a more attractive applicant when you’re navigating the job market. For HVAC companies, prioritizing HVAC certification for your technicians can provide your customers with peace of mind that they are hiring qualified, knowledgeable professionals. Some HVAC companies may also provide specialized services like solar heating, duct sealing, and heat pump installation/repair, which all benefit from additional training and certification.
The Indeed Editorial Team offers further insight on the benefits of professional certification:
Certification programs typically offer in-depth training on HVAC topics like installation, equipment, green technology, and air quality. These programs aim to equip you with more tools to serve your clients, and studying various methods and topics can make you a well-rounded technician. Becoming certified might result in stronger job performance and increased client satisfaction. (3)
How to Get an HVAC Certification
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the increasing complexity and rapid changes in technology in the HVAC field have caused industry certification to become more in-demand. (4) Therefore, aspiring technicians should take steps towards certification to be successful in landing jobs.
Because the job outlook for the HVAC industry is expected to grow about 5% by 2031, investing in HVAC certification is a smart move to build your career prospects. (5) Many HVAC professionals are set to retire in the coming years, so a population of trained, upcoming professionals is needed to continue meeting industry staffing needs.
Obtain a High School Diploma
Most HVAC certification programs and associate degree programs require a high school diploma or GED. It is advisable for high school students to complete courses in physics, computer science, environmental science, and advanced mathematics to prepare for the demands of the industry. Some high schools may even offer trade-oriented curriculum for aspiring professionals.
Choose an HVAC Learning Path
The HVAC industry is a broad field. Technicians may work primarily in residential, commercial, or industrial environments, and they may specialize in different types of equipment. Choosing a path within the industry can help you select the right certification program to suit your goals. Look at different HVAC job listings in your area and see the certification and training requirements they list, so you know which direction to go with your own training.
Attend a Trade School or Community College
There are many trade schools and community colleges that provide HVAC training programs. Upon completion, these may yield a certificate or an associate’s degree, depending on the program. When choosing a program, be sure that you are attending an accredited institution backed by reputable industry organizations.
Take Required Tests
Typically, training is only one component of the certification process. You’ll need to showcase your knowledge through certification exams, such as NATE’s industry competency exams. You may need to have a minimum level of experience to qualify for certain exams.
Start an Apprenticeship
Certification also usually requires practical, real-life experience. This may come from an apprenticeship with an industry professional. At P3 Services, we have instituted apprentice programs within all of our service companies across the US.
Apprenticeships are paid training positions with HVAC companies that allow you to work in the field under the guidance and supervision of a seasoned professional. Some HVAC companies will also hire entry-level technicians, assistants, and mechanics with no field experience, and these positions are typically overseen by more experienced professionals.
Maintain Your Certification
Some certifications, such as EPA certification, are good for life, so you only have to meet requirements and pay any associated fees once. Other certifications require ongoing renewal every 2-5 years. Renewing certifications may involve participating in additional training programs to familiarize yourself with the latest technologies and industry trends.
Licensing vs. Certification
It's important not to confuse HVAC certification with licensing, as the two are unique career requirements. Each state has its own unique licensing requirements, and even in states with no state-level licensing requirements, such as Colorado and Indiana, there may be municipal licensing requirements for different cities and counties. (6) Therefore, it is essential to understand local requirements for the areas you want to serve.
Licensing requirements may also differ depending on the specific career path you choose. For example, some states do not license individual HVAC technicians but do require individuals who own HVAC businesses to register as construction contractors.
Working without a license when one is required by state or local laws can incur significant fines and damage your reputation in your local community. In addition to licensing and certifications, HVAC companies or solo technicians may also need to have various types of professional insurance, such as liability insurance. These requirements also vary by state.
Grow Your HVAC Company with P3 Services
P3 is committed to supporting the growth of great local HVAC companies by providing them with access to national-level resources without compromising a local level of service and individual branding. You’ve built a company that locals in your area trust; as a P3 Partner, you can take that company to the next level and find support for recruiting qualified technicians as your business continues to grow.
If you are ready to explore the benefits of becoming a P3 Partner yourself, contact us today to learn more. We are continually growing our family of plumbing, HVAC, mechanical, and electrical experts from coast to coast.
- Nicole Fallon, The Best Online HVAC Certification Programs of 2023 https://www.bobvila.com/articles/best-online-hvac-certification-programs/
- Laura Hennigan, What Certifications Do HVAC Pros Need? https://www.angi.com/articles/which-hvac-certifications-do-technicians-need.htm
- Indeed Editorial Team, How to Get an HVAC Certification https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/how-to-get-hvac-certification
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, How to Become a Heating, Air Conditioning, or Refrigeration Mechanic and Installer https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm#tab-4
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers Job Outlook https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm#tab-6
- Diana Lamirand, HVAC License Requirements for All 50 States https://www.servicetitan.com/blog/hvac-license-requirements