All HVAC technicians working with refrigeration technology are required to obtain one or more types of Environmental Protection Agency certification. In addition, some states and regions will require you to obtain a licence and hold certain other credentials.
Becoming certified also holds many other benefits too, like being able to impress potential employers by demonstrating your competence and passion for the field, therefore, giving yourself an edge over the competition.
Certification also provides a variety of practical 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:
This post aims to take you through the different types of HVAC certification availble, how they differ and how attaining certified status can help bolster your future career and prospects. There isn’t just one route to achieve certified status, there are many and here we will explore your options to help you make the right decision.
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 competently. In total, there are two different categories of certification required to operate as a professional HVAC technician and others that may be helpful in your career.
1. Federal Requirements
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).
2. State & Regional Requirements
Next, depending on the state you intend on operating as an HVAC, you may need to pass 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 a HVAC apprenticeship or in some cases an HVAC technician can take the exams to gain certified status.
Depending on your jurisdiction there could be other requirements that need to be met too, such as demonstrating previous experience in the field and providing references from previous employers.
3. Other Types of Certification
Lastly, there are other types of certification that can be acquired that demonstrate a specialism in a particular HVAC field. This is often useful for those looking to secure a role that involves working with a particular type of equipment.
In order to apply for the training and exams involved, you will usually need to have at least one year installation and two years maintenance and repair experience. 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
As well as meeting the federal and/or state requirements of becoming a certified HVAC technician, there are many other practical advantages too:
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 commitment.
1. High School or GED Diploma
The minimum requirement to study at HVAC school is typically a high school diploma or the equivalent, such as a GED diploma. Subjects that will help support you in HVAC training include maths, physics and chemistry.
2. HVAC Training & Certification
Accredited programs are offered throughout the country and allow you to gain a good foundation knowledge of HVAC and hands on experience via on-site labs. The exact course requirements vary from state to state, but some can be completed within as little as 9 months.
These courses will also require you to take and pass the EPA Section 608 Certification Exams. This usually includes one or more types of EPA certification.
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 exact requirements differ from state to state.
There are other routes to achieve certification including on the job training and HVAC apprenticeships. Some people may even choose to attend post-secondary education in HVAC technology prior to pursuing HVAC training and acquiring certification.
Whichever route you decide to take or whatever stage in your career you are at, you are likely going to need to complete an accredited course to become an HVAC certified technician. For some people, HVAC certification online is possible.
As mentioned previously, HVAC training and certification can be completed within 9 months with some HVAC training programs. The course will involve a mixture of theoretical knowledge and hands on training and in order to to attain certification, you will be required to pass an exam that tests your knowledge and competence. Typically, this will include Type I and Type II certification.
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 Certification
- Industry Certification
As mentioned previously, the exact type of certification required varies depending on the role. 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.
There are also a number of industry certifications offered by the likes of North American Technician Excellence, HVAC Excellence and the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute.
Section 608 Technician Certification
The Environmental Protection Agency requires all HVAC technicians that partake in the maintenance repair or disposal of appliances that have the potential to release refrigerant of any variety to 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 are all acquired through enrolment on an accredited course, which involves a final exam that you will need to pass in order to become certified.
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.
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.
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.
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
The next step for those interested in pursuing HVAC technician certification is to locate an accredited HVAC certification program near you.
Accredited programs will have been assessed by an independent, third party, typically made up of industry experts. Accrediting bodies include the likes of HVAC excellence and the Building Performance Institute (BPI).
Here are some of the most popular schools that provide such training:
What subjects will be taught?
Programs will cover fundamental HVAC principles including basic electricity, appliance repair, maintenance and blueprint reading. 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 covered, 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.
You will also acquire hands on experience via on-site labs and workshops. On completion of an accredited program, students will have a new found confidence and feel much more comfortable in almost any HVAC technician role.
The EPA demands all HVAC professionals that are going to be working with any type of refrigerant to attain Section 608 Certification. As a result all good courses will include teaching of topics that you will be tested on during the certification exam that you will need to pass.
Typically, you will take two of the EPA certifican exams – Type I and Type II. You can then take the Type III and Universal Certification exam at a later date if required.