How to become an HVAC Technician

HVAC Technicians

HVAC Schools and Certifications

In our previous article, Careers in HVAC, we discussed the various positions in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry and the attributes needed for each. However, most people enter the field with the sole intent of becoming an HVAC technician. There are multiple paths to becoming an HVAC Technician. The conventional method is to attend a local trade school or community college, get the basic certifications, and hire on at an HVAC company as an entry level technician or installer. However, with the proliferation of online classes, an in-person class may not be needed. Additionally, several companies and organizations offer apprenticeship programs that allow you to get paid while getting hands on HVAC training.

Each state has different license and certification requirements for HVAC technicians. However, all technicians that handle refrigerant are required to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification for handling refrigerants. There are a number of additional certifications that one can attain through industry competency exams from several certifying organizations. Through out the industry, there are specialties where particular certifications may be needed. HVAC professionals that work on residential HVAC systems may have different certifications that those who work on commercial refrigeration systems or light commercial air conditioning.

Labor statistics continue to show In this article, we'll discuss some of the more common HVAC programs that are available in Knoxville, TN. We'll also give a brief overview of a few of the important HVAC certifications that may be needed.

High School Career Technical Education

Knox County Schools offers Career and Technical Education (CTE). CTE is a national, state-led program that provides students with academic and technical skills in various career fields. In these programs they receive the knowledge and training needed to succeed in future careers. CTE prepares these learners by teaching various workplace competencies in a hands-on context. CTE participants statistically graduate at higher rate, about 90% which is 15 points higher than the average.

Students can begin to learn basic skills in the HVAC field of study as early as 9th grade. Students can complete an industry competency exam and be ready to work immediately after exiting high school. Halls Highschool has an HVAC program. Farragut and Karns have programs that include HVAC.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) - Knoxville

TCAT Knoxville provides an HVAC certificate program. It offers day and night classes for the convenience of people with full time jobs. The course is taught at 2 different campuses, Knoxville and Strawberry Plains. Tuition and book fee information is available on the website. Our experience with the students and graduates of this program is very positive. The graduates seem to be prepared for and generally perform very well. The program excepts Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect which provides some Tennessee residents with financial aid. An overview of their program:

  • The HVAC-R program prepares students to work in the field of air conditioning and refrigeration. Students obtain critical skills to be able to troubleshoot, repair, and maintain residential and commercial refrigeration; air conditioning; heat pumps; indoor air quality equipment; and gas and electric furnaces. Students learn basic electricity, operation of electric motors, electrical controls, basic refrigeration, refrigeration cycle, and air distribution. Graduate HVAC technicians are able to install and braze refrigeration tubing, perform electrical diagnostics; install ductwork; repair light commercial equipment; recover and reclaim air conditioning and refrigeration refrigerants; locate and repair refrigerant leaks.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) - Knoxville

Online HVAC Certification Program

A list and description of online HVAC training programs is available on this website: Our experience with graduates of online training courses is mostly positive. HVAC technicians that completed the online course are usually very highly motivated. It takes pretty good work ethic and motivation to complete all of the coursework. Obviously, the technical skill is typically lacking early on from the lack of hands on training. But because of their motivation, online graduates usually overcome this very quickly.

TN Association of Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors (PHCC)

PHCC has a 4 year apprenticeship program for HVAC technicians. This program is certified by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, and approved by the Veterans Administration under the GI Bill. Classes are held one evening every two weeks. This allows the student to continue to work a full time job while building the skills needed to start a new career in heating and air conditioning.

EPA certification

EPA regulations 40 CFR Part 82, Subpart F, Section 608 requires an HVAC technician that maintains, services, repairs, or disposes of equipment that could release refrigerants into the atmosphere to be certified. They must pass an EPA approved test to earn the 608 certification. A technician is defined as any individual who performs any of the following activities:

  • Attaching and detaching hoses and gauges to measure pressure
  • Adding or removing refrigerant
  • Any other activity that violates the integrity of the appliance

There are 4 types to the certification:

  1. Small appliances (Type I)
  2. High or very high pressure appliances, except small appliances (Type II)
  3. Low pressure appliances (Type III)
  4. All types (Universal)

Test topics include:

  • Environmental Impacts
  • Clean Air Act and Montreal Protocol
  • Section 608 Regulations
  • Substitute refrigerant and oils
  • Refrigeration
  • Recover, recycle, reclaim
  • Recovery Techniques
  • Safety
  • Shipping

Most HVAC distribution stores are authorized EPA 608 test sites.

HVAC Refrigerants

North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

North American Technician Excellence is non-profit certification organization for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration technicians. NATE offers a series of tests to the validate the professional competency of HVAC technicians. There are 4 steps to the NATE process:

  1. Ready to work test (0-6 months): Entry level exam for people just entering the HVACR field with little to no formal education or training.
  2. HVAC Support Test (6-12 months): A fundamental exam that demonstrates increased heating and air conditioning knowledge and skills.
  3. Core and Specialty Tests (2+ years)
  4. Senior Level Efficiency Exam (5+ years)

NATE Certification is great way to set yourself a part from other technicians

HVAC Excellence

HVAC Excellence was established in 1994 to upgrade technical competency in the heating and air conditioning industry by validating the education process. For companies and technicians working toward continuous improvement, HVAC Excellence establishes and monitors the accomplishment of industry standards. They provide programmatic accreditation to HVAC programs providing a statement of excellence for the curriculum and program. They certify individual technicians with progressive levels of certification, starting with EPA certification and continuing up to instructor.

Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

Air Conditioning Contractors of America provides a great series of online training topics designed to improve the quality performance of technicians. They are built around ACCA standards and broken into 5-15 minute segments. These course also provide CEU and CEH credit for the NATE and HVAC Excellence continued training requirements. Here is a list of the courses they provide:

  • A2L Refrigerant Training
  • Entry Level Technicians
  • EPA 608 Certification Prep Course
  • Technicians Field Practices for Quality Installation
  • Home Evaluation and Performance Improvement
  • Duct Design Basics
  • Duct Diagnostic and Repairs
  • Electricity Basics for the HVAC Contractor
  • Hydronics
  • HVAC Zoning
  • Commercial HVAC Design Basics

This is a small sampling of the organizations that provide training programs and certifications available to both aspiring and experienced HVAC technicians. The heating and air conditioning field continues to make technical advancements. HVAC professionals must be committed to continuous learning to stay up-to-date and continue to grow their careers.

Written by Jeremy James

Jeremy is the founder and CEO of Blue Water Climate Control. He is a Navy veteran with 24 years of naval service in the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Program. He has broad engineering experience having worked on submarines and aircraft carriers. LinkedIn

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