Written by Matt Cates
June 17, 2022

HVAC Certification

How To Become A Certified HVAC Technician

It’s no wonder so many people want to learn about the HVAC certification process. Of all the things society disagrees on, one thing everyone agrees about is the need for skilled HVAC technicians! Without them, we’d freeze in the winters and burn up in the summer. 

Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration — aka HVAC, or sometimes written as HVAC-R — has long been a vital trade. HVAC technicians install, maintain, and repair the climate control used in our homes, workplaces, schools, stores, and pretty much all other modern buildings. Because their skills are needed everywhere, HVAC technicians have a stable job outlook in the years to come, with employment driven by new construction and upgrades to outdated systems.

The pay is good, too, with a national median annual wage of $48,630 and the top 10% of earners bringing in over $78,210 a year! Pay depends on experience as well as where an HVAC tech works. For example, in Vermont the average annual salary is listed as $74,406, which is nearly as much as the top earners in some other states. 

So how do you break into the HVAC field? It does take hard work and dedication, but it might be easier and faster than you think to obtain your HVAC certification and launch your new career! 

HVAC Certification Boards & Requirements

One great thing about becoming an HVAC technician is the flexibility. Unlike many great paying career opportunities, HVAC positions don’t require a college degree. Instead, technicians must obtain HVAC certification and training. HVAC training programs are offered at many community colleges, trade schools, and vocational institutes. Some students may opt to complete an associate degree, but that isn’t a requirement for later HVAC certification. 

A potential advantage of attending a trade school is that many serve as pipelines to employers. An accredited HVAC program may take from six months up to two years, depending on the course load. There are even some HVAC certification options that let students become certified to start working in entry-level jobs. 

HVAC techs can also start their path to certification through a sponsored apprenticeship program. This option allows them to work and learn simultaneously, via 2,000 hours of practical on-the-job training combined with some classroom learning. HVAC apprenticeships are offered and managed by unions and contractor associations and take between 3 and 5 years to finish. 

Some people choose to complete an HVAC training program first, then apply for an apprenticeship. This route provides a strong academic foundation upfront and can shave a year or more off the apprenticeship time. It may also expedite one’s eligibility to test for some HVAC certifications.  

HVAC Certification and Timeline

One of the most frequently asked questions is “how long does it take for a student to earn an HVAC certification?” The answer, of course, depends on which certification they go after. Below are a few examples. 

HVAC Assistant Training 

HVAC Assistant training programs are available to get workers into the field faster. These don’t provide full training, but they only take a few weeks to complete, if attending full-time. Graduates can then take an 8-hour EPA Certification exam prep course and be ready to do entry-level assistant work. 

HVAC Technician Training 

Prior to any HVAC certification, an HVAC tech has to first either complete an HVAC training program or an apprenticeship. These academic programs are offered by countless community colleges and vocational schools. Some accelerated HVAC technician training programs may be shortened to less than six months, but in general, they take anywhere from six months to two years to complete.

HVAC technician training programs should be accredited by an institution such as HVAC Excellence or the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation. Training programs often incorporate supervised hands-on practice, which can count toward the prerequisite hours necessary to be eligible for many HVAC certification exams. 

Apprenticeship

HVAC techs don’t have to choose between academic training or an apprenticeship. Many do both! An apprenticeship program usually takes three to five years, unless an HVAC training program was done first. If those academics were completed first, it should shorten the length of the apprenticeship. 

HVAC apprenticeships incorporate 2,000 hours of OJT plus 144 hours of technical training which may be done in a classroom, so the timeline just depends on how fast the worker can knock those requirements out! Note, there were 2,080 “work hours” in 2022, if using the 40-hour workweek standard, so theoretically an apprenticeship could be done in much less than the average length of time. 

HVAC Excellence Employment-ready certifications

HVAC Excellence Employment-ready HVAC certifications are available for students and only require passing a short 50- to 100-question exam following an individual course. The only timeline is however long it takes to review the course material, study, and schedule for the test. 

HVAC Excellence offers “discipline-specific exams, administered at the end of a training module or course.” Exam options include: 

  • Air Conditioning 
  • Basic Refrigeration and Charging Procedures 
  • Brazing and Soldering
  • Carbon Monoxide & Combustion Analysis
  • Carbon Monoxide Safety
  • Combustion Appliance Zone
  • Electrical
  • Electric Heat 
  • Fuel Oil Combustion
  • Gas Heat
  • Geothermal Heat Pumps
  • Heat Pumps 
  • Light Commercial Air Conditioning
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration
  • Mini-Split Core Essentials
  • Natural Gas Combustion
  • Oil Heat
  • Pressure Enthalpy
  • Residential & Light Commercial Hydronic Heat
  • System Diagnostics & Troubleshooting
  • System Recovery and Evacuation
  • Water Heaters

NATE Professional certification 

The HVAC Support Technician Certificate was made for those who have between six to twelve months of work experience. Beyond that time requirement, the only timeline is how long it takes to study and schedule for the test. The test itself allows for 2.5 hours to answer 100 questions. 

