Becoming an HVAC technician is more than just passing a test and getting to work. The fully trained and capable technician must go through a strict education curriculum and meet certification and license requirements.
The problem is that these requirements aren’t nationwide. They vary from state to state and sometimes even between regions in a state. The Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technician will have gone through rigorous training through a trade school, apprenticeship, community college, or university.
This article will examine the educational requirements, by state, to become a qualified HVAC tech. We will look at what it takes to be recognized as fully trained, how much it costs, and your options in each state.
Is HVAC a Good Career Choice?
Starting a career as an HVAC technician can be tricky. Depending on your state’s regulations, you may be required to attend a 5-year apprenticeship, complete specific license exams, or more. However, once you are certified, licensed, and employed, it is a great career choice.
Currently, the HVAC industry is undergoing a change. With newer technologies arising around solar and green systems, the need for highly qualified technicians is growing. With that growth also comes higher wages. Depending on your experience level, the wages in the region you are working in, and how much education you have, you can earn a great living.
Even entry-level technicians average $18 to $20 per hour to start. Master techs and those with more years of experience can see $78,000 to over $100,000 per year, not including benefits, bonuses, or overtime pay.
Is it worth going to school for HVAC? The skillset alone, plus the educational opportunities, mean you can earn a degree in the HVAC field and, if so desired, start your own contracting company. Once you have your education in place and all licenses acquired, there truly is no limit to the possibilities.
How to Become an HVAC Technician
To become an HVAC tech, you will need to meet certain prerequisites and requirements. While each state, region, and even city can be different, the basics of all HVAC techs are outlined below.
- .Obtain your high school diploma or GED. Base level education is crucial, and almost every HVAC-related job will require a high school diploma or equivalent in order to apply.
- .Begin HVAC training through an accredited school. You can opt for an HVAC trade school, college or university. These schools will teach you about the HVAC trade, tools, equipment, and products.
- .Become EPA 608 certified. While you should strive for Universal certification, the 608 has 3 types you can test and qualify for. This is a requirement for every HVAC technician to legally work with, handle or dispose of refrigerant.
- .On-the-job training (OJT) is next. Most of the time, this will be a part of an apprenticeship or internship. Many schools in regions that require apprenticeships will work alongside the apprentice. Attend the school for classroom instruction and work in the apprenticeship for certification, license, and OJT.
- .Become licensed in your state. The final step is to meet all minimum requirements to take the state license exams, pass the exams and become a licensed HVAC technician.
HVAC Training Program Cost
As you can imagine, just like any other trade, HVAC technicians have a lot of educational options. From certifications to college degrees, there is an option and solution for everyone.
What is important to remember, though, is that the only nationwide regulation is the EPA 608 certification. Beyond that, each state will list its own minimum requirements. This can range from a specific certification to a full apprenticeship completion, registration with the state board, and passing multiple state license exams.
Also, keep in mind that state minimums may not match job requirements. Some positions and employers may have higher standards than following simply what the state requires. Because of these varying needs, it is wise to know the options and how much they cost you.
An associate’s degree in HVAC is relatively common. You can earn an AAS through some vocational and trade schools, community colleges, and even a few select universities. With an associate’s degree, you can enter the HVAC industry certified and ready to work.
While the degree doesn’t exempt you from any certifications and licenses, most are offered during the course of the degree program, so you are ready to go upon graduation.
The cost will vary depending on the school, course length, and if you already have prior credits or not. Most fees are per credit hour, and you will need at least 42 credits for an associate’s degree, with many requiring 60 or more.
The per-credit fee is dependent on residency (in state or out of state student), regional costs and doesn’t include other factors like course materials and books. On average, though, an associate’s degree in HVAC will cost you between $18,000 and $24,000.
Trade schools and community colleges will offer diploma and certification programs. These are designed to get you familiar with HVAC equipment, installation, and repairs and set you on the road to obtaining your EPA certification, NATE certification, or other certificates.
Cost varies greatly depending on the type and length of the course and where you attend school. Trade schools will be the fastest and cheapest option. Many courses last 4 to 9 months, with others going 2 years or more.
You can expect to pay anywhere between $400 and $8000 for these courses. Because there is such a significant variance in pricing, you need to understand what the school offers or omits. Certification testing (EPA, for example) is not generally included in tuition. However, for higher quality and higher priced schools, you can obtain the EPA 608 certification as part of the curriculum.
Working in an apprenticeship means you learn, become certified and licensed, and get paid while doing it. It is the most popular method of obtaining an HVAC technician license and is required in many states.
Apprenticeships can last between 3 and 7 years, with most of the apprenticeships lasting 5 years. During this time, you will work for a company or union under a master technician. You will get hands-on training, learn from classroom instruction, and take your certification exams.
While you do get paid, it is generally minimum wage or a percentage of a journeyman’s wages for the union. However, this doesn’t mean the apprenticeship is free. You may be required to join the union to attend the apprenticeship, where you will owe union dues and need to pay other fees.
Certification and Licenses
Unlike your tests in high school or college, HVAC certification and license exams must be paid for. While you technically don’t need a formal education to take or pass the exams, many have prerequisites and requirements before you can sit for the exam.
Each exam will have a different price based on the exam type, certification level, state, region, or location. The EPA certification, for example, will run about $160 each time you want to take the test. However, it is a lifetime certification, so once you pass, you won’t need to take it again.
