How to Become an HVAC Technician in California
Most commercial, industrial and residential buildings rely on climate-controlled heating, ventilation and cooling systems. The mechanics who work on these systems are called HVAC technicians or HVAC techs. HVAC technicians are responsible for the installation, maintenance and repair of these systems. Other responsibilities of an HVAC tech include: reading blueprints, making sure that systems are compliant with local, state and federal regulations, and educating clients on how to use their systems safely and efficiently. As systems evolve and become more complex, and require maintenance and updates, the need for more qualified HVAC technicians will remain. [Leer en español]
Requirements for Becoming an HVAC Technician in California
Nationally, the only certification that HVAC technicians are required to have is the EPA Section 608 certification provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This certification is mandatory for all HVAC techs to handle refrigerants.
Most states do require certification or licensure on a statewide level. In California, an HVAC contractor license must be obtained if you are providing services that are worth more than $500. Work experience and passing two exams are prerequisites to this licensure. A formal education is not required to get an HVAC contractor license in California.
HVAC Apprenticeship and Educational Programs in California
To work in the HVAC field, you must possess knowledge and skill in all things HVAC related. This can be acquired through a combination of on-the-job training and classroom lecture, through completing either an apprenticeship or an accredited post-secondary educational program. California has options available for whichever route you may choose.
As far as apprenticeships, the Air Conditioning Trade Association offers a four-year apprenticeship program. ACTA works with HVAC contractors in the state to provide students with knowledge and hands-on training, so they may succeed in their HVAC careers. After apprentices complete all class requirements, complete 6,500 work hours and pass the journeyman exit exam, they will receive a journeyman card and a certificate of completion.
Another apprenticeship program to consider is the one provided by the Local Union 250 Joint Journeymen and Apprentice Training Center of Los Angeles. Students must be at least 18 years of age to apply to this program. Apprentices in this program are expected to complete 216 hours per year of classroom instruction for five years. They are also required to complete 8,000 hours (or four years) of work experience.
If you are considering the educational training path, consider one of the following accredited programs in California:
- North American Training Center. The program offered by the North American Training Center is accredited by HVAC Excellence. This program trains students on how to work with air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment as well as teaches them electrical fundamentals. It also prepares students for EPA certification and the HVAC Excellence competency examination.
- Mt. San Antonio College. Mt. San Antonio offers a two-year Associate in Science (AS) degree in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology and a one-year certificate program in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology. Both programs are accredited by both HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).
Certification and Licensing for Becoming an HVAC Technician in California
Before you do any work with refrigerants, including purchasing them, you must get EPA Section 608 certification. You must pass an exam to get this certification, and there are four subcategories of this certification. They are: Type 1 (small appliances), Type 2 (high pressure appliances), Type 3 (low pressure appliances) and Type 4 (universal). Most accredited educational programs provide preparation for this exam.
The California Contractor’s State License Board is the agency that regulates HVAC licensing in the state. Any person who will be providing services that will cost more than $500 must get their state contractor’s license. To get this license you must have four years work experience (can be accomplished through apprenticeship), apply to the board, pay any exam and license fees, and pass a business and law exam and an HVAC exam.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
According to the Projections Managing Partnership (PMP), in 2016 there were 28,600 HVAC technicians working in the state of California. That number is predicted to increase by almost 20 percent to 34,200 in the 10-year period between 2016 and 2026.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that HVAC techs in California made an average of $27.09 hourly and $56,350 annually in 2017. The top earners in the state can potentially make as much as $90,300 per year.
Working as an HVAC Technician in California
California has extremely hot summers and the threat of droughts looming, so HVAC systems are a necessity. And with the population booming, new residential and commercial buildings continue to be built and in need of HVAC contractors and technicians to install new systems.
In the United States, the state of California ranks second for the highest employment of HVAC workers. High concentrations of HVAC jobs can be found in the following areas: Oakland, Hayward, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Anaheim, Riverside, San Bernadino, Ontario and San Diego. If you are looking for the higher paying areas in the state, consider Oakland, Hayward, Berkeley, Salinas, San Francisco, Redwood City, San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim.
The career of an HVAC technician or contractor is financially stable and has a high growth rate, especially in the state of California. Training and licensing can be completed in less than five years, with the opportunity to get paid while you learn if you work as an apprentice. If this sounds appealing to you, consider becoming an HVAC technician in California.