Guide to Refrigeration Technician Training Programs

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For those interested refrigerant safety (e.g., CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs) and other fundamentals, there’s an abundance of on-campus and online training programs throughout the United States. Refrigerant training is typically part of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC or HVACR) programs, although some people seeking specialized knowledge (e.g., the difference between zeotropic and azeotropic refrigerant mixtures) or exclusive employment in commercial refrigeration may want more focused training. Notably, the HVACR industry has one mandatory credential for all people who deal with refrigerants, which are environmentally sensitive chemicals: the EPA Section 608 certification.

In addition to the abundance of refrigeration training programs, employment prospects in this field look bright into coming years. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015) anticipated a 14 percent increase in openings for HVACR mechanics and installers across the country between 2014 and 2024, much more robust than the average growth anticipated in all occupations during that same decade (6.5 percent). With the projected addition of 39,600 fresh openings in the HVACR industry, it’s a skilled profession with relatively high job security on into the future.

There are varied reasons for these bright employment prospects. First, HVACR systems generally need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Also, a majority of US residences, factories, retail spaces, hospitals, schools, and virtually all structures have climate control and refrigeration systems within them. Particularly in areas of new construction, there’s a high demand for HVACR professionals to install new equipment. Finally, since environmental legislation, efficiency standards, and technologies are continually evolving, systems often receive continual upgrades.

This guide explores HVACR and refrigeration training programs, including the expected coursework, desired credentialing, and professional associations in the industry.

HVACR Training Programs

As mentioned in the introduction, many of the community college or vocational school programs offering refrigeration training do so along with heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) instruction, through what is known as HVACR. So in addition to learning about HVAC in one of these certificate or associate degree programs, here is a sampling of typical refrigeration courses:

  • Basic refrigeration
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Refrigerator applications
  • Advanced air conditioning, refrigeration and heating
  • Refrigeration principles
  • Commercial refrigeration startup
  • Domestic refrigeration appliances
  • Refrigeration fundamentals

Depending on the length and scope of the program, students may need to complete an externship, do lab work, or undergo other hands-on training experiences. Before digging into the refrigeration-specific programs, here are some brief descriptions of featured HVACR schools across the US:

  • Ferris State University, in Big Rapids, Mich., offers an HVACR program that can be completed either an as associate or bachelor’s degree, the latter which requires more time for completion. Basic refrigeration is a component of both programs as is generalized HVAC education.
  • Tarrant County College, in Fort Worth, Texas, provides an associate of applied science (AAS) degree with three specialization areas, including one in HVAC refrigeration tech. The degree includes six technical classes essential to completing the program.
  • Kirtland Community College, located in Roscommon, Mich., offers HVACR training that can lead to an associate degree. Because the school has a flexible learning environment, students can complete their coursework at their own pace, which is especially convenient for students with full-time jobs or parenting responsibilities.
  • Virginia College, with locations mainly in the eastern US, offers students HVACR training that can lead to an associate degree. The program is designed to take 88 weeks to complete and includes an externship, giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience.
  • Grand Rapids Community College, in Grand Rapids, Mich., is another school offering HVACR training. Students have the option of completing either a certificate or an associate degree.

Refrigeration Training Courses

Of course, the scope of one’s education varies by institution. While many refrigeration courses are folded into larger HVAC instruction, there are also some refrigeration-specific courses, often combined with air-conditioning instruction. Here are a few options available within the US:

  • Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, Wisc. offers a commercial refrigeration certificate that requires completion of seven different classes, including four specifically in refrigeration. These include the fundamentals of refrigeration, refrigeration service techniques, commercial food service refrigeration, and supermarket refrigeration. Additionally, graduates have the opportunity to take the EPA 608 refrigerant-handling certification and the Industry Competency Exam (ICE), credentials preferred by many employers. The tuition costs $4,340 annually for WI residents.
  • TPC Trainco (formerly “American Training”), which offers classes around the US, provides a two-day air-conditioning and refrigeration course. Among topics discussed in the class are the compression refrigeration cycle, refrigerants, and refrigerant oils. Free EPA 608 technician certification testing is included in the class. Please note that tuition varies by campus site.
  • The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, commonly known as the RSES, also offers refrigeration and air-conditioning training through its local chapters across the country. Common training courses include the principles of refrigeration; compressors, condensers, and cooling towers; evaporators and system components; and tools, controls, and troubleshooting, among others. Similar to TPC, the price of these courses varies by region. More details can be found by looking at the organization’s events calendar or by contacting specific RSES chapters.
  • Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga., offers a variety of courses related to ammonia refrigeration, including industrial ammonia refrigeration, ammonia for non-operators, hazmat training, RETA basic electricity, and RETA control theory and fundamentals, among others. Corporate discounts may be available for some classes, which typically cost $89 per credit hour. Extra fees may apply.
  • Harper College, in Palatine, Ill., offers two 16-credit certificate programs: domestic refrigeration and heating and refrigeration service. The former has training in the refrigeration fundamentals and domestic refrigeration appliances, while the latter includes units in refrigeration systems, heating and cooling controls, and advanced controls. Please note that Harper also has an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in HVACR. Programs cost $125 per credit hour for in-district residents and $382 for those living out of the district (2017-18).
  • Sheridan Technical College has several locations in Florida and offers programs focused on in A/C, refrigeration, and heating. It provides 600- and 750-hour training options with laboratory and didactic training in servicing of A/C and refrigeration units, troubleshooting of electrical and mechanical systems; and more. This program costs $4,575 for the 2016-17 school year, plus additional fees for equipment and books.

Online Refrigeration Training

A number of programs can also be found online in HVACR training, including some specifically in refrigeration. High-speed internet access may be helpful to viewing lessons and videos through this format. Some of these distance-based refrigeration programs:

  • Penn Foster Career School offers an online career diploma in HVACR that can be completed in as few as five months. The program comprises eight different units such as residential and light commercial HVACR systems; commercial refrigeration and HVACR maintenance; and refrigeration systems. It also features an EPA test voucher as a graduation gift. Tuition varies by method of pay, but it costs only $634 if it’s all paid up front.
  • Danfoss offers an online commercial refrigeration training program that leads to a certificate. Some of the modules in refrigeration include basic refrigeration technique, basic compressors, line components, solenoid valves, and commercial refrigeration systems, among others. The program features various eLessons that can be completed online and two self-study PowerPoint courses.
  • RSES, mentioned earlier, also offers online coursework through its eLearning portal. Units include hydrocarbon refrigerants, CEH, refrigerant usage training for the EPA Section 608 certification, and NATE exam preparation, among others. Each specific course has a different price and information is available through the RSES website.
  • Dupont offers an online course in refrigeration through its eLearning Suite. This is part 15 of a 16-part course on energy efficiency and has instruction in the refrigeration cycle, compressors, expansion valves, evaporators, condensers, refrigerants and cycle performance, cooling circuits and lubrication, positive displacement compressors, centrifugal chillers, best practices for refrigeration, and other fundamentals of the discipline. This unit costs $450 for one year of access.
  • Emerson Climate Technologies provides an online course in air conditioning and refrigeration basics that is just 30 minutes in length and features instruction on the refrigeration system and its components, compressor performance and other topics. Emerson has other units on the fundamentals of refrigeration, digital scroll compressors, electrical circuits, E2 refrigeration and building controllers, and thermostatic expansion valves. Similar to many of the online refrigeration courses above, the pricing varies by course and can be found on their website.

These are only a few of the distance-based refrigeration training schools available. Other options can be found on the main online HVAC training schools page.

Refrigeration Certification

All workers that repair, fix, or maintain refrigeration systems or who are involved in disposal of refrigerants need to seek certification through the EPA. That’s because these processes are chemically sensitive and could release refrigerants into the air, harming the ozone and other parts of the environment.

There are four types of certification available, which vary by type of equipment serviced or disposed of: I) small appliances; II) high or very-high pressure appliances; III) low-pressure appliances; and IV) universal certification, for servicing all types of equipment, encompassing the other three. Testing to pass one or more of these certifications must be done at an EPA-approved site. Once a technician passes the exam, their credentials do not expire.