NATE Core Exam

The NATE core exam is used in conjunction with a speciality exam to qualify an HVAC technician for NATE certification. The core exam “tests a candidate’s general knowledge, construction knowledge, and HVACR specific knowledge in the areas of: Safety, Tools, Basic Construction, Using Basic Science, Achieving Desired Conditions, Taking Temperature and Humidity Measurements, and Basic Electrical.” 

Installation and Service Specialty certifications  

HVAC Excellence offers both installation specialty certifications and service specialty certifications, both of which can provide proof of an HVAC technician’s competence in the specified area. Each has its own suggested requirements for field experience working on the applicable systems or units. 

HVAC installation specialty certification options include: 

  • Air Conditioning
  • Air Distribution
  • Air to Air Heat Pump
  • Gas Heating (Air)

HVAC service specialty certification options include:

  • Air Conditioning
  • Air Conditioning - Spanish
  • Air Distribution
  • Commercial Refrigeration
  • Heat Pump (Air to Air)
  • Heat Pump (Air to Air) - Spanish
  • Gas Heating (Air)
  • Gas Heating (Air) - Spanish
  • Hydronics Gas
  • Hydronics Oil
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration
  • Oil Heating (Air)
  • Senior Level Efficiency Analyst

NATE also offers credentials in the following areas:

  • Low-GWP Refrigerants
  • The Industry Competency Exam
  • EPA 608 Certification
  • Ground Source Heat Pump Installer
  • The HVAC Performance Verifier

Types of HVAC Certifications

Note, certifications are not the same thing as licensure. Most states require licensure to work, and licensure generally requires some type of certification. There is no single HVAC certification, though there are many options! What’s involved with an HVAC certification process depends on the certification being sought, so let’s dive into a few of the most common options below. 

EPA HVAC Certifications 

Section 608 of the Federal Clean Air Act deals with the importance of protecting Earth’s fragile ozone layer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires HVAC-R techs to obtain a “Section 608 Technician Certification” if they work with refrigerants, which are harmful to the ozone layer. 

The EPA lists four 608 Technician Certification levels: 

  • Type I - For servicing small appliances 
  • Type II - For servicing or disposing of high- or very high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and MVACs 
  • Type III - For servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances 
  • Universal - For servicing all types of equipment

Each of the EPA’s Section 608 Technician Certification tests focuses only on the applicable equipment type (i.e. small appliance, high-pressure appliance, etc.). The exams feature multiple choice questions and can be taken from any EPA-approved testing and certifying organization. Test takers can take the exam via a proctored paper test, online with an in-person proctor, or online with a remote proctor. 

R-410A HVAC Certification

R-410A is a very popular hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant known for its zero impact on the ozone layer. Considered the modern standard for new air conditioning units, it is also known for being hazardous to work around due to the high pressure it’s under. That is why some employers like their HVAC-R techs to hold an R-410A Certification. Many centers offer an online, open-book test for about $25. 

NATE HVAC Certification

North American Technical Excellence (NATE) calls itself the “nation’s largest nonprofit certification organization for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) technicians.” It offers a variety of voluntary certifications which many employers prefer their candidates to possess. 

One of the most popular NATE options is the Ready-to-Work Certificate, for those who haven’t yet completed their academic studies. The HVAC Support Technician Certificate was made for those who have between 6 to 12 months of work experience. NATE also offers installation specialty exams, service specialty exams, and other credential options. 

Indoor Air Quality Certification (IAQ) HVAC Certification

There’s more to HVAC installation than just hooking a unit up and calling it a day. HVAC systems must be installed correctly and maintained properly or else there could be air quality problems. Obviously, that’s an area of concern for everyone breathing inside that building, which is why employers may want their HVAC technicians to have an Indoor Air Quality Certification. Many centers offer an online, open-book IAQ test for about $25. 

Preventive Maintenance HVAC Certification

As the name suggests, a Preventive Maintenance HVAC certification can further train technicians on advanced maintenance procedures. These can mitigate problems and keep down the need for costly repairs. Employers appreciate the value of hiring a worker with this optional certification because they understand the value of investing in proactive preventative maintenance. Preventive maintenance is better than needing to reactively send techs out when a furnace or air conditioner goes out unexpectedly. Many centers offer an online, open-book PM technician test for about $25.

