HVAC Training Schools in Washington

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The Evergreen State is not only replete with lush vegetation, but the relatively wet and cool climate also makes it a fertile employment landscape in the field of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R or HVAC). In addition to the bright career outlook, there’s an array of professional associations and advocacy groups to keep people supported in this line of work. For example, the Washington State Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning Contractors Association (HVACCA) is a regional branch of an organization which boasts over 20,000 HVAC workers and 4,000 businesses. After its founding more than 40 years ago, the HVACCA has fought tirelessly to provide legal, educational, technical, and marketing assistance for people in the HVAC community. Notably, this group is affiliated with the Air Conditioning Contracting Association (ACCA), another organization of prominence in this field. The Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Contractors of Washington State is another resource-rich agency which has a biannual magazine and is “dedicated to the promotion, advancement, education and training of the industry for the protection of our environment and the health, safety and comfort of society.”

So what do HVAC professionals in Washington (WA) do? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2015), HVAC professionals take on responsibilities such as installing and troubleshooting HVAC systems and their components (e.g., heat pumps, boilers, furnaces, electric wiring, motors, pumps, ducts, hermetic compressors, burners, intake & exhaust fans, humidifiers, economizers); keeping detailed client records; calculating heat loads & losses; interpreting blueprints; making suggestions for improving energy efficiency; and maintaining all certifications and local licensure through the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, an agency with which offers state HVAC credentials as a subtype of electricians’ licenses. It’s important to note that for all individuals who work with refrigerants (environmentally sensitive chemicals), there is one mandatory credential: the EPA Section 608 certification. A majority of HVAC technician training schools in Washington offer EPA 608 certification training as part of their programs.

Read on to discover the opportunities for HVAC workers in WA, including the projected growth figures, salaries, wealth of accredited training programs, and credentialing information within the state.

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Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Washington

As mentioned above, the employment prospects for HVAC workers look very bright in Washington and throughout the country. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015) anticipated a 14 percent increase in openings in HVAC across the country, much more robust than the average growth expected across all occupations during that time period (7 percent). And there’s some evidence that Washington State has even greater opportunities in HVAC than the nation as a whole. By illustration, CareerOneStop (2016)—a data affiliate of the US Department of Labor—predicted that HVAC would be the thirteenth fastest-growing industry among people with “some college” in the state, projecting a 22 percent increase in openings in this field between 2014 and 2024. With the expected addition of 1,090 fresh opportunities in HVAC across WA, the career outlook is expected to be promising in the coming decade.

These professionals are hired in a range of environments such as residences, commercial structures, schools, retail spaces, factories, and all buildings which seek climate control. As proof of point, popular job sites are bursting at the seams with openings in HVAC in WA. In fact, Indeed (Nov. 2016) had 391 posts at places such as Yakima Mechanical Inc., MM Comfort Systems, Northwest Restaurant Services, Johnson Controls, Vashon Heating & Cooling, AAA Heating & Air Conditioning, Legacy Air Inc., Patriot Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Inc., Highline Public Schools, Blue Flame Heating, Air & Electric, and All-Ways Air Control.

In addition to the wide array of environments in WA which employ HVAC workers, the maintenance of equipment and average lifespan of systems (~ten years) also contributes to the steady stream of work in this area.

While the future looks bright in HVAC, it’s crucial to point out that professionals in this line of work incur a higher-than-average rate of disease and injury compared to other occupations. The threat of muscle strains, chemical burns, skin irritation, and other ailments are relatively higher due to the physical nature of the work and type of equipment used (e.g., refrigerants). That said, with the proper training and safety equipment, all of these problems can generally be kept to a minimum. 

Washington State HVAC Technician Salary Data

Not only are the growth prospects for HVAC workers high nationwide and in WA, but among occupations with minimal postsecondary training, HVAC is one of the more lucrative lines of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2015), there were 274,680 HVAC workers employed across the country with an annual average salary of $47,380; by comparison, there were 4,330 Washington HVAC professionals who enjoyed an annual average salary of $56,450, fully 19.1 percent higher than the national average.

Before digging into the detailed salary outlooks, it’s important to recognize that the cost of living in WA is relatively higher than the national average. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2016) reported that WA is the fifteenth most expensive state in the country, although it did boast relatively cheap utilities. Please keep this in mind while evaluating the wage prospects in this field.

The BLS (May 2015) found the following detailed wage percentiles among all HVAC technicians, mechanics, and installers around the country:

United States (274,680 HVAC workers): $47,380 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,790
  • 25th percentile: $34,920
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,110
  • 75th percentile: $58,070
  • 90th percentile: $71,690

Put into hourly figures, these salaries equated to:

US: $22.78/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $13.36/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.79/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.69/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.92/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $34.47/hr.

