HVAC Technician Certification: How To Get Your HVAC Licence

Josh Mitchell

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Josh Mitchell

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Before starting out on a new HVAC technician career, some essential certifications are necessary.

In my eyes, the most important part is the EPA certification, which allows refrigerants to be purchased and handled.

Several other certifications may be required. Now, let’s look at the HVAC technician certification process and what aspiring techs can expect.

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HVAC Certification Options Explained

There’s no more need to Google “How to get HVAC license." After looking through various HVAC technician job listings,

I have compiled a list of certifications many companies require.

These are not all of the possible HVAC certifications, but they cover the most common requirements.

Along with pursuing the certifications below, I recommend asking local HVAC companies about their requirements.

Employment Eligibility Certification

The first certification required to get an HVAC license isn't specific to HVAC work but is an essential part of getting a job.

Many businesses require proof of someone's eligibility to work in the US, particularly in trades like HVAC.

A Ready-to-Work Certification simply means an individual is eligible to work under local and/or federal law. The certification may not be necessary, and most states have other ways to prove work eligibility.

Employers often use the federal E-Verify system, which automatically checks a potential employee’s eligibility.

The process includes filling out form I-9 after accepting a job as part of the onboarding process.

US citizens should not have any problems with approval, but non-citizens may have to provide additional documentation for approval.

Another type of work certification is for those under 18 years old.

Getting hired as an HVAC technician at this age will be nearly impossible, but other jobs are available at an HVAC company.

The local workforce commission usually issues work permits for minors.

To make things easier when starting a new job, I tell people to keep their birth certificates, tax information, high school diplomas, and any immigration documents ready.

EPA 608 Certification

The next thing that all HVAC contractors need is EPA 608 certification.[1]

The Environmental Protection Agency has strict regulations on who can purchase and handle refrigerants, including the ones in air conditioning units.

This certification allows the applicant to handle refrigerants and work on an HVAC system.

The certification is broken down into several parts, which I will cover in detail below.

Additionally, a 608 Core test is required in addition to each of these parts.

An EPA 608 certification is good for life, so there is no need to worry about retaking exams or follow-ups later on. 

All of the tests are multiple-choice, with no written exam.

Finally, the 608 certification does not require any classroom instruction, but those participating in community college or HVAC programs should find the test pretty easy.

Otherwise, I would purchase a study guide and take the practice tests until I mastered the questions.

Study materials are commonly available through local supply houses; many even offer the exam.

The EPA’s website has a complete list of approved test proctors on its website.[2] Alternatively, there are options to take the exams online with a live proctor.

Type I Certification

The Type I certification centers around low-pressure appliances.

These are commonly household small appliances such as refrigerators or window air conditioners. The test covers the basics of working on and handling refrigerant.

The Type 1 exam is the most unique because it can be taken with an open book.

Additionally, the Core exam can also be taken with an open book to become Type 1 certified.

However, Type 1 certificate holders who take an open-book Core test must take it closed-book before getting Type 2 or Type 3 certified.

Type II Certification

A Type II certification covers most HVAC systems, including package units, split systems, and mini splits.

This test is the most desired because it is needed to work on residential and even light commercial cooling systems.

The Type II exam is a closed-book test, requiring a closed-book EPA Core exam to receive a certificate.

Type III Certification

Finally, the Type III HVAC certification covers low-pressure cooling units used in large commercial and industrial applications.

Most HVAC technicians do not work on low-pressure systems, but it is a good idea to take the exam anyway.

Like Type II, this test is closed-book and also requires passing a closed-book Core exam.

Universal EPA Certificate

An alternative to choosing between the three types of EPA 608 certification is getting an EPA Universal Certificate.

This certificate acknowledges completion of all four EPA 608 exams, including Core, Type I, Type II, and Type III.

I highly recommend getting an EPA Universal Certificate so you don’t have to worry about EPA testing in the future. This is especially true for people who recently took HVAC classes and already have the information fresh in their minds.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

Some extra certifications are an excellent way to stand out from other applicants. NATE is one of several companies that offer HVAC certificates.

These range from very basic to advanced, providing a pathway for growth.[3]

In most cases, becoming NATE certified is not a requirement for residential or commercial HVAC work. Still, it may help land a job or an apprenticeship program.