AC/C Tech, one of the organizations authorized to provide testing, reports that these exams are proctored and include 25 questions about EPA regulations as well as 25 questions on recycling procedures in the area in which certification is being sought. The universal (i.e., Type IV) test, which covers all three areas, comprises 100 questions including 25 general questions, as well as 75 sector-specific questions—25 each regarding Type I, II and II. A minimum score of 70 percent is needed to pass any of the exams. There is much information available online and through specific testing sites that it may be worthwhile to find out more details beforehand. To start out, check out some of the links about EPA testing below:

  • There are EPA sites across the country that offer Section 608 testing, including locations in Washington DC; Big Rapids, Mich.; Modesto, Calif.; and many others. The EPA also offers information about the different types of certification available such as the testing categories, recovery requirements, recovery techniques, and safety procedures.
  • EPAtest.com provides a free Type I and Type II study manuals. The company also offers Type II, III, and IV test preparation through its Qwik608 self-study course.
  • The ESCO Institute, which offers EPA testing at various locations, also provides free practice exams at all four levels. Additionally, testing manuals are available in English and Spanish, as well as audio CD versions and for Kindle.
  • The ACCA—the Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency Association—a non-profit organization, also provides Section 608 EPA testing and points out on its website that certification is required by law under the provisions of the Clean Air Act. The association offers a number of training and educational products as well as strategies for helping contractors ensure their new hires become certified not just the required way, but also the “right way.”

Other Refrigeration Certifications

Additional certification exams are offered through North American Technician Excellence (NATE) as Industry Competency Exams (ICEs). To become NATE-certified, one needs to pass the core exam and a specialty exam. Two certifications that can be pursued in refrigeration are the Light Commercial Refrigeration Service and Commercial Refrigeration Service certifications. Links that may be helpful to learning more about NATE certification are listed below:

  • NATE offers details on its Light Commercial Refrigeration Service exam. It features 100 questions, is pass/fail, and that test-takers have 2.5 hours to complete it.
  • Similarly, NATE provides information on its Commercial Refrigeration Service exam, which similarly features 100 questions, is pass/fail, and must be completed within 2.5 hours. This exam tests students on their knowledge of the installation, service, maintenance, and repair of small refrigeration systems ranging from 7.5 to 80 horsepower.
  • Practice exams are available on YouTube to help students prepare for NATE ICE technician certifications in air conditioning and refrigeration.
  • For those seeking a more traditional study experience, there’s also a book—the Guide to the NATE/ICE Certification Exams—written by Robert Featherstone and Jess Riojas.
  • Similarly, NATE lists a number of resources on its website available to help individuals prepare for examination. This includes a list of training partners and relevant publications.

Refrigeration Professional Associations

Once an individual has completed an EPA 608 certification or other refrigeration credentials, there are various professional associations to assist with networking contacts, career connections, and even continuing education opportunities. Here are a few professional groups which serve as a complement to refrigeration training and credentialing:

  • The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) which offers industry advocacy at the state and federal level, provides details about upcoming meetings and events, as well as information about certification and training programs.
  • The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, better known as ASHRAE, features conferences and webcasts to its members, a distinguished lecturer program, a job board, education and certification information, government briefings and congressional updates.
  • The aforementioned RSES promotes itself as “the HVACR Training Authority” and has membership at differing levels, including student, individual, lifetime, contractor (corporate), and corporate. Members receive benefits such as education, certification preparation, a monthly RSES Journal, and discounted rates on goods and services.
  • The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) focuses on refrigeration for sustainable development and has conferences, news updates, and publications on topics related to refrigeration. Memberships are offered at either the private or corporate level, and currently include a free 18-month membership for those under the age of 30 who are recommended by a professor who is also an IIR member.
  • The International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) provides technical bulletins, an online newsletter, publication discounts, and more to its members. Training videos, technical papers, and information about its annual conference can also be found on the IIAR website.
  • The Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) is an organization dedicated to the professional development of industrial refrigeration technicians and operators. It has an annual conference as well as publications, conferences, and local seminars to help members stay networked and educated.

Lastly, there are various associations at the regional or state level, some of which are area chapters of prominent national organizations. Some of the larger groups include:

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