Career Paths with an HVAC Certification

It might seem like anyone with an HVAC certification is going to be boxed into a single career option, but that’s not true! There are a few career paths that HVAC workers can pursue, depending on which certifications they’ve finished or are willing to complete. 

HVAC Technician

The most common option is, of course, an HVAC technician. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median annual wage is $48,630 and the top 10% of earners make over $78,210! Earnings can vary greatly by state and experience. 

Automotive HVAC Technician

Buildings aren’t the only things equipped with air conditioning and heating systems. Automobiles have them, too. Automobile HVAC jobs have an average annual pay of $50,157 a year. 

Refrigeration Technician

Countless organizations rely on specialized refrigeration equipment to keep products cold and fresh. From restaurants and grocery stores to hospitals, hotels, and warehouses, these customers require the skills of a commercial refrigeration technician. The average annual salary is $57,935.

How Much Does It Cost to Get an HVAC Certification?

Again, there’s a difference between training and certification. HVAC academic training programs vary greatly in cost. 

  • For example, the Institute of Technology in Oregon offers a hybrid HVAC program with a cost of $20,727.50. The program covers 48.5 quarter hours (i.e., ~32 semester hours, which is about half the requirement for an associate’s degree).

  • Penn Foster offers an online, 6- to 9-month career diploma for under $799 (as of this writing).

  • Apprenticeship costs are paid by the sponsoring organization, so they are not only free for practicing apprentices, but those workers earn a good salary as they learn on the job! 

The cost for an HVAC certification depends on which certification you go for and does not include the cost of tuition for an accredited HVAC training program. Some certifications are affordable with only a $25 test fee, not counting optional paid study materials. EPA 608 certification runs about $300, depending on the testing facility. 

FAQ

  • Is being an HVAC tech worth it?

    • Yes! HVAC technicians have a stable job outlook in the years to come, with employment driven by new construction and upgrades to outdated systems. Pay is good, too, with a national median annual wage of $48,630 and top earners making over $78,210! 
  • How do I become an HVAC technician? 

    • You can start by earning an HVAC assistant training or HVAC assistant technician certification program. Once you’re certified, you can start the process of becoming a licensed HVAC technician. While you’re completing your certification, you can also join an apprenticeship to get on-the-job training while you complete your studies.
  • How much do HVAC techs make? 

    • HVAC technician salaries depend on many factors, including certifications, experience, and geographic location. They have a national median annual wage of $48,630, but top earners can bring in over $78,210 a year! 
  • What is the highest-paying HVAC job? 

    • HVAC jobs can pay from $35,000 to over $125,000 a year. The national median annual wage for an HVAC technician is $48,630. Per ZipRecruiter, HVAC project managers can earn between $67,500 and $100,000, while Thermal Engineers can rake in from $92,000 up to $125,000! 
  • How do HVAC certifications work? 

    • HVAC technicians take different certification exams along their career paths. There are several certification options, from EPA Section 608 certification to HVAC Excellence employment-ready certifications for students, installation and service specialty certifications, and other advanced or specialized options. 
  • How much is HVAC certification? 

    • The cost of HVAC certification depends on the cert itself and doesn’t include the cost of tuition for an accredited training program. Some certification exams are only $25, not counting study materials. EPA 608 certification runs about $300. 

HVAC Certification and Licensing Information

There are several HVAC trade associations around the nation providing courses or apprenticeships. These include:

Other sources of information about HVA education, training, and job opportunities include:

List of HVAC Certification Options: 

Air Conditioning Contractors of America

  • EPA Section 608 Certification - Refrigerant Handling
  • Instructor Certification
  • Light Commercial HVAC Design
  • Residential HVAC Design for Quality Installation

Associated Air Balance Council

  • Cleanroom Testing Engineer
  • Test and Balance Engineer
  • Test and Balance Technician

Building Performance Institute

  • Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Professional
  • Air Leakage Control Installer
  • Crew Leader
  • Heating Professional
  • Infiltration and Duct Leakage
  • Retrofit Installer Technician

