HVAC Education and Training Requirements in California

Undergraduate Education Options

There are many different ways that a person can obtain HVAC training in California, but there are two main paths that a person can take to get into an HVAC career. One way is to enroll in a technical school, take the necessary classes—courses such as HVAC fundamentals, electrical and commercial systems, installation, repair, and maintenance for refrigeration and heating—and earn a certification at the completion of their coursework. Typically, these types of programs last from 7 months to a couple of years. The HVAC schools in California are spread far and wide, allowing would-be future technicians to attend almost anywhere in the state.

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Most HVAC schools require a GED or high school diploma in order to enroll into an HVAC program. Some schools could require that the prospective students have passing grades in potential HVAC-related classes, for example math and chemistry. If you are currently in high school, and thinking ahead to a future in HVAC, you could explore taking subjects that might benefit you down the line in an HVAC career. Many high schools now offer computer science courses, physics, and other related classes. Of course, these are not required to enroll in an HVAC school, but could be relevant in the future. With HVAC schooling, students may choose to enroll either in an HVAC certificate program or an associate’s degree program. The two programs differ in length of time to complete and tuition costs. Both prepare students to obtain a HVAC license and certification in California, and sit for the necessary exams.

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The second way an individual could become an HVAC technician is by taking on an apprenticeship in the field. Apprentices generally assist a licensed HVAC technician with their daily labor, while learning on-the-job skills, techniques, and know-how. Tasks might include cleaning systems, becoming familiar with and carrying work materials, and so forth. Typically, as an apprentice becomes more familiar with the duties and systems, they may be allowed to participate in more hands-on work such as inspecting electrical circuits or working with sheet metal and soldering. Apprentices actually get paid a percentage of what the licensed technicians are earning for their work. California HVAC salary information can of course vary depending on the type of work being done, and position of the journeyman.

Apprenticeships typically last from 3-5 years. There are certain requirements to enroll in some of the apprenticeship programs as well, for instance the age requirement is typically 17 years old to apply and 18 years old at the start of the program. And, like many of the HVAC schools, some apprenticeships require a GED or high school diploma, and require applicants to have taken certain subjects in high school like algebra and for which they earned a passing grade.

Generally speaking, employers prefer to see some formal schooling when hiring technicians. Some apprenticeships actually include classroom instruction, and courses that the apprentices are required to complete within a given time period. At the end of the time period, somewhere between 3-5 years, the apprentices can take the licensing exam. For those students who are enrolled in an apprenticeship that does not include class time, you might consider supplementing the hands-on work experience with some schooling or formal class-time.

Students or prospective HVAV technicians might choose to reach out to local chapters of HVAC organizations in search of apprenticeships close to home. Some HVAC associations include:

  • Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America
  • Air-Conditioning Contractors of America

Licensing Exams

In the state of California, HVAC technicians who work on projects that cost over $500 are required to have a Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Contractor License. This is a license that must be granted from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). With this license, HVAC techs can service, install, maintain, and repair climate-control systems in California, and limited work in the states of Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

To be considered to take the exam, there is an application fee of $300 which also includes the exam fee. Other requirements state that the applicant must be fingerprinted and successfully pass a criminal background check. The individual must be bonded and, perhaps most importantly, the state of California requires that journeymen who are applying to sit for the exam have at least 4 years of experience in the HVAC field. Examples of experience could be as a contractor, builder, foreman or journeyman in the industry.

The exam consists of a business and law portion, as well as an HVAC-specific portion. Once an HVAC tech passes the exam (earning a 72% or above), the cost for the license for the first two years is $180. The exam itself typically takes about two and a half hours, and is somewhere around 100 questions.

Post-Graduate Studies

It seems that earning a bachelor’s degree in HVAC studies is fairly rare, however there are some post-secondary 4-year schools which students who have already obtained an associate’s degree can enroll in. Of course, HVAC technicians considering going back to school may opt to study and earn a BS in a related field, such as engineering technology, or Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Design Technology, that may help them in their current field. The latter is a degree wherein students learn business management and supervision skills alongside deepening their education and knowledge of HVAC methods, system design, and advanced studies in that arena.

HVAC Continuing Education Options

Some states have continuing education requirements for certain licenses. Continuing education classes can be taken in person during class-time or live seminars, or through an online program. For example, in California, it is mandatory for electricians to take 32 hours of continuing education to renew their licenses. Currently, the state of California has no requirements for HVAC technicians to complete additional educational courses to uphold their licensure.

There are however non-obligatory continuing education classes which HVAC technicians may opt to take at any point in their career, simply to stay on top of the latest technologies and climate control systems. Even seasoned HVAC technicians may choose to take non-required continuing education classes, to learn about advancements in the field.