Interestingly, the salaries tended to vary by source of data. For instance, Indeed (Nov. 2016) reported that WA HVAC workers had an average salary of $42,000. And for these professionals nationwide, Payscale (Nov. 2016)—an aggregator of self-reported salaries—also found differing wages. Among its 451 responding HVAC workers around the country, Payscale found the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 25th percentile: $35,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,886
  • 75th percentile: $53,000
  • 90th percentile: $67,000

More of Payscale’s HVAC respondents chose to report their salaries in hourly terms. For these 2,486 professionals nationwide, here were the percentile figures:

  • 10th percentile: $13.00/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.00/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.00/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $24.00/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.00/hr.

Impressively, HVAC workers in WA earned significantly higher salaries than US averages. In fact, the BLS (May 2015) found the following figures among the 4,330 working HVAC professionals in WA:

Washington (4,330 HVAC workers): $56,450 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $31,630
  • 25th percentile: $41,450
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,280
  • 75th percentile: $66,670
  • 90th percentile: $88,360

And in hourly terms:

Washington: $27.14/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $15.21/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $19.97/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $26.09/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $32.05/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $42.48/hr.

These figures varied not only by source of data, but also by region within the Evergreen State as well. There’s excellent news for people in the Seattle and Tacoma metropolitan regions: these areas not only employed the most HVAC workers within WA, but they also boasted the highest average salaries as well. In fact, the Tacoma-Lakewood metropolitan area had the third highest HVAC salaries compared to all metro regions in the country.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the numbers of HVAC workers employed, the mean wages, and salary percentiles among the 16 BLS-designated regions in Washington:

Bellingham, WA (190 HVAC workers): $48,570 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $31,860
  • 25th percentile: $38,460
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,390
  • 75th percentile: $57,830
  • 90th percentile: $63,940

Bremerton-Silverdale, WA (210 employed): $51,010 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $26,820
  • 25th percentile: $29,800
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,120
  • 75th percentile: $65,110
  • 90th percentile: $74,820

Central Washington Nonmetropolitan Area (30 employed): $45,750 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $33,200
  • 25th percentile: $41,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,760
  • 75th percentile: $50,570
  • 90th percentile: $59,970

East Washington Nonmetropolitan Area (unknown number employed): $44,530 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $40,130
  • 25th percentile: $41,830
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,650
  • 75th percentile: $47,480
  • 90th percentile: $49,170

Kennewick-Richland, WA (240 employed): $54,340 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,270
  • 25th percentile: $40,700
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,020
  • 75th percentile: $67,550
  • 90th percentile: $76,010

Longview, WA (unknown number employed): $47,610 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,460
  • 25th percentile: $33,400
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,430
  • 75th percentile: $57,850
  • 90th percentile: $79,670

Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA (60 employed): $49,530 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,510
  • 25th percentile: $35,670
  • 50th percentile (median): $52,340
  • 75th percentile: $58,730
  • 90th percentile: $64,590

Northwest Washington Nonmetropolitan Area (unknown number employed): $51,120 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,050
  • 25th percentile: $39,960
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,080
  • 75th percentile: $61,180
  • 90th percentile: $73,690

Olympia-Tumwater, WA (200 employed): $50,220 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $25,710
  • 25th percentile: $29,520
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,920
  • 75th percentile: $61,800
  • 90th percentile: $90,210

Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA Metropolitan Division (1,350 employed): $63,300 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $38,660
  • 25th percentile: $50,360
  • 50th percentile (median): $60,100
  • 75th percentile: $77,440
  • 90th percentile: $95,500

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (2,020 employed): $64,980 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $40,040
  • 25th percentile: $50,890
  • 50th percentile (median): $60,960
  • 75th percentile: $77,840
  • 90th percentile: $98,540

Southwest Washington Nonmetropolitan Area (110 employed): $54,560 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,670
  • 25th percentile: $38,040
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,790
  • 75th percentile: $62,550
  • 90th percentile: $87,240

Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA (380 employed): $44,080 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,830
  • 25th percentile: $32,040
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,180
  • 75th percentile: $52,680
  • 90th percentile: $64,720

Tacoma-Lakewood, WA Metropolitan Division (660 employed): $68,410 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $42,960
  • 25th percentile: $51,610
  • 50th percentile (median): $62,930
  • 75th percentile: $78,450
  • 90th percentile: $113,010

Walla Walla, WA (40 employed): $44,570 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $24,590
  • 25th percentile: $35,970
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,540
  • 75th percentile: $55,430
  • 90th percentile: $60,470

Yakima, WA (250 employed): $48,280 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,010
  • 25th percentile: $39,480
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,750
  • 75th percentile: $53,250
  • 90th percentile: $62,520 

Accredited HVAC Training Programs in Washington

Prior to seeking employment as an HVAC mechanic or installer in Washington, it’s crucial to receive the proper training. While some HVAC workers seek out apprenticeships under the guidance of skilled professionals, others choose to enroll in accredited HVAC training programs. There are two main accreditation agencies for HVAC schools: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). To learn in depth about the accreditation process, check out the HVAC programs homepage.

