HVAC Certification

Steps required to become an accredited HVAC technician vary by state and specialization, so each technician will follow a different path to obtain certification. As such, the steps below are general guidelines. 

1. Obtain your High School Diploma

It’s essential to obtain your high school diploma or GED before you’ll be allowed to pursue a career path of becoming an HVAC technician. Subjects to focus on include physics, math, and shop classes. 

2. Complete a Recognized HVAC Program

Although this step can sometimes be skipped if a candidate has extensive experience or has served an official apprenticeship, several HVAC technicians still choose to complete this training at an accredited learning institution. 

These courses offer training in entry-level service, repair, and design of HVAC systems and are often accredited by industry organizations like HVAC Excellence or Partnership for Air-conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). 

HVAC technicians can sometimes receive on-the-job training by working under licensed contractors, and this is now being required more than ever before because several certifications will only be issued nowadays if a candidate has practical work experience. 

3. Complete an HVAC Apprenticeship

Most HVAC apprenticeships last between three and five years, allowing candidates to obtain a minimum of 2,000 hours of on the job training and more than 140 hours of technical education. These programs are often managed by joint committees of local organizations such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). The US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Finder can provide additional resources in this regard. 

4. Apply for Additional Competency Certifications

Several agencies provide HVAC certifications for technicians who are keen to enhance their credentials:

  • The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) works in partnership with NATE and provides additional certification exams such as EPA section 608, commercial refrigeration, commercial air conditioning, heating and HVAC-R electrical
  • The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) deals with the Industry Competency Exam and provides a number f other HVAC-R specialty certifications like air distribution (AD), HVAC efficiency analyst (senior) and HVAC performance verifier
  • HVAC Excellence provides accreditation, along with employment-ready certification examinations for air conditioning, basic refrigeration, light commercial air conditioning and charging procedures
  • The Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) provides various industrial refrigeration certifications including CARO – Certified Assistant Refrigerant Operator for entry-level employees and CORI – Certified Industrial Refrigeration Operator

5. Obtain State and National Certifications

Requirements for HVAC technicians to become accredited vary between states, and a basic guide is provided here:

5.1 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

This organization offers seven different certification programs including:

  • BCXP – Building Commission Professional Certification
  • BEAP – Building Energy Assessment Professional Certification
  • BEMP – Building Energy Modeling Professional Certification
  • CHD – Certified HVAC Designer
  • HBDP – High-performance Building Design professional Certification
  • HFDP – Healthcare Facility Design Professional Certification
  • OPMP – Operations and Performance Management Professional Certification

5.2 HVAC Excellence 

This organization offers various certifications for high school leavers and more experienced HVAC technicians:

Two certifications are available to students enrolled in high school HVAC programs:

  • Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology (H.E.A.T.) and H.E.A.T. Plus. The first comprises of questions to assess a student’s expertise regarding HVAC topics like fundamental motors, electrical theory, capacitors and AC troubleshooting, while the second includes the above sections, along with a hands-on examination component and additional questions pertaining to work ethics, computer literacy and general employability skills

Employment-ready Certifications

These include certifications for entry-level employees and they’re perfect for students enrolled in vocational or trade school programs. Exams cover topics such as fuel oil combustion, carbon monoxide safety, electric heat, light commercial air-conditioning, and many others.

Professional Technician Certifications

HVAC Excellence provides additional professional level certification training to employees with a minimum of two years of verified work experience in a particular field like heat pump service, residential air conditioning, etc. All of these courses require an exam and the master specialist hands-on tech certifications require at least 3 years of work experience and a demonstration of skills. 

Specialty Certifications

These require candidates to demonstrate competence in extremely specific areas like residential heat load analysis, green awareness, and the use of R-410A refrigerant systems. 

Educator Credentials

These include the certified subject matter educator (CSME) for HVAC instructors and the certified master HVAC-R educator (CMHE) and a minimum of six subjects must be passed with scores of 80% or higher before these exams can be taken. 

EPA Certification

Anyone who intends to work with refrigerants or refrigeration systems must obtain an EPA Section 608 Certification. Available certifications for this include:

  • Type I for small appliances
  • Type II for high-pressure appliances
  • Type III for low-pressure appliances
  • Universal – this is a all-encompassing credential

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) and Industry Competency Exams (ICE)

NATE offers various specialty certifications at different levels and technicians must pass a core exam and one specialty exam before they will obtain certification. Specialty exams are divided into service and installation categories:

Installation Specialties:

  • Air conditioning
  • Air distribution
  • Heat pump (air to air)
  • Oil heating (air)
  • Gas heating (air)

Service Specialties:

  • Air conditioning
  • Air distribution
  • Oil heating (air)
  • Heat pump (air to air)
  • Hydronics gas 
  • Hydronics oil
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Light commercial refrigeration
  • Senior-level efficiency analyst

NATE also offers the ICE exams that cover various residential and commercial HVAC systems and related skillsets, Section 608 certification, and certifications for ground source heat pump installers and HVAC performance verifiers. 

Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA)

RETA offers several certifications for industrial refrigeration technicians. In addition to the CIRO and CARO certifications, Certified Refrigeration Service Technician (CRST) and Certified Refrigeration Energy Specialist (CRES) exams are offered to technicians specializing in industrial refrigeration. 

Refrigeration Service Engineers Society

This organization provides various levels and subject areas of HVAC certification, including the EPA Section 608 certification for refrigeration technicians. 

R-410A certification and training, and eight specialized written exams are available exclusively for active RSES members:

  • Commercial air conditioning
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Controls
  • Domestic service
  • Dynamic compression
  • Heating
  • Heat pump
  • HVAC-R electrical

Most HVAC exams prepare students for the EPA Section 608 exam, while others will prepare them for higher certification levels.