HVAC Certifications and Licensing
As the professionals who install, maintain and repair residential and industrial climate control systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) specialists need to have a great deal of expertise in the field. Because the systems they work on are made up of sophisticated technology and contain chemical refrigerants, they bear a great deal of responsibility for public health and safety. Ensuring these professionals maintain competence in their chosen specialties is an essential task.
For the consumer and the general public, licensure and certifications provide a gold-standard and instill a sense of confidence that the professionals working in the field will maintain a minimum competence level. For a government organization, licensure in particular allows oversight of the profession and keeps licensed professionals accountable. For potential employers, certifications can help a hiring manager choose among potential candidates.
State Licensing for HVAC Professionals
The licensing requirements vary from state to state, but in most states HVAC professionals will need to qualify for a license and adhere to regulations set by a governing organization. Even in states that do not have statewide professional licensing, local licenses may still be required by the county, city or town in which you work.
When starting your career, it is vital to understand the laws and regulations in your area and remain in compliance with them at all times. For a state-by-state guide for HVAC licensing, consult the chart below:
Section 608 Certification
All HVAC professionals, no matter where they work, are required to obtain Section 608 Certification through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In accordance with the Clean Air Act, which was enacted in 1963 as an attempt to regulate air quality on a federal level, the EPA has the responsibility to ensure that air pollutants are minimized to a safe level. The act has been amended in the ensuing years, as the need to regulate new technological advances arose. For HVAC professionals, the most notable amendment, Section 608, was added in 1993.
Section 608 states that any technician who maintains, repairs or disposes of equipment that could release refrigerants into the atmosphere must be certified through the EPA. Furthermore, the EPA defines a technician as anyone who engages in attaching or detaching gauges or hoses to an appliance, anyone who adds or removes refrigerant to a refrigeration system, or anyone who participates in any activity that might violate the integrity of a small appliance or motor vehicle refrigeration system. Apprentices are exempt from certification as long as they work under the supervision of a certified professional.
Under Section 608, the EPA has developed four types of certification, as follows:
- Type I — Type I certification is for those who service small appliances.
- Type II — Type II certification is for technicians who service or dispose of high-pressure and very high-pressure appliances. Type II certification excludes small appliances and automotive HVAC systems.
- Type III — Type III certification is for HVAC professionals who service low-pressure appliances.
- Universal — Universal certification covers all types of HVAC equipment.
To earn Section 608 certification, you will need to apply for and pass an EPA-approved test through a qualifying organization. EPA specifications explicitly require a proctored exam for core testing for Universal Certification. Once you have acquired EPA certification, it will never expire. Among the topics covered on the tests are safety, refrigeration, recovery techniques, leak detection, leak repair and recharging techniques.
Since EPA Section 608 is required prior to working independently as an HVAC professional, you will want to study for the exam prior to your official test. There are many resources available for those who are preparing to undergo testing, including preparatory manuals and online training courses. Additionally, those who learn the trade through a technical school or university may have exam preparation resources as part of their curriculum.
Established in 1994 through ESCO group, HVAC Excellence seeks to ensure the competency of HVAC professionals through improved standards in training. As such, ESCO offers accreditation to existing HVAC programs, which in turn must meet the educational standards set by the program. However, HVAC Excellence doesn’t stop at college accreditation. ESCO offers a variety of credentials for HVAC educators, technicians and students. Certifications that can be earned by HVAC professionals are as follows:
- EPA Section 608 — As detailed above, Section 608 certification is required for HVAC professionals who work on stationary HVAC systems.
- EPA Section 609 — Section 609 certification is specifically for those who work on automotive HVAC systems. Like Section 608 certification, Section 609 certification is required.
- Employment Ready — Employment Ready Certifications consist of a series of examinations designed to validate the skills of those who are ready to move from apprentice or student to professional.
- Specialty — Specialty Certifications are for practicing HVAC technicians with two or more years of experience in the field. Areas of specialization include System Performance, Residential Heat Load Analyst, Green Awareness, Duct and Envelope Testing, R-410A, Hydrocarbons Refrigerant Certificate of Completion, and Residential Energy Auditor.
