HVAC Certification Guide: Requirements and Training

HVAC Certification Guide

In the United States, almost half a million people work as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) operatives. The good news is that this industry shows no signs of slowing down and is expected to be worth a whopping $130 billion by 2020.  Therefore, this is a relatively secure industry that is going to need more trained specialists to fill the gaps.

By becoming certified, you can impress potential employers by demonstrating your competence and passion for the field, therefore, giving yourself an edge over the competition. Certification isn’t mandatory in every state, but the exact requirements differ by state and region. Regardless, certification provides a variety of real advantages that can help prospective technicians attain an increased income and more desirable role. In this post, we will be answering some of the most common questions, including:

  • The benefits of becoming certified
  • The types of certification available
  • The requirements of certification
  • The certification programs available
  • The exams involved in the process
  • Homework and Best Sources to Help you pass the Exam

Hopefully, this post will highlight the major advantages of becoming a certified HVAC technician, which in the long term will help you in your future career. This post will offer you a blueprint of what is required in order for you to become certified, from start to finish.

What is an HVAC Certification License?

In order to operate as an HVAC technician certification is essential as it demonstrates you are able to carry out a range of common HVAC responsibilities safely and with competence. In order to be certified, many states require technicians to pass certain exams that test their knowledge in key areas.

In total, there are three different categories of certification required to operate as a professional HVAC technician. Firstly, at a federal level is the Section 608 Certification, which is required by all technicians working with refrigerants and is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Next, depending on the state you intend on operating as an HVAC, you may need to set the appropriate exams to become certified and be authorized to practice in that region. This typically involves undertaking studies in an approved course, partaking in an apprenticeship or in some cases an HVAC technician can take the exams to gain certified status. The two most common bodies that provide this certification are North American Technician Excellence and HVAC Excellence, but there are other providers too.

The Advantages of Becoming a Certified HVAC Technician

If you’re not already convinced of the advantage of becoming a certified HVAC technician, here are the main advantages:

  • An HVAC certified business makes you stand out from the competition and let’s potential clients know you are competent.
  • Being certified means you stand out from the competition when applying for HVAC jobs.
  • With a certified status, you can expect to be taken more seriously and potentially earn more.
  • It’s a way of proving and displaying your knowledge to prospective clients and employers.

The bottom line is that HVAC certification confirms to clients and employers that you know your stuff and that you are competent at your job. This is becoming more important as competition increases and it’s very likely that most sensible people are going to opt for an HVAC technician that is certified as opposed to one that isn’t. It’s only natural for people to want that peace of mind when making a financial decision.

How to Become Certified – HVAC License Requirements

Here are some of the most common routes to obtaining HVAC certification:

1. Earn a High School Diploma

You can start the journey right from high school, by choosing fields relevant to HVAC. This includes subjects like maths, physics, and chemistry, which will provide foundation knowledge that will help any aspiring HVAC technician.

2. Earn HVAC Certificate from an accredited program (differs between states)

By enrolling in an accredited program at a community college or relevant academy you can complete the necessary training and exams that will allow you to become HVAC certified. The duration of the courses varies from months to years depending on your level of commitment and time available in your schedule.

3. Acquire a License

In some states, you are required to apply for a license that can involve having to complete a training program or pass an exam, or show you have acquired up to 5 years of relevant HVAC experience.

The journey to certification is a straightforward process that requires attaining the relevant experience and passing certain exams. For some people, the journey begins at college by completing an associate’s degree program, while others select an apprenticeship in the industry to gain relevant training and hands-on experience.

Whichever route you decide to take or whatever stage in your career, you are likely going to need to complete an accredited course to become an HVAC certified technician. Some courses allow you to complete it your own time and as part of a self-directed study, while others require you to attend an accredited school, academy or college. Each course will vary in terms of its depth and topics covered depending on the type of HVAC career you have in mind.

In order to attain certification, you will be required to pass an exam that tests your knowledge and competence. In the next portion of this article, we will cover some of the most popular exams in some detail and compare the differences between them.

Types of HVAC Certificates

This is an overview of the various types of HVAC certifications available:

  • EPA Type I Certification
  • EPA Type II Certification
  • EPA Type III Certification
  • Universal EPA Certificate
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

As mentioned previously, the exact type of certification required varies depending on the state. However, technicians that work with any refrigerant in any state are required to acquire EPA Section 608 Certification, of which there are four different types.

Section 608 Technician Certification

The Environmental Protection Agency demands that all HVAC technicians who are involved in the maintenance repair or disposal of appliances that have the potential to release refrigerants or substitute refrigerants, such as HFCs must hold Section 608 Technician Certification.