Additionally, some air conditioning contractors require NATE certification for new hires. 

NATE Certifications are broken down into two categories, with the following exams:

  • NATE Entry Level Certification
    - Ready-to-Work Certificate
    - HVAC Support Technician Certificate
  • NATE Professional Certification
    - Low-GWP Refrigerants Certification
    - Ground Source Heat Pump Loop Installer
    - HVAC Performance Verifier
    - Senior Level Efficiency Analyst

Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Another certification route is RSES, which actually offers NATE certification, among other testing options.[4]

Unlike other testing services, RSES is a trade organization that accepts members.

The three most popular RSES certifications are:

  • Active Specialized Member (SM)
  • Certificate Member (CM)
  • Certificate Member Specialist (CMS)

Each of the three main RSES certifications requires proctoring, which local chapters offer.

These three certifications also have a continuing education requirement every five years.

ESCO Institute

The ESCO Institute offers EPA 608 certification and a range of other certificates.[5]

I consider ESCO an all-in-one place for people who want to become a certified HVAC technician. The institute’s website offers plenty of resources, and it is easy to navigate.

ESCO offers simple certifications to show employers a basic understanding of HVAC systems.

However, they also offer respected professional and master certifications. They even sell guides and training materials for each exam, which can be taken online.

Specialty certifications are an excellent way to show potential employers a deep understanding of a subject. 

For instance, someone interested in new installs can pursue heat load and duct testing certifications. There is even an HVAC certification for heat pumps.

EPA 609 Certification

Another EPA certification to consider is Section 609.[6]

Technicians working on HVAC systems do not need this certification, but it is required for working on motor vehicle air conditioning systems (MVAC).

The EPA 609 certification is an easy, open-book exam that anyone can take from the comfort of their home.

It is also pretty cheap compared to the EPA 608 exams, and it is not proctored.

I recommend the EPA 609 exam to people who are nervous about 608 because the questions are structured similarly.

State Licensing

The final and most important certification is state licensing.

Each state in the US has very different laws regarding HVAC contractors and HVAC technicians.

To determine whether specific licenses are necessary, it is a good idea to look up your state's contracting board for requirements.

There may be several HVAC licenses, or the state may have a contractor’s license that covers HVAC work.

The highest HVAC license is typically a Master HVAC License.

It indicates that the test taker mastered all portions of the state's HVAC licensing requirements.

Remember, HVAC licensing exams are usually proctored, and licensing fees can get very expensive.

It is very important to take classes and be prepared for the state licensing exam to avoid wasting time and money on retaking the test.

Most states allow people to work in apprenticeship programs under a licensed HVAC contractor, or they may require a limited license.

Some states have no licensing requirements to become an HVAC professional, but the company must hold a contractor license.

Local HVAC companies should know the ins and outs of their state’s licensing requirements.

Most should also be able to point prospective employees in the right direction or even help get the necessary licensing.

Other HVAC Certifications You Can Pursue

  • HVAC Excellence:
    For those planning to be an HVAC educator, getting credentials from HVAC Excellence shows that you can effectively teach others the trade.
  • Indoor Air Quality Certification:
    Also known as IAQ Certification, this optional certification shows customers that you care about their air quality as much as you care about installing their system. Having an IAQ certification will help you address various pollutants and health concerns of your customers.

Why It’s Necessary To Be Certified

Getting HVAC certifications is not only necessary for landing a job but is also required by the government.

For instance, an individual can only work on an HVAC system or handle refrigerant with the proper EPA certifications.

Additional trade certifications are also required in some jurisdictions to handle equipment and work on HVAC systems.


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How To Get Your HVAC License In 7 Steps

The path to becoming an HVAC professional looks different for everyone. However, these steps to get an HVAC license can make getting into the trade a little easier.

Whether someone is right out of high school or looking for a career change, the HVAC industry offers good pay with growing demand.

Step 1: Get a High School Degree or GED

The first thing that anyone considering an HVAC career should do is get their high school diploma or GED if they don’t already have it.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve already completed step 1 – so congratulations!

Whether pursuing an HVAC program or any other career path, a high school diploma or GED should be a top priority.

A diploma is unnecessary before taking an HVAC training program, but a trade school usually requires one for enrollment.

