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How to Get HVAC Certification

Are you trying to decide whether you should pursue a career in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)? If you have good customer service skills, understand math and science, and work well with wires, pipes, power tools, and building plans, this may be a great field for you. So, what training or certification is required?

How Do You Become a Certified HVAC Technician?

First Steps

Before you even start the HVAC certification process, check what your state requirements are and if there are any perquisites needed for the HVAC certification you want. Generally, you need to at least have your high school diploma or GED. Also, if you have the opportunity to take math, science, shop, and computer classes at your high school, these courses can better prepare you for HVAC training.

Apprenticeship vs. Going to School

If at all possible, find an apprenticeship program that allows you to be trained while on the job. That means you will gain field experience while also earning money. While these programs usually last three to five years, if you learn best by doing the experience is invaluable.

However, as the demand for HVAC technicians rises, many jobs are requiring certification from a technical or trade school. So, be sure to check with employers in your area to see which training program is the best choice for you. Some school training programs can be as short as a few months, which may fit your needs better. But remember to calculate the cost of going to school and potentially not being able to work much during that time.

Types of Certification

While a few states do not require you to have a license to work as an HVAC technician, if you are going to be handling refrigerant, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires you to be certified. To successfully begin your career as an HVAC technician, it is important to understand what types of certification are available and how to become certified. Even if a certification is not required, it may help you get better paying jobs.

There are various types of HVAC certifications to pursue, but the following three are among the most helpful:

  • EPA 608 Certification—If you will be handling refrigerant, the EPA requires you to be EPA 608 certified. This certification includes four types. Depending on what HVAC work you plan to do, you may only need to obtain one type of EPA certification.
    • Type I (Small Appliances)—This type of certification covers the installation and repair of small appliances like window air conditioners, home refrigerators, and vending machines.
    • Type II (High Pressure)—This type of certification covers the installation, repair, and disposal of appliances and equipment that contain high-pressure refrigerant (heat pumps, process and commercial refrigeration, and residential air conditioners).
    • Type III (Low Pressure)—This type of certification covers the installation, repair, and disposal of appliances and equipment that contain low-pressure refrigerant, which is typically common in more complex industrial equipment.
    • Universal—Achieving this top-level EPA 608 Certification proves that you are capable of installing, repairing, and disposing of all types of equipment and appliances, for all refrigerant types.
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE) Certification—This nationally recognized certificate is the gold standard for technicians. To obtain it, you must pass a knowledge-based test that has been developed by industry experts. The exam helps prove you are adept at handling difficult scenarios. Typically, NATE certified technicians earn more and remain in the industry longer.
  • HVAC Excellence Certification—Technicians certified in HVAC Excellence can attain various levels, the two most prestigious being Professional and Master Specialist. This certification tests for experience over mere book smarts.
    • Professional Level—To achieve this level, you must have a minimum of two years’ field experience and a high score on the comprehensive exam.
    • Master Specialist Level—To reach this level, you must have a minimum of three years’ field experience and already be certified at the Professional Level.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to get HVAC certification? It varies depending on the type of certification, but some can be completed in as little as six months. As previously stated, however, achieving higher levels within a certification sometimes requires several years of field experience (HVAC Excellence Certification). And, if you choose the apprenticeship route, it can take up to five years (but you are working and getting paid in the meantime).
  • What does the EPA 608 Universal Certification exam include and how much does it cost? The universal test is made up of 100 multiple choice questions split into four sections—25 core questions, 25 Type I questions, 25 Type II questions, and 25 Type III questions. To pass the exam, you must achieve a score of 72 percent on each section, which means you have to answer 18 out of each set of 25 questions correctly. If you at least pass the core section plus one of the other sections, you can achieve a certificate for the section type you passed. (For example, if you passed the core section and the Type III section, then you will achieve a Type III Certification.) If you just want to test for Type I, there are online tests for under $25. Exams for Types II, III, and Universal must be taken in a proctored classroom setting, and prices vary according to location.
  • How much does an HVAC Excellence Certification exam cost, and how often do you have to recertify? HVAC Excellence offers a total of 11 different exams, each of which costs $25. Once certified, technicians only need to recertify after five years. The electrical exam is the prerequisite to taking any of the other 10 exams, which include air conditioning, commercial air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, heat pumps, gas heat, electric heat, geothermal heat, oil heat, and hydronics.
  • How much does a NATE Certification exam cost, and how often do you have to recertify? NATE certifies both installation and service technicians. The core exam for either costs $65. After passing the preliminary exam, you can test in five different specialties (air conditioning, air distribution, air-to-air heating, air-to-air heat pump, and air-to-air oil heating) for an additional $85 each. To be certified in a specialty, you must pass the 50-question core test and the 100-question specialty exam with a 70 percent score. NATE certified technicians do not have to recertify for five years.
  • Do you have to get a state license? It varies state to state. Regardless, a state license can provide peace of mind to any employer or client you have, proving that you have been professionally trained and declared qualified according to state requirements. If you move states, remember to check what the licensing requirements are for your new home state. If you live near a state line, it could be beneficial for you be licensed in the nearby state, as well.
  • What is the typical salary of an HVAC technician? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that most HVAC technicians make between $42,000 and $67,000 each year. Certifications can help you get higher paying jobs and be promoted to supervisory positions.
  • Is the HVAC industry a smart career field to choose? The growth rate for the HVAC industry, according to the BLS, is expected to reach 34 percent by 2020. This average is a much higher growth rate than a lot of other occupations, so it is definitely worth considering. Plus, with the fairly low cost of training/certification and the high salary range, choosing to be an HVAC technician could set you up to enjoy a long, successful career.
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