Birmingham, AL HVAC Schools – Certification & Training

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Summers in Birmingham, Alabama (AL) are hot, humid, and last from May through September. The highs surge into the 80s and 90s, and each month receives more than three inches of precipitation. Evenings average about 20 degrees cooler than the daytime highs. The month of October is still warm, but drier. By November, the daytime temperatures begin dropping into the 60s. December, January, and February are the coldest months, with highs in the 50s. The winter lows are in the 30s but rarely drop below freezing. Snow is seldom more than a trace amount, with an annual total of fewer than two inches. March is the wettest month, with more than five inches of rain. Birmingham experiences occasional tornadoes during the spring and fall.

Birmingham acquired its early status as an important industrial center based on the iron and steel industry. It’s outgrown the old nickname “Pittsburgh of the South,” as it has now diversified into industries that include banking, education, healthcare, and transportation. It has become a vital business center serving the Southeastern states, as well as the center of Alabama’s cultural and entertainment venues.

Residents of Birmingham depend on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort all year. The hospitality industry relies on the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) to keep its equipment operating correctly, as well as for the comfort of their patrons. The climate-control requirements of businesses, educational institutions, and research facilities often make the installation of specialized equipment and systems necessary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), 1,690 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Birmingham-Hoover area for the period ended May 2019. The following industry organizations provide training and support for the technicians and their employers:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Alabama Associated General Contractors (ALAGC)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama (ABC Alabama)
  • Associated Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Alabama (APHCC)
  • Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders (BirminghamBuilder)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)
  • Subcontractors Association of Alabama (SubAla)
  • UA Plumbers, Steamfitters, and HVAC Technicians Local 91

These organizations work with others in the industry and with government organizations to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards for the safety of technicians, the public, and the environment.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Birmingham

Employment opportunities for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians continue to grow. The BLS (2019) indicates that new positions for technicians nationwide will increase 13 percent between 2018 and 2028. That’s more than double the 5 percent anticipated increase for all US occupations. The opportunities for HVAC technicians in Alabama are even more favorable. Projections Central predicted a 13.5 percent increase in the demand for technicians statewide between 2016 and 2026.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC industry. Construction of new homes and commercial buildings is the primary factor. Technology and the construction of modern “smart” buildings require sophisticated climate-control systems. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction contributes significantly to the industry growth as new systems must be installed that meet current environmental standards. Renovation and remodeling of existing structures mean that aging HVAC and HVAC/R systems and equipment must be repaired, retrofitted, or replaced.

The complexity of today’s HVAC and HVAC/R equipment requires trained technicians to install, maintain, and service the high-tech systems in old and new structures. Technicians must be skilled troubleshooters, understand electronics and technology, and be proficient with computers to have the best job opportunities. Those who specialize in new construction may experience seasonal unemployment if construction declines. Birmingham’s status as a high-growth city and its diversified economy make a decline unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Homeowners and businesses, especially those serving the healthcare and educational industries, depend on year-round climate control. Technicians skilled in maintaining, servicing, and repairing equipment and systems can expect full-time employment.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Birmingham, AL

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) wage data shows that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730 during the year ended May 2019. Technicians in the Birmingham-Hoover area received an annual median salary of $42,110. Earning a lesser salary isn’t as significant as it appears because Alabama has a much lower cost of living when compared to the national cost of living index.

National, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals are shown in the table below:

United States Alabama Birmingham-Hoover, AL
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 342,040 6,430 1,690
Average Annual Salary $51,420 $43,170 $42,630
10th Percentile $30,610 $26,490 $27,130
25th Percentile $37,660 $32,820 $33,710
50th Percentile (Median) $48,730 $41,340 $42,110
75th Percentile $62,070 $51,900 $50,330
90th Percentile $77,920 $62,640 $60,560

HVAC Apprenticeships in Birmingham, AL

Although HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can start their career as helpers and learn their skills through on-the-job training, few opportunities for doing so are available today. Workers now typically participate in an apprenticeship program or attend classes. Formal training and apprenticeships can open up more employment opportunities. Trained technicians start at higher wages and earn more throughout their career. Apprenticeships include a specified hours of on-the-job training and classroom work (generally 2,000 and 144, respectively) annually for three to five years.

