How to Become an HVAC Technician in Washington
The need for trained and certified HVAC technicians in the state of Washington is growing. As frontline experts in a challenging field, HVAC/R professionals must be skilled and versatile enough to repair and service a broad variety of heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration systems and equipment. Their expertise is also required in the installation of such systems in residential, commercial and industrial buildings of all sizes, shapes and architectural characteristics. [Leer en español]
Requirements for Becoming an HVAC Technician in Washington
Gaining knowledge and expertise in HVAC repair, installation and maintenance involves a combination of education and field experience, with several thousand hours of on-the-job training plus classroom instruction required before you will be eligible to seek out full-time employment.
If you plan to become an HVAC technician in the state of Washington, you must obtain an electrician’s license first, and any educational and apprenticeship programs you participate in will include detailed practice and instruction in electrical work as it pertains to heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration systems
HVAC Apprenticeship and Educational Programs in Washington
In Washington, apprenticeship programs for aspiring HVAC workers are abundant and available statewide.
Most apprenticeships are organized and administered by unions, including those that represent pipefitters, electricians and sheet metal workers. Minimum qualifications include a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and the capacity to handle all physical chores associated with HVAC and refrigeration, and applicants will also have to pass a basic mental aptitude test to be accepted as an apprentice.
Post-high school educational programs are another option that will allow you to gain the knowledge and expertise you need to find employment in the HVAC/R field. Schools with programs accredited by HVAC Excellence or the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) are in high demand, and Washington has two institutions that have received one or the other designation:
- Walla Walla Community College. This HVAC Excellence-accredited school offers a one-year certificate or a two-year Associate of Applied Arts & Sciences degree in HVAC and refrigeration studies. At Walla Walla, students have the opportunity to pursue a variety of specialties within the HVAC/R field.
- Bates Technical College. Located in Tacoma, Bates Technical College offers a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in HVAC studies, plus a shorter-term certificate of competency. The program at Bates features multiple specialized tracks, and as of now it is the only program in the state to carry the PAHRA seal of approval.
There are several other community colleges and technical schools in the state that provide training in heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration, with two-year Associate of Applied Science and one-year certification options both widely available. Interested parties can refer to a list of such institutions compiled by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.
Certification and Licensing for Becoming an HVAC Technician in Washington
Through education and field work, prospective HVAC technicians in Washington must obtain the experience necessary to qualify for official licensing as an electrician.
When an electrician’s license is issued, it can be in one of two specialized categories or codes:
- 6A HVAC/Refrigeration System. Those who are classified 6A will be qualified to install and service any system—including commercial HVAC/electrical systems—regardless of their voltage or number of phases. To gain a 6A electrician’s license, you will need to complete 4,000 hours of on-the-job training plus 48 hours of classroom instruction.
- 6B HVAC/Refrigeration System. This designation is appropriate for professionals who plan to work exclusively with single-phase systems operating at capacities below 250 volts and 120 amperes. This restricted classification requires 2,000 hours of workplace/apprenticeship experience plus 24 hours of classroom instruction.
While an electrician’s license is necessary regardless of where you would like to work, some cities may have further licensing and certification requirements that must be met before you can obtain a position as an HVAC technician. If you plan to work in a specialized area of the HVAC field, you will have to prove you have a background in that area as a part of the local licensing process.
Additionally, you will have to qualify for EPA section 608 certification before you can start working with refrigerants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created four categories of 608 certification, for small appliances, high-pressure appliances, low-pressure appliances and all appliances (universal), and you must pass the exam that applies to your chosen category before your certificate can be issued.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
As reported by Projections Managing Partnership, an affiliate of the U.S. Employment and Training Administration, between 2016 and 2026 the demand for trained HVAC technicians in Washington is expected to rise by 22.3 percent. This means more than 7,300 positions will be available by the end of that time period, for those who have the aptitudes and qualifications to fill them.
HVAC and refrigeration workers in the state earn about eight percent more than the average American HVAC/R technician. There is some variation in salaries based on region, with HVAC/R workers in the Seattle metropolitan earning the highest average annual mean wages, at $59,090, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But with the demand for workers expanding rapidly, wage increases are predicted for HVAC workers in all cities and regions.
Working as an HVAC Technician in Washington
The climate in Washington is moist and cool in the west, with an extended heating season that often covers three of four seasons. In contrast, the eastern part of the state is more arid and features sharper differences in summer and wintertime temperatures, creating a need for both heating and air conditioning at different times of the year
As the need for highly-trained and skilled HVAC technicians in Washington continues to expand, opportunities to enter this attractive and well-compensated profession will abound. Jobs are most plentiful and offer the highest wages in Seattle and the surrounding Puget Sound area, but regardless of where you seek employment your expertise in the HVAC field will create a demand for your services, should you choose to follow this evergreen career path.