Other certification exams fall between $100 and $500 each and will offer you different benefits when completed successfully. State licensing exams can be between $25 and $400 depending on the state and license level (Apprentice, journeyman, master, etc.).
State by State Comparisons
When looking for the best local HVAC school, it is important to start at the state level. As each state will have different requirements, you need to understand those minimums first.
From there, you can search your specific region within the state to find out if there are county or city requirements that may be stricter. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, for example, have stricter city rules than the states.
|State||EPA 608 Required||HVAC Tech License Required1||Apprenticeship Required2||Average Tuition Costs (AAS or equivalent)3||Average Journeyman Wage (Annual)4|
|Nevada||Yes||Clark County only||Yes||$7,270||$49,816|
1 All states require contractor license except: IL, IN, KS, MN, MI, MT, NY, PA, SD, WY
2 All states offer apprenticeship. 36 have state-wide regulations, but that does not mean state-wide apprenticeship is mandatory—information from Education Commission.
3 In-state tuition, per year, full time student. Averages from all colleges and universities with HVAC programs.
4 Current wages are from multiple governments and state resources, current as of 2019-2020.
5 North Carolina is currently in legislation about tech license requirements.
How to Pay for HVAC School
Paying for school can be a problem for some. Depending on the school, its location, and the type of certification, diploma, or degree you are after, some prices may be out of reach. Luckily, there are ways to pay for your school without having to pay all at once.
One of the best ways to pay for school is through grants and bursaries. If you qualify for these programs, the money isn’t required to be paid back. Like a scholarship, grants are offered to groups or individuals, usually fitting a specific profile.
The downside is that many trade and vocational schools may not accept or offer bursaries or some grants. You will need to check with your chosen school to find out what they offer and accept before applying for the grants.
Federal and private student loans are the most common method of paying for an education. Unlike scholarships and grants, these monies are required to be paid back, often with high interest rates.
However, for degree granting courses and higher tuition institutions, it may be the only way to attend for some. The school’s registrar or admittance office will have all the details, applications, and approved or accepted student loan types.
HVAC School Scholarship
In some instances, you can qualify for an HVAC student scholarship. These are generally offered through local unions, prominent societal members, and organizations. You must meet minimum qualifications to apply for the scholarships, though, and each one is different.
Like grants, scholarships are not required to be paid back. The money is sent directly to the school in your name as payment for all or part of the tuition fees.
Out of Pocket
For some trade schools, diploma, and certification programs, there may not be another option to pay other than out of your own pocket. However, in these cases, the class or course fees are generally lower (less than $1000), and you can generally save up or pay over the time you are enrolled.
Payment programs and all upfront payments are generally accepted at most HVAC trade schools. However, before you make a budget or a plan for payment, check with the school’s admittance office to determine the exact costs and payment terms they accept.
People Also Ask (FAQ)
How much do HVAC apprentices get paid?
HVAC apprentices can get paid a varying amount based on several factors. Some apprenticeships don’t pay at all and offer the training and education as your payment. Other apprenticeships will pay up to $20 per hour, depending on requirements, location, and years in the apprenticeship already.
Is HVAC school hard?
HVAC training can be difficult. The courses are generally fast-paced and intensive. With classroom lectures and hands-on lab work, there isn’t much time to sit and do nothing. However, the coursework itself isn’t very difficult. If you have a basic understanding of algebra, can use hand tools and follow instructions, there shouldn’t be any problems finishing a course.
What pays more HVAC or electrician?
While both trades are excellent income potential careers, the income averages show that electricians earn more than HVAC techs. According to the BLS, the electrician’s average wage is about $56,180, while an HVAC tech will earn, on average, $48,730. Of course, these are only averages, and some states will pay HVAC more while others will pay about the same for either position.
How long does it take to learn HVAC?
In general, you can learn the HVAC basics in just a couple of months. However, with changing technologies, new innovations, and other industry changes, HVAC learning is an on-going process. To learn HVAC theory, system diagnosis, and repairs, as well as system design and installation, can take a couple of years or more. Choosing a high-quality school will help shorten the learning time and offer more one-on-one instruction to help you succeed.
Does HVAC require math?
Yes. HVAC technicians need basic to advanced level math. In the field you will need an understanding of basic math and algebra and possibly geometry. HVAC engineers need much higher math understanding, including calculus and physics or other applied mathematics.
What other skills do you need for HVAC?
Besides math, the well-trained HVAC technician will understand refrigeration theory, problem-solving, customer service, communication, and hand dexterity. You also need to know how to use basic and advanced tools for the trade, read meters and gauges and understand pressures and refrigeration. Obviously, as an electrical system, knowledge of electricity and safety are also important.
How much equipment is needed after you finish school?
Once you complete school, there are a lot of different tools and equipment options that you may need. This will also depend on the job you do. A repair tech may get by with refrigerant hoses and gauges, and a small set of basic tools such as screwdrivers, socket wrenches, hammers, and pliers. HVAC installers will need sheet metal shears, more advanced carpentry tools, and equipment.
HVAC training doesn’t always come cheap, but the rewards are well worth the investment. If you are looking for a career in HVAC, you will have plenty of high-earning opportunities. Many companies pay their licensed technicians well and offer benefits, bonuses, and overtime.
To get there, though, you need to get yourself through HVAC training school. This comes at a cost, of course, for tuition, tools, equipment, and books. Each state will have different requirements, and educational institutions will charge different amounts.
Hopefully this article gave you a better understanding of what to expect with HVAC training costs.
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