HVAC License and Certification in California

So you’re intrigued by the California HVAC salary information and growing job market, and you’ve done your research on HVAC education and training requirements in California. But before you dive headfirst into HVAC training at one of the many HVAC schools in California, it is worth taking a bit more time to learn how the certification process works.

In California, the Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB) oversees the construction industry, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technicians. Any HVAC contractor or subcontractor that performs installation, maintenance, or repair services totaling five hundred dollars or more in labor and materials must be licensed by the CSLB.

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In order to apply for HVAC licensure, the contractor must be at least eighteen years old, have a minimum of four years of verifiable experience in the field, and pass licensing examinations. There are no formal education requirements to qualify for an HVAC license. A license may be issued to an individual, a partnership, a corporation, or a joint venture by the CSLB.

 License Classifications

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning contractors are considered within a specialized building trade and are required to hold a Class C certificate in at least one of four specialties based on the work they complete. The C-4 Boiler, Hot-Water Heating and Steam Fitting certification is designed for contractors who install, service, and repair power boiler installations, hot-water heating systems, and steam fitting. The CSLB defines the C-20 Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning contractor as one that fabricates, installs, maintains, services, and repairs warm-air heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, including those which utilize solar power. The third classification specialty is C-38 Refrigeration. A refrigeration contractor constructs, fabricates, erects, installs, maintains, services, and repairs refrigerators, refrigerated rooms, and systems and thermostatic controls for the control of air, liquid and/or gas temperatures below fifty degrees Fahrenheit. The final classification for HVAC contractors is the C-46 Solar which is a specialty in installing, modifying, maintaining, and repairing thermal and photovoltaic solar energy systems. A licensee classified in this specialty is not licensed to perform other building or construction trades, crafts, or skills, except when required to install a thermal or photovoltaic solar energy system.

Any person who performs maintenance, service, repair or refrigerant disposal that could be reasonably expected to release refrigerants into the atmosphere requires Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) 608 Certification. This includes anyone identified as a “technician” who attaches and detaches hoses and gauges to and from an appliance to measure pressure or adds refrigerant to or removes refrigerant from an appliance. The type of certification a contract needs depends on the work be conducted. Type 1 certification is for technicians who only work on small appliances containing five pounds or less of refrigerant. Type II certification allows technicians to work on medium, high, and very high pressure appliances. HVAC technicians that work on low pressure appliances must have a Type III certificate. For those technicians that work on a wide variety of appliances with refrigerants typically get the universal certificate which is equivalent to having a Type I, II, and III certificate.

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Applying for a License

The Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB) administers licensing exams, investigates complaints against contractors, and issues, suspends, and revokes licenses. Within ten years before applying for licensure, the HVAC contractor must be able to provide verifiable evidence of at least four years’ experience within the HVAC trade as a journeyman, a foreman or supervisor, a contractor, or an owner-builder. Education, technical training, or apprenticeship training may go towards a portion of the required four years of practical experience. At least one year must be a hands-on experience. A criminal history background check, fingerprinting, and proof of being bonded are also requirements. Being a resident of California is not mandatory for licensure.

The cost of applying for HVAC licensure varies based on the number of specialty classifications the contractor wants to pursue. All applicants must have a working capital of at least $2,500. In addition, all applicants must also file a bond with the Registrar in the amount of $12,500. There is an initial $300 application fee which includes the initial certification exam fee. Additional certification exams currently cost $75 per classification. The initial two-year licensing fee is $180. Renewal after two years is $360 if the license is active and renewed prior to the expiration date.

Certification Exams

Each Class C specialty exam consist of trade-related multiple-choice questions on system evaluation  and design, fabrication, system installation and start up, service, maintenance, repair, and safety. Multiple testing sites are set up around the state. The CSLB offers specific trade study guides to support applicants in successfully completing the trade exam.

Along with completing the CSLB classification exams with a pre-determined level of accuracy, applicants must pass additional certification exams in order to gain full HVAC licensure in California. The first exam is the Law and Business Examination which consists of multiple choice questions related to business management and construction law. Specifically, the Law and Business Examination is divided into eight sections. The sections include business organization, business financial, employment requirements, bonds, insurance, and liens, contract requirements and execution, licensing requirements, safety requirements, and public works. The CSBL also provides guidance on how to prepare for this test.

To gain EPA 608 Certification, a minimum of passing two exams is required. All candidates for licensure must complete the CORE exam. This exam tests the applicants knowledge on ozone depletion, the Clean Air Act and Montreal Protocol, Section 608 regulations, substitute refrigerants and oils, refrigeration, definitions of recover, recycle, and reclaim, recovery techniques, dehydration evacuation, and shipping, and safety. Each of the Type I, II, and III exams focus on leak detection, leak repair, recovery, refrigeration, and safety based on the type of appliances covered in the certification.

Reciprocal Classifications between California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah

Only HVAC technicians and contractors from Arizona, Nevada, and Utah can apply for a California contractor’s license through a reciprocal agreement between the four states. The contractor must have held an active license in good standing in one of the reciprocal states for the previous five years and thus may be able to get a California contractor’s license without taking the trade portion of the exam. If the applicant is granted reciprocity, they will, however, still be required to take the CSLB Law and Business Examination. The California C-4 Certificate is equivalent to the Arizona C-4, L-4, K-4, K-74, and the Nevada C-1a. California’s C-20 classification is corresponds to the Utah S350, Nevada’s C-1f and C-21, and Arizona’s K-39, L-39, and L-49. The refrigeration C-38 certificate is comparable to the L-49 and L-79 from Nevada, the C-21a from Nevada, and the S360 from Utah. Nevada’s solar C-37 certificate is equivalent to California’s C-46 solar certificate.