ESCO Group

  • Basic Refrigeration and Charging Procedures Certification
  • Basic Refrigeration and Charging Procedures Certification
  • Carbon Monoxide & Combustion Analysis Certification
  • Carbon Monoxide & Combustion Analysis Certification
  • Carbon Monoxide Safety Certification
  • Carbon Monoxide Safety Certification
  • Certified Duct and Envelope Testing
  • Certified in Hydrocarbon Refrigerants
  • Certified Master Specialist Hands-On - Residential Gas Furnace
  • Certified Residential Heat Load Analyst
  • Certified Subject Matter Educator - Gas Heat
  • Combustion Analysis Certification
  • Combustion Appliance Zone Certification
  • Combustion Appliance Zone Certification
  • Combustion Appliance Zone Certification
  • Electrical Certification
  • Fuel Oil Combustion Certification
  • Fuel Oil Combustion Certification
  • Gas Heat Certification
  • Geothermal Heat Pump Certification
  • Geothermal Heat Pump Certification
  • Green Awareness Certification
  • Heat Pump Certification
  • Heat Pump Installer Certification
  • Heat Pump Service Certification
  • Light Commercial Air Conditioning Certification
  • Light Commercial Air Conditioning Certification
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration Certification
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration Certification
  • Master Oil Heat Specialist Certification
  • Master Specialist Hands On Air Economizer Controls
  • Master Specialist Hands On Air Economizer Controls
  • Master Specialist Hands On Building Automation Systems Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Building Automation Systems Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Calculating Indoor Air CFM
  • Master Specialist Hands On Calculating Indoor Air CFM
  • Master Specialist Hands On Combustion Analysis Certification
  • Master Specialist Hands On Commercial TEV Metering Device Troubleshooting
  • Master Specialist Hands On Commercial TEV Metering Device Troubleshooting
  • Master Specialist Hands On Constant Air Volume, A/C and Heat Pump Systems Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Constant Air Volume, A/C and Heat Pump Systems Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Demand-Controlled Ventilation Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Demand-Controlled Ventilation Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Duct Leak Testing
  • Master Specialist Hands On Duct Leak Testing
  • Master Specialist Hands On Economizer Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Economizer Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Envelope Leak Testing
  • Master Specialist Hands On Fault Detection & Diagnostics for Packaged DX Units Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Fault Detection & Diagnostics for Packaged DX Units Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Hydronic System Variable Flow Control Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Hydronic System Variable Flow Control Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Light Commercial Air Conditioning Certification
  • Master Specialist Hands On Light Commercial Refrigeration Certification
  • Master Specialist Hands On Outdoor Air Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Outdoor Air Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Air Conditioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Air Conditioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Energy Auditing Certification
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Heat Gain and Heat Loss Calculation
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Heat Gain and Heat Loss Calculation
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Heat Pump
  • Master Specialist Hands On Residential Heat Pump
  • Master Specialist Hands On Supply Water Temperature Reset Controls Set-up and Testing
  • Master Specialist Hands On System Charging and Start-up
  • Master Specialist Hands On System Charging and Start-up
  • Master Specialist Hands On Variable Air Volume Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Variable Air Volume Set-up and Commissioning
  • Master Specialist Hands On Water Valve Leakage Testing
  • Master Specialist Residential Electric Heat
  • Master Specialist Residential Electric Heat
  • Oil Heat Certification
  • Principles of Electrical and Refrigeration Theory
  • Residential & Light Commercial Hydronic Heat Certification
  • Residential & Light Commercial Hydronic Heat Certification
  • Residential Air Conditioning Certification
  • Residential and Light Commercial Low Pressure Hydronic Heat Certification
  • Residential Heat Load Analyst
  • System Diagnostics & Troubleshooting Certification
  • System Diagnostics and Troubleshooting
  • Universal R-410A Certification

International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians

  • Certified National Appliance Service Technician - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning
  • Certified National Appliance Service Technician - Universal Technician

National Air Ducts Cleaning Association 

  • Air Systems Cleaning Specialist
  • Certified Ventilation Inspector

National Air Filtration Association

  • NAFA Certified Air Filter Specialist
  • NAFA Certified Technician

National Fire Protection Association

  • Certified Electrical Safety Technician

National Inspection, Testing and Certification Corporation

  • STAR Commercial Refrigeration Mastery
  • STAR HVAC Mastery
  • STAR Residential-Light Commercial HVACR Mastery

National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence 

  • Military Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Certification - Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (MIL7)

National Registry of Environmental Professionals

  • Certified Indoor Air Quality Manager
  • Certified Refrigeration Compliance Manager

North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners

  • Heating Associate
  • Solar Heating Installer

North American Technician Excellence, Inc

  • Air Conditioning Installation Technician
  • Air Conditioning Service Certification
  • Air Distribution Installation Certification
  • Air Distribution Service Technician
  • Air to Air Heat Pump Installation
  • Air to Air Heat Pump Service Certification
  • Commercial Refrigeration Service
  • Gas Heating (Air) Installation
  • Gas Heating (Air) Service
  • Ground Source Heat Pump Loop
  • HVAC Efficiency Analyst - Senior
  • Hydronics Gas Service
  • Hydronics Oil Service
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration Service
  • Oil Heating (Air) Service

Professional Service Association

  • Certified Master Technician
  • Certified Service Manager
  • Certified Technician

Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association

  • Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator
  • Certified Industrial Refrigeration Operator