Step 2: Get HVAC Training

The next step is to get some training. Plenty of options are available, depending on how much time and money someone is willing to spend.

Some people go straight to work for an HVAC company in an apprenticeship program, while others go to trade school.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but I have found that going to trade school will certainly make a candidate stand out and increase their chances of getting hired and paid better.

Training is essential regardless of which route one chooses, and working in the air conditioning industry is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Training could take months or years, depending on the chosen path. Now, let's take a closer look at some training options available.

Trade School

The first route is trade school, which usually consists of training at a local community college. This is the longest option, as getting a degree could take up to a year or two.

However, HVAC technicians who attend community colleges can expect to make more money than those who do not over their working life.[7]

I find this is the best route for young adults just coming out of high school. Trade school teaches a lot of good information that could take a long time to learn in the field.

Not to mention, an HVAC business is more likely to hire someone out of college. Some schools even have placement programs to get graduates a job as soon as they graduate.

HVAC Training Program

The next option to become a certified HVAC technician is an HVAC training program, which commonly includes getting individual HVAC certifications.

It is pretty easy to find local training programs by searching the internet.

Local supply houses or trade organizations should have information on training programs available in the area.

Online classes are also an option, but ensure it is an accredited HVAC program that HVAC businesses will recognize.

Certificate programs are not as good as trade schools, but they are faster. 

It is possible to complete a certificate program in just a few months, which means getting a job faster.

However, it may be more difficult to start an HVAC career, and pay will likely be lower.

On the Job Training

Finally, there is on-the-job training, which means jumping in with no prior experience.

It is not a good idea to forego classroom training completely, but hands-on training is the best way for many people to learn.

The problem is that getting hired will take a lot of work, depending on the job market. New hires can expect to do grunt work before eventually doing some maintenance on their own.

Trying to find job opportunities can be difficult with no experience, so look for apprenticeship or mentorship opportunities that do not have any required education.

Pay is going to be low compared to someone who is already HVAC certified. With that in mind, there is nothing wrong with on-the-job training.

I highly recommend this route for people who are not sure that becoming a certified HVAC technician is the right career path.

This way, you will know whether or not the HVAC industry is a good fit before committing time and money to community college.

It will also provide invaluable practical experience.

Step 3: Get Certifications

It is a good idea to take some tests to become certified while training or shortly after.

This includes the EPA certification, which is required before working on an HVAC system.

Students enrolled in HVAC schools may not see a need for an additional HVAC certification. However, these are usually pretty cheap, look good on a resume, and help prove the technician’s knowledge.

An HVAC business may require specific HVAC certifications, such as NATE, for all employees regardless of education.

The information on these certification exams should come easily for those already working in the HVAC field or attending school.

Step 4: Get Experience

Although some training is necessary, nothing beats getting hands-on experience.

Whether someone goes to college or straight into the field, it will take time to learn what companies expect.

Every business operates a little differently and has its own expectations.

It is important to always go in with an open mind because many things are not taught in school or training programs.

Things like talking to customers and handling difficult situations can only be learned from on-the-job experience.

An apprenticeship is the most common way to get the necessary work experience. Most licensed contractors have an apprentice who helps complete jobs.

An apprenticeship is required in some places before joining a union or becoming a licensed contractor. 

If no local HVAC contractors have job listings for an apprentice, try contacting them.

There is a good chance someone will have an opening, especially for people with some training.

Just remember, an apprenticeship may last a year or two and have relatively low pay.

Step 5: Get a State License

After taking classes and getting some experience, acquiring an HVAC license is the next step.

An HVAC license or contractor's license is issued by the state where a person operates.

In most cases, an HVAC license is only valid in the state in which it is issued.

Where I live, an HVAC license is not required to work on an air conditioning system. However, a contractor license is required for work costing over a specified amount.

Similarly, New York State does not have HVAC licenses, but neighboring New Jersey requires a Master HVAC License.

It is important to carefully review the laws and HVAC license requirements to work as a technician in your state.

Then, study and take classes to help prepare for the required licensing exams.

Finally, there may be different licensing requirements for HVAC technicians who do commercial rather than residential work. 

Codes are very different for commercial applications, sometimes requiring a different contractor license and licensing exam.

