The job market for HVAC technicians is one of the fastest-growing job markets in the United States since it is expected to grow by 13% within the next five to ten years. This HVAC certification guide will provide you with the information you need to start a career in this field and lend a secure job.
The process of becoming an HVAC technician takes time because it requires a comprehensive understanding of cooling and heating systems as well as sizable experience with the installation and maintenance of these systems.
Profiling yourself for a specific type of HVAC system early in your career will make it easier for you to find the certification program that fits your needs since the process of installing a heat pump is somewhat different from the mini-split installation process.
You should also go through our guide to getting started in HVAC to find out more about the job opportunities and career advancement options.
What is HVAC Certification?
You have to meet certain requirements to work as an HVAC technician. HVAC certification is one of those requirements since most employers require successful candidates to have one or more HVAC certificates.
Different institutions issue these certificates with a specific set of requirements all candidates must meet before entering the certification program.
It is also worth adding that federal and non-governmental institutions allow you to take certification exams that fit your career path.
For instance, you can acquire a Commercial Refrigeration certificate that enables you to service HVAC systems or an Air Conditioning certificate that gives you the authority to install and service ACs from the same organization depending on the field you’d like to work in.
You should also distinguish between HVAC licensing and certification since licensing requirements vary from state to state, and a license issued in California isn’t valid in Arizona. On the other hand, most HVAC certificates are valid in all states.
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Choosing the Right Certification Option
Several governmental and NGO institutions offer HVAC certification programs that are aimed at technicians who want to work with residential and commercial HVAC systems. Moreover, you’ll have to take different exams if you want to handle small appliances or service heating units.
Let’s take a look at some of the best certification options you have at your disposal.
EPA 608 Certifications
Obtaining one of the available EPA certifications is a mandatory step for all HVAC technicians. You can either take a Universal EPA exam that allows you to work on all types of HVAC appliances or opt for one of the three exam types designed for technicians who work with low, high, and very high-pressure systems.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only EPA-certified technicians are allowed to charge cooling systems with refrigerants, so you won’t be able to install or service systems that utilize the R-410A refrigerant before you obtain the Universal or Type II EPA certification.
North American Technical Excellence (NATE) Certification
Unlike EPA, you don’t need a NATE certification to acquire a state HVAC license. Even so, completing one of the organization’s certification programs offers you a way to validate your knowledge and increase your chances to move forward in your career.
NATE certification can be a great option if you’re just starting in this field because it allows you to take the Ready-to-Work exam that can help you get an entry-level HVAC technician job. The organization also offers certificates like Core & Specialty or Senior Level Efficiency Analyst.
HVAC Excellence Certification
The HVAC Excellence certification was established by the ESCO group in 1994. All certificates issued by the organization are recognized in all states, and you can choose between Employment Ready, Professional Technician, Master Specialist, and Educator options.
Each of these certificates is available for various disciplines so that you can get a Heat Pump Employment Ready or Professional Technician certificate depending on your current knowledge and experience levels.
Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) Certification
Becoming a member of the RSES society will grant you access to an educational platform covering all aspects of HVAC systems. Attending webinars, using technical resources, or receiving career assistance are some of the advantages of joining this society.
You can also take exams that make you eligible to become an active specialized member, a certificate member, or get the certification you need to work with R-410A refrigeration.
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HVAC Training Programs
Getting HVAC certification is just one of the steps you need to take if you want to start a career in this field.
However, you cannot take this step if you don’t have the necessary training because you need to understand how residential cooling and heating systems work or how to use calibration tools to optimize those systems.
Enrolling in an HVAC training program is arguably the best way to prepare for the position of an HVAC technician. The duration of training programs spans from six months to five years, depending on the option you choose.
In most cases, you’ll receive a certificate or an associate degree after you complete a training program. However, it’s worth pointing out that a high school diploma or equivalent is a prerequisite for enrolment for most HVAC training programs.
Once you complete the training, you’ll have to obtain one of the EPA certificates to get a job as an HVAC technician. Please read our guide to ventilation systems for more information about how these systems work.
Gaining Practical Experience
Ideally, you’ll complete an apprenticeship while you’re still attending an HVAC training program. Having hands-on experience will enable you to gather the knowledge you need to pass the certification exam.
Although you don’t need any experience to take an EPA certification exam, obtaining a certificate issued by organizations like NATE or HVAC Excellence is impossible if you don’t have several years of professional experience.
Landing an HVAC installer or technician job without certification can be difficult, so becoming an assistant or journeyman will enable you to learn from more experienced colleagues while helping them install or service different types of HVAC systems.
HVAC Apprenticeship programs usually last three to five years, but whether or not you’ll be compensated for your work during this time depends on the program you choose. However, you can apply for a scholarship that will enable you to make a living until you complete your apprenticeship.
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How to Become Eligible for HVAC Certification
The requirements you’ll have to meet in order to take an HVAC certification exam depend on the organization you choose.
Entry-level exams like EPA Type II don’t require any professional experience. Still, you’re going to need at least two years of experience to become eligible for the NATE Core & Specialty test.
Also, some states require HVAC technicians to have one or more certifications before they can become licensed HVAC technicians. Obtaining the EPA certification is mandatory in all states because you cannot work with refrigerants until you pass one of the EPA’s tests.
In some cases, you’ll also need a diploma or other proof that you completed a training program in order to take a certification exam. That’s why becoming eligible for HVAC certification can take anywhere between six months and two years.
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Preparing for an HVAC Certification Exam
All HVAC certification organizations offer an abundance of learning resources that can help you pass their exams. However, you should keep in mind that the passing score for these tests is usually between 70% and 75% depending on the seniority level.
The EPA offers a free study guide that covers all areas featured on the exam. In contrast, the NATE platform features an extensive library that contains textbooks and various other training resources.
You can also attend webinars and prep courses for a specific HVAC certification exam or use online learning platforms to prepare for the test you want to take. Several factors can affect the duration of the preparation process, but it usually takes a couple of months to get ready for an exam.
Optionally, you can purchase a DeWalt HVVAC Technician Certification Guide or visit online platforms like HVAC-Certification-Exam-Guide where you can find all the information you need to pass the test you’re preparing for.
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HVAC Certification Costs
You won’t have to spend a fortune on an HVAC certification exam because most learning resources are available for free, and the exam fees are usually less than $50. You’ll have to cover a $24.95 exam fee the first time you take an EPA Type I, Type II, Type III, or Universal exam.
The fee increases by $4.95 each time you take the same test, and you won’t have to renew your EPA HVAC certification once you pass the test. NATE exams are more expensive, and you’ll have to pay a $50 fee if you want to take the organization’s Ready to Work test.
Completing an HVAC training program can be expensive, and you’ll have to spend between $1,500 and $7,500 if you decide to enroll in an HVAC course. Go through our guide to humidity systems if you’re looking for an efficient way of controlling air humidity levels in your home.
Obtaining a State License
Getting an HVAC technician job without HVAC certification can be difficult if you live in a state that doesn’t require HVAC professionals to have a license.
Obtaining an HVAC certification increases your chances to get a job in this field because it demonstrates that you have the necessary skills for the job to potential employers.
States like Colorado, Illinois, or Indiana don’t have licensing requirements on the state level, but some local governments within these states might require HVAC licensing.
Moreover, each state has different licensing requirements, and you might have to pass a law, business, or trade test and have several years of experience to obtain your HVAC license. The state HVAC licenses can cost up to $650, but in some states, they can be obtained for free.
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The Advantages and Disadvantages of HVAC Certification
- Improves career opportunities
- Certification exams are available at all seniority levels
- Plenty of free learning resources
- HVAC certification doesn’t expire
- Working and studying for an HVAC certification exam can be difficult
- Taking an HVAC certification test without proof of completed coursework isn’t always possible
Frequently Asked Questions About HVAC Certification
Question: Can I take the EPA 608 certification test online?
Answer: You can take this test on a laptop or desktop computer equipped with a web camera since a proctor needs to be present during the exam.
Question: Do I need certification to purchase a refrigerant?
Answer: You don’t need a certificate to purchase a refrigerant, but you cannot vacate or charge a cooling system with a refrigerant without an HVAC certificate.
Question: How much do certified and licensed HVAC technicians earn?
Answer: You can earn up to $80,000 per year as an HVAC technician, but most industry professionals earn around $50,000 per year.
Question: How many times can I take an HVAC certification exam?
Answer: The number of times you can take these exams isn’t limited, but the fee increases each time you take the same test.
The process of becoming an HVAC professional is slow, as you need to have the proper education and a sufficient amount of experience to install or service heating or cooling systems.
Obtaining HVAC certification isn’t one of the first steps you need to take during that process because you must first complete a training program and obtain a state license.
Except for the EPA certificate that is obligatory for all HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants, all other certification options are voluntary. However, passing the HVAC certification exam can make it easier to get a state license or a job in this field.
Was this HVAC certification guide helpful? Let us know in the comments, or continue reading our guide to the best 5-zone mini-split options if you’re looking for a whole-house cooling and heating solution.
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