HVAC systems are continuously improving. They’re becoming safer and more efficient every year. That’s why HVAC technicians are among the most wanted specialty contractors in the construction market, and the field is predicted to grow steadily over the next five years.
HVAC specialists work on a variety of projects—from home renovation and repair to large commercial building construction. So, what does it take to get an HVAC license and launch your contracting business? Learn the key steps to getting the right certification and licensure.
What Is the Job of an HVAC Specialist?
HVAC contractors, also known as HVACR, install, repair, and maintain heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units for residential and commercial building projects.
The Main Tasks of HVAC Specialists
HVAC contractors play a critical role in many different types of construction projects, though they usually specialize in one area. That’s how these contractors can get the necessary expertise to provide high-quality services.
Besides installing and repairing HVAC systems, HVAC contractors may also perform the following:
- Air quality checks
- Humidity control
- Temperature control
- Heat pump service
- Combustion analysis
- Energy efficiency tests
- HVAC systems safety tests
Average HVAC Salaries
The average salary for an HVAC contractor in the US is $78,256, with the typical range falling between $67,573 and $88,897. Salaries in the HVAC industry depend on many factors, including location, education and certifications, specialties and years of experience.
#1. Find Out What Certification and Licensing You Need
HVAC specialists may need to get certified or licensed, or in many cases—both. During the licensing process, authorities make sure contractors meet the criteria for running an HVAC business.
In the U.S., there is no nationwide licensing requirement for HVAC contractors. Many states, however, have a licensing procedure in place, and so do numerous local and municipal authorities.
Certification, on the other hand, means an HVAC technician has the right set of skills to handle certain technical tasks. Certifications may be either obligatory or voluntary. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a federal certification for working in refrigerant recovery and recycling. According to the Refrigerant Recycling Rule in the Clean Air Act, you must be certified to service or maintain equipment that may release ozone-depleting refrigerants or substitute refrigerants.
Contractors may also choose to get additional certifications in the field to build up their professional profile. Extra certifications are typically voluntary.
There are different EPA HVAC certification options you can choose from. They correspond to the different types of work you would like to perform:
- EPA Type I Certification - small appliances
- EPA Type II Certification - high-pressure systems
- EPA Type III Certification - low-pressure systems
- Universal EPA Certificate - all types of systems
Besides the mandatory federal certification, you can get additional certifications, which can help boost your reputation and position you as highly skilled in your field.
You may also need specific certifications to take part in larger projects led by general contractors.
The top certifying institutions include:
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
- HVAC Excellence, American Society Of Heating, Refrigerating And Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
- Refrigerating Engineers And Technicians Association (RETA)
- Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
Their programs and exams differ according to the different specialties they offer. Most of these programs also include the EPA HVAC certification.
Many HVAC contractors also choose to get LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which proves their knowledge of green building requirements.
The majority of states require HVAC contractors to get a license. The procedure is typically handled by the state’s contractor licensing board, or the state department that regulates the work of contractors. In some places, HVAC licenses follow the traditional progression of apprentice, journeyman, and master. Some authorities require separate licenses for HVAC contractors and HVAC technicians. There may also be different license classifications based on the HVAC specialty. In other cases, a plumber license or an electrician license is necessary, or a combination of those.
There are no state requirements for HVAC specialists in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. You may, however, need an HVAC license on the local or municipal level. Not in one of these states? Check out your state’s requirements here.
#2. Get Training and Work Experience
For all types of licensing and certification, you’ll need some basic training and experience.
You’ll need a high school diploma or GED to meet the minimum education requirements. It’s a good idea to put extra effort into math and physics because you’ll find those fields useful in your future HVAC work.
In most states, you’ll have to complete a specialized HVAC training program. It can be either a stand-alone course or a part of a college program. Often trade organizations collaborate with colleges to offer courses for aspiring air conditioning and refrigeration contractors. The usual length of such training is between six months and two years.
After getting the necessary education and training, your next step will be to find the right apprenticeship program. This is how you can gain hands-on experience in the field by working alongside an experienced HVAC professional. Prior coursework or practical work in mechanics or electronics can be a big plus.
You’ll typically need to complete between three and five years of an HVAC apprenticeship before you can get your license. You can expect to gain about 2,000 hours of practical experience.
#3. Complete the Required Examinations
You may need to pass one or more exams for your mandatory licensing or optional certification. Many state, local, and municipal authorities require you to pass a licensing exam to get your HVAC license.
If you’re one of the many HVAC specialists who need the federal EPA certification for refrigeration work, you’ll have to pass their exam as well. Several vocational training and certification organizations like ACCA and the ESCO Institute can help you get prepared for this exam.
Additional certifications will typically require exams. Usually, you’ll need to complete a test for each consecutive level of proficiency, or for different specialties, such as installation or service specialists, efficiency analysts, and the like. During the certification process, you’ll also have to demonstrate your hands-on skills in practical exercises.
Keep in mind that many certifying organizations require you to have prior training and practical experience before you can apply.
#4. Prepare and Submit Your Documents
The criteria for getting an HVAC contractor license go well beyond the training and examination requirements.
You may need several other documents to get your local, municipal, or state HVAC license, such as:
- Business entity registration in the state
- Personal information about company owners and managers
- Criminal background check
- Surety bond
- Insurance policy
Once you prepare your documents, you’ll have to submit your completed application to your licensing authority. You’ll typically have to pay yearly fees to remain an HVAC licensee.
Get Workers’ Comp for Your HVAC Business
While you may have gotten into the HVAC industry because you love working with the equipment or helping people stay comfortable in their homes or offices—you’ll also need to tackle a number of admin tasks to keep your business running smoothly. That’s where Hourly can make your life a whole lot easier.
Hourly connects workers’ comp with payroll, so your premiums are based on real-time wages, rather than estimates. Say goodbye to workers’ comp audit surprises, and stress. What’s more, Hourly collects time, task and location data from your workers as it happens and sends it to you in real-time. And to pay your team? All you have to do is click “pay.”