The State of Alabama Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act offers information and resources for workers and employers. As of May 2020, apprenticeship listings include a plumber and pipefitter program in Duncanville and a plumbers and steamfitters program available in Montgomery. Both programs include training in heating and cooling systems and offer a certificate of completion.

The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship was established in 2019 to expand the use of registered apprenticeships. They provide information for job seekers on how to become a registered apprentice and links on where to find training and potential employers.

UA Plumbers, Steamfitters, and HVAC Technicians Local 91 offers a five-year HVAC program at the Birmingham Joint Apprenticeship Training Center (JATC). The Construction Education Foundation of Alabama offers four levels of pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship in the trades, including HVAC. Each level requires 144 hours of training and may be completed with part-time or full-time attendance.

Workers may participate in additional HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs through industry associations that include:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

Details as to the availability of programs, schedules, and fees are on their websites.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in Birmingham, AL

When choosing a school, students should ensure that they select an institution that is accredited. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the program, including both the curriculum and the instructors. Two industry organizations accredit HVAC programs.

HVAC Excellence has awarded accreditation to the following schools:

  • Calhoun State Community College – Tanner, Al
  • J. F. Drake State Community and Technical College – Huntsville, AL
  • Lawson State Community College – Bessemer, AL
  • Wallace State Community College – Hanceville, AL

The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has accredited the following:

  • Alabama Power Company (Utility Training Facility) – Jasper, AL
  • Bevill State Community College – Sumiton, AL
  • Gadsden State Community College – Anniston, AL

Only the schools within an hour’s commute from Birmingham are included in the profiles below.

Note: The information in this article was compiled in May 2020 during the “shelter-in-place” and “stay-home” restrictions. The schools have temporarily suspended classes or are transitioning to online options to comply with the restrictions. It is unknown at this time when classes will resume or which, if any, will be available on-campus. The profiles below indicate on-campus as per normal operations. Any questions as to timing and format should be directed to the school administration.

Alabama Power Company

The company offers HVAC Training at its new state-of-the-art center. The center features fully-equipped labs and simulators designed for troubleshooting practice. The classes and labs emphasize performance-based training.

The coursework includes troubleshooting dual-fuel heat pumps and refrigeration systems, refrigeration and HVAC operations, electrical systems, HVAC system serving, compressor, system analysis, load calculation, residential mechanical ventilation installation, computer software, and duct design, fabrication, installation, testing, and repair. Students may also complete a review course to prepare for Alabama contractors certification testing.

Depending on which courses they choose, attendees are qualified to sit for industry exams, including EPA Section 608. Not all classes are available at all times.

  • Location: Jasper, AL
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Tuition: $665 to $1,330, depending on classes selected; industry exams and review courses vary from $150 to $1,000
  • Program Length: The classes are stand-alone, and each takes either two days or four days to complete.

Bevill State Community College

Bevill offers an HVAC/R technology certificate program and an HVAC/R technology degree program. The programs are currently (May 2020) available at two of the four campuses. Students should consult with their advisor regarding when/if courses are available at other campuses or online. The degree program is approved by the Alabama Board of Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration for the Alabama Contractor’s License Exam.

Curriculum for the certificate course includes the principles of refrigeration, HVAC/R service, refrigeration piping, gas heating systems, electricity and electrical circuits, electrical components, heat load calculations, residential air conditioning, refrigerants, and heat pumps. Students then select three technical electives from the following: electric heating systems, commercial heating systems, electric motors, domestic refrigeration, ice machines, drawings and blueprints, internship, contractors exam review, commercial air conditioning systems, troubleshooting, and NCCER core. Non-technical courses include English composition and math, for a total of 49 credit-hours to earn their certificate.

Degree-seeking students complete the above coursework with the addition of a fourth technical elective and non-technical courses that include natural science, history, behavioral science, humanities, and fine arts. They earn their degree at the completion of 67 to 68 credit hours.

  • Location: Hamilton, AL; Sumiton, AL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; PAHRA
  • Tuition: $161 per credit-hour
  • Program Length: Certificate one year; degree two years

Fortis Institute

Fortis has six campuses in Alabama, including one in Birmingham, which offer an HVAC/R diploma program. Classroom lectures are supplemented with hands-on practice in a fully equipped lab.

The curriculum includes an introduction to craft skills, trade math, electricity, thermodynamics, controls and motors, residential and commercial air conditioning, commercial and industrial refrigeration, refrigerants, heat pumps, gas, oil and water-based heating systems, HVAC system performance, troubleshooting, service calls, and preparation for certification exams. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level employment as residential and commercial HVAC and HVAC/R technicians.

  • Location: Birmingham, AL
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: $17,636
  • Program Length: One year

Lawson State Community College

Lawson offers three HVAC/R certificate programs, as well as an HVAC/R degree program. All programs include classroom lectures combined with hands-on practice on industry-standard equipment.

Two of the certificate courses are classified as “short certificates.” Technical requirements for the first course include the principles of HVAC/R and electricity. Students then select at least six technical electives from the following: HVAC/R service, refrigeration piping, gas heating systems, electric circuits and components, troubleshooting, residential air conditioning, ice machines, mechanical/gas/safety codes, drawing and blueprints, refrigerants, heat pumps, internship, contractors license exam review, commercial refrigeration, system sizing and air distribution, and special topics. They complete 25 credit-hours to earn their certificate.

The second short certificate course is designated as a specialty certificate for major appliance repair. The coursework includes customer relations, principles of electricity, ranges, cooktops, and ovens, clothes washers and dishwashers, electric and gas dryers, refrigerants, refrigerators and freezers, and special topics. The program does not include electives and requires 25 credit-hours to complete.

The “long certificate” program incorporates the technical coursework included in the two short certificate programs and adds general education coursework that includes technical English and English composition, public speaking, technical math, algebra, computers, and information systems. Students complete 49 credit-hours to earn their certificate.

Students pursuing a degree complete all of the technical and non-technical coursework required for the certificate programs, as well as 12 credit-hours from electives that include engineering technology, commercial and industrial wiring, residential wiring, AC and DC fundamentals, motor controls, industrial mechanics, industrial hydraulics and pneumatics, PLCs, AC and DC machines, and blueprint reading for manufacturing. Their degree is awarded at the completion of 73 credit-hours.

  • Location: Bessemer, AL
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $132 per credit-hour
  • Program Length: Certificates vary; degree two years

Wallace State Community College

Wallace State offers three HVAC/R certificate programs and an HVAC/R degree program. All programs include hands-on practice as well as classroom lectures. Classes are available days and evenings. Graduates will have the skills needed to seek employment as technicians. The HVAC technology and degree programs prepare students to take industry exams that increase their employability.

Two of the certificates are designated as “short.” Coursework for the refrigerant usage and handling specialist certificate consists of principles of refrigeration, service procedures, and refrigerants for a total of nine credit-hours. The electrical systems specialist certificate coursework includes principles of electricity, electrical circuits and components, and motors. It requires 12 credit-hours to complete.

The HVAC technology certificate program includes the coursework in the short programs and adds the following: refrigeration piping, electric and gas heating, technical math, heat pumps, residential air conditioning, commercial HVAC/R, troubleshooting, and English composition. Students earn their certificate when they have completed 55 credit-hours.

The degree program incorporates all of the coursework for the certificates and adds non-technical classes that include ethics, technical math, and western civilization. The program takes 65 credit-hours to complete.

  • Location: Hanceville, AL
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $160 per credit-hour
  • Program Length: Short certificates four months each; HVAC technology certificate 18 to 24 months; degree two years

Birmingham students may find that online HVAC training at an accredited online school will meet their needs if they are unable to attend local on-campus programs.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Birmingham, AL

Federal law requires all HVAC technicians to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. As the