- Professional Level — This group of certifications also require two or more years of experience in the field. Taking the Principles of Electrical and Refrigeration Theory examination is a prerequisite for all the other tests in this category.
- Master Specialist — To qualify for this certification you must have three or more years of experience in the field, have achieved a passing score on a professional-level exam or equivalent and be able to pass a performance exam.
North American Technical Excellence
North American Technical Excellence (NATE) applies a four-step approach to certifying professionals. The four steps consist of certifying examinations for various levels of HVAC professionals. The testing levels include the Ready to Work test, the HVAC Support test, Core and Specialty tests and Senior-Level Efficiency Exams.
The core and specialty testing require technicians to have worked at least two years in the field. NATE offers two pathways for HVAC professionals, the Certified HVAC Professional pathway or the Core and Specialty Program pathway. The two pathways consist of five and two examinations, respectively.
Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) is a professional organization for HVAC professionals, with a wide range of benefits. Along with training and reference materials, RSES offers various testing and certification opportunities. Among the tests they offer are EPA Section 608 and Section 609 certification, R410A certification and the complete package of tests from NATE including the examinations for service technicians, installers and specialists.
National Inspection Testing Certification
National Inspection Testing Certification (NITC) provides certifications for both plumbing trades and HVAC professionals. HVAC-specific accreditations include the STAR HVAC Mastery Certificate and the HVAC Brazing Processes Certificate. STAR HVAC Mastery candidates must show mastery of the trade, including experience in operations, planning, blueprint reading, practical installation, repair and safety. HVAC Brazing certification depends on the ability to pass a practical examination using the NITC R78 Braze Test Specification. For more information, NITC has provided a video here.
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offers seven different certifications for HVAC Professionals. These include the following:
- Certified HVAC Designer (CHD) — CHD certification tests candidates on design competency including equipment size loading, mechanical equipment room design, duct and piping design, load calculations and HVAC plans.
- Building Commissioning Professional Certification (BCXP) — BCXP focuses on the management of a team in the implementation of commissioning processes.
- Building Energy Assessment Professional Certification (BEAP) — BEAP validates the competency to assess building conditions at a planned worksite, evaluate energy usage and make recommendations to optimize efficiency.
- Building Energy Modeling Professional Certification (BEMP) — BEMP certification tests the ability to use modeling software for energy modeling.
- High-Performance Building Design Professional Certification (HBDP) — HBDP certifies a candidate to design and integrate HVACR for high-performance buildings.
- Healthcare Facility Design Professional Certification (HFDP) — HFDP provides certification for the design of HVAC systems in healthcare facilities.
- Operations and Performance Management (OPMP) — OPMP validates a candidate’s ability to manage facility operations to ensure a building meets its efficiency goals.
Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association
The Refrigeration Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) offers training materials and certifications for industrial refrigeration professionals. Specific certifications offered by RETA include:
- Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator (CARO) — This entry-level certification is for those working in the field under supervision.
- Certified Industrial Refrigeration Operator (CIRO) — This test is for more advanced operators and requires at least two years of experience in the trade.
- Certified Refrigeration Service Technician (CRST) — This test is for technicians who troubleshoot and maintain industrial refrigeration plants.
- Certified Refrigeration Energy Specialist (CRES) — Candidates will need to be able to recommend energy efficiency strategies.
- RETA Authorized Instructor (RAI) — Receiving this certification qualifies HVAC professionals to supervise CARO, CIRO, CRST and CRES candidates with their preparation for taking certification exams.
The Advantage of Accreditation
So, what benefits do licensure and certification hold for HVAC professionals?
For one, depending on where you work, licensing may be required, along with specific certification. But beyond what you need to stay employed, obtaining credentialing can accelerate your career in a big way. Professionals who have achieved accreditation have more job opportunities, more earning power and are more attractive to hiring managers than their counterparts. So, if you’ve been asking yourself why you should seek credentialing, the answer is: you should do it for you and for your career.