There is one training program in WA accredited by HVAC Excellence at the Walla Walla Community College. Offered as either a one-year certificate or a two-year associate of applied arts & sciences (AAAS) degree in HVAC, Walla Walla prepares its students for a wealth of certifications in the industry. These include:

  • EPA Section 608
  • Washington State Electrical Trainee
  • OHSA-10 Construction Safety
  • First Aid-CPR-AED
  • Electrical Employment Ready (ER)
  • Air Conditioning ER
  • Electric Heat ER
  • Gas Heat ER
  • Heat Pump ER
  • Light Commercial Refrigeration ER
  • TracPipe

Courses in the two-year HVAC associate degree program include refrigeration basics; wind energy; plant operations; applied thermodynamics of unit operations; materials & fasteners; refrigeration components; industrial mechanics; air conditioning & heating systems; electricity for HVACR; electrical raceways; ductwork design & fabrication; and more. This program costs $5,203 for resident tuition (including books) and an additional $1,467 for non-residents.

The sole PAHRA-accredited program in Washington is available at Bates Technical College of Tacoma. Lasting approximately six quarters, this associate of applied science (AAS) degree in HVAC features coursework in HVAC fundamentals; safety; tools & equipment; electrical troubleshooting; residential systems; soldering & brazing applications; heat pump systems; light commercial systems; chilled water systems; thermal storage; and more. This program is also available as a certificate of competency, and both programs cost $120.48 per credit with all fees included.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries also offers a list of state-approved training schools in HVAC and related occupations. For example, Spokane Community College provides an AAS HVAC program with training in the fundamentals of heating systems; sheet metal layout & fabrication; system performance testing; theory of heat transfer; system servicing & troubleshooting of heat pumps; and fundamentals of direct digital controls. This program costs $102.91 per credit for residents taking 1-10 credits, and $50.96 per credit for those enrolled in 11-19 credits.

North Seattle College provides a 53-credit technician certificate as well as an HVAC AAS in state-of-the-art training facilities. Some of the courses in these programs include the introduction to electricity & electronics; customer service; cooling systems installation; heating systems installation; HVAC electronics & control systems; and energy performance for the field technician.

Lastly, while there’s an abundance of campus-based HVAC programs across WA, some students may have difficulty attending an in-person certificate or degree program. Perhaps they live in more rural regions of the state or have familial or other obligations. For those students, there’s an abundance of distance-based HVAC training programs as well. To learn about these, check out the online HVAC programs page. 

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Washington State

As mentioned in the introduction, all HVAC professionals nationwide who work with refrigerants must have the EPA Section 608 certification. There are four distinct types which vary by category of equipment: type 1 (small appliance), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal). Please note that EPA 608 preparation is generally included as part of HVAC certificate and degree programs.

There are many other skill-based HVAC credentials available nationwide through groups such as North American Technician Excellence (e.g., industry competency exams or ICE), HVAC Excellence (e.g., HEAT Plus), and the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (e.g., certified assistant refrigeration operator). To check out the gamut of HVAC credentials which confer proof of specific competencies, please visit the HVAC certifications page.

Finally, while the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries doesn’t have a specific division for HVAC licensure, it does offer licenses in this field through its electrician division. In fact, there are two types of specialty electrician licenses related to HVAC: HVAC/refrigeration system (6A) and  HVAC/refrigeration – Restricted (6B). To qualify, candidates must have the following:

  • Completed application
  • Experience (4,000 hours for 6A, 2,000 hours for 6B, or the equivalent) or education (48 classroom hours + experience for 6A, 24 classroom hours for 6B + experience)
  • Passing score on a comprehensive exam
  • Application fee

There are ways to secure these licenses if coming from a military background or from out-of-state as well. To renew, candidates must complete 24 hours of continuing education (CE) every three years. Please note that in order to garner the necessary hours to qualify for a specialty electrician license in HVAC, candidates must first become electrical trainees, another category of credentialing.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries also offers registration to contractor-level HVAC workers, both general and specialty. To qualify for a specialty contractor license in HVAC, applicants in WA must do the following:

  • Choose business type (e.g., general partnership, sole proprietor, LLP, LLC, etc.)
  • Register with the WA Secretary of State ($180)
  • Complete a business license application & get an IRS employer identification number (if employing workers)
  • Get application notarized
  • Purchase bond & liability insurance ($6,000 for specialty contractor)
  • Show proof of general liability insurance
  • Pay registration fee

The contractor registrations are valid for two years. For all of the details, check out the WA Construction Laws & Rules.

Lastly, local laws and permitting may also apply to HVAC work. For example, the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections issues several types of refrigeration licenses (e.g., journey refrigeration mechanic, refrigeration operating engineer, refrigeration contractor’s license, etc), which are all valid for one year. In sum, since municipal codes differ by region within WA, it’s important to verify that one has all of the necessary, local credentialing prior to completing work in HVAC in the state.