Step 6: Keep Your License Current

States requiring HVAC or contractor licenses often have a continuing education or an exam requirement.

Additional training may be required yearly or every few years, depending on the state.

The follow-up trade exam is shorter than the initial licensing exam, and it will usually cover recent changes.

Remember that states may modify the licensing requirements over time, so even if continuing education is not required today, it could be added and applied to all HVAC technicians. 

Step 7: Start Your Own HVAC Business

The goal for many people is to start their own HVAC business. This is a great goal to have, but it is not something someone can do right away.

Expect to work as an HVAC technician for a few years before trying to start your own business.

In addition to knowing the ins and outs of refrigeration mechanics, contractors going out on their own must have a deep understanding of business.

HVAC professionals don’t necessarily need to worry about things like liability insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, business licenses, ordering HVAC equipment, taxes, and invoicing customers.

However, everything falls on a business owner's shoulders, especially if they do not have employees.

That may mean getting up in the middle of the night to fix a broken heating system in the frigid cold for practically no pay, as well as taking care of all your own business expenses after an already long day of work.


How Much Time and Money It Takes to Get Certified

The exact amount of time and money it takes to become a certified HVAC technician varies based on the path a person chooses and whether a licensing exam is necessary.

Getting an EPA certification can happen in as little as a month or two.

However, completing an accredited HVAC program and becoming a licensed contractor can take years.

In addition to school, it can take a few more years of hands-on training to gain practical experience before someone can complete HVAC projects independently.

The table below illustrates a rough estimate of how long it could take someone to become a professional HVAC contractor based on the three paths I discussed.

Community college accelerates the process, but it means not working for a year or two.

On the other hand, going straight into the field means working in a low-paying position longer.

Time Spent

Community College

HVAC certification

Hands-on Training

Taking Classes

1-2 Years

~6 Months

-

Completing Certifications

1-3 Months

3-6 Months

-

Working in Apprenticeship

1-2 Years

2-3 Years

3-5 Years


People Also Ask (FAQs)

How many certifications are there for HVAC?

There are countless HVAC certifications that different testing providers offer. The Environmental Protection Agency has four HVAC certifications (including Universal). Outside of those are various other refrigeration tests with their own benefits.

Which is the Best Certification for HVAC?

Outside of the EPA certification exam, which is required for all HVAC professionals, the best technical exam is the NATE Professional Certification. It is an excellent way for entry-level technicians to stand out in the application process.

NATE certifications, like the Senior Level Energy Efficiency Analyst, are recognized nationwide and are a great way to find new job opportunities.

Can I get my HVAC certification online?

It is possible to get an HVAC technician certification entirely online. There are online classes and study materials available, and it is even possible to take an exam. The exams are typically proctored with someone watching via a webcam. The benefits of getting certified online include working when time allows and not having to travel to a testing center.   

Can a general contractor do HVAC work?

Many states do not have a licensed HVAC contractor exam but require an HVAC contractor to hold a general contractor license. However, other states require anyone working on an air conditioner to be a licensed HVAC contractor.

There may also be exemptions that allow someone who isn’t an HVAC contractor to maintain HVAC systems or perform minor repairs.

Can I work on my own HVAC system without an HVAC certification?

The only certification needed for residential air conditioning units is EPA Section 608 Type II. Becoming EPA-certified is necessary to work on an air conditioning system and purchase refrigerant. Even with a refrigeration license, some states do not allow homeowners to work on their own air conditioning systems unless they are a contractor.

References: 

  1. https://www.epa.gov/section608/section-608-technician-certification
  2. https://www.epa.gov/section608/cerIndoor Air Quality Certificationtification-programs-section-608-technicians
  3. https://natex.org/technician/become-nate-certified/getting-started-2
  4. https://rses.org/page/testing
  5. https://www.escogroup.org/certifications/default.aspx
  6. https://www.epa.gov/section608/overlap-between-section-608-and-section-609
  7. https://www.coynecollege.edu/pros-and-cons-of-working-as-an-hvac-technician
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Josh Mitchell

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Josh Mitchell
My name is Josh and I am obsessed with home appliances. From portable AC units to heaters and air purifiers, I enjoy testing, learning and using these devices to improve the air quality inside my family home.

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