This requirement can be found under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act and is specific to the type of appliances handled. In total, there are four different types of certifications available under Section 608, which all need enrolment on an accredited course that requires an exam to be passed in order to attain successful certification.

Types of Section 608 Certification

Type I Certification – For Servicing Small Appliances

This certification is appropriate for HVAC roles that only require servicing and dealing with small appliances including refrigerators, freezers and small humidifiers. In order to attain this certificate, you will be required to attend classes and pass an exam.  Examples of module topics include gas recovery, safety considerations and handling refrigerants.

Type II Certification – For Servicing High-Pressure Systems

This certification is appropriate for HVAC roles that deal with high-pressure systems such as air-conditioning and heating systems. Just like the type I certification, it will include the basics, however, additional topics will be covered such as leak detection, repair, and refrigeration system maintenance.

Type III Certification – For Servicing Low-Pressure Systems

This certification is appropriate for HVAC roles that deal with low-pressure systems such as chillers. Study topics covered in this certification include leak detection, repair, recovery methods, recharging methods, refrigeration, and safety.

Universal Certification

This certification is most appropriate for HVAC technician roles that demand knowledge and handling of small appliances, high-pressure systems, and low-pressure systems. This is probably the best certification to attain since it provides you with a good working knowledge of most HVAC systems and therefore opens you up to more opportunities in the industry.

Naturally, since this certification includes Type I, II and III certification it does take longer to complete but offers the most rewards. With this certification, you are free to work in all states, as long as you also meet the specific state requirements for HVAC technicians.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

Founded over 20 years ago in 1997 NATE is a non-profit organization that provides certification for HVAC technicians in the United States. Although not mandatory to hold a NATE certification, it has a number of benefits and allows technicians to validate and display their competence in the field.

Developed by a committee of nationwide industry experts, the exams provided by NATE are divided into two distinct categories – those for experienced technicians and those for newly-qualified technicians. Nate is also distinct in that each exam is separated into areas of specialty, for instance, an exam for air conditioning and one for gas heating.

NATE Entry Level & Early Career Certifications

If you have recently qualified and have little experience in the industry, you are able to gain certification from NATE via two separate programs designed for newcomers in the field. These include the following certifications:

Ready-to-Work Certification: This is designed specifically for newcomers in the industry who have very little experience. The exam questions the applicant on foundation principles including HVAC systems, the principles of heat transfer, electrics and basic safety considerations.

HVAC Support Technician Certification: This is designed for those with at least 6 to 12 months experience work in the HVAC industry. As a result, it is more in-depth than the ready-to-work certificate. The exam questions the applicant on subjects including installations, maintenance, components, and safety.

NATE Professional Level Certifications

For those who have worked in the industry for more than a year, there is the professional certification. This is separated into specific areas of specialism allowing HVAC technicians to demonstrate their competence in a particular area. These include the following:

  • Air Conditioning
  • Air Distribution
  • Heat Pumps
  • Gas Heating
  • Oil Heating
  • Hydronics Gas (service only)
  • Hydronics Oil (service only)
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration (service only)
  • Commercial Refrigeration (service only)
  • Ground Source Heat Pump Loop Installer
  • Senior HVAC Efficiency Analyst

HVAC Schools, Academies & Training Programs

The next step for those interested in pursuing HVAC technician certification is to locate a respected HVAC certification program near you. These courses will include classes that teach you the basic principles of both heating, cooling, ventilation systems. Here are some of the most popular schools that provide such training:

Those enrolled in a program are taught about the next generation systems in the HVAC industry and acquire valuable hands-on experience in the repair and maintenance of such systems. Fundamental skills taught in the best programs include how to follow standard operating procedures read electrical diagrams and carry out repairs safely and in accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines. Other basic skills that are taught include how to identify fuse and breaker faults, fit air-conditioning units professionally and other practical applications that will come in useful in any HVAC technician role.

On completion of an accredited program, students will have a new found confidence and feel much more comfortable in almost any HVAC technician role. You will learn how to identify the root of a system fault, the step by step troubleshooting process and main causes of the most common issues in both heating and air conditioning systems. Federal regulations will also be taught, which is essential as HVAC technicians must practice safely and within the relevant confines of the law. This means understanding and being aware of the relevant international codes, federal and state regulations and how to handle refrigerants safely and with respect to the law. Other areas commonly covered include pipework installation, furnaces, stoves, chiller units, dampers, stoves and heat pumps.

Institutions also typically include foundation physics and thermodynamic concepts that provide the theory underpinning some of the most popular HVAC systems. Typically, the complete training period takes around two years and will equip with all the knowledge and experience required to secure your first role in the industry as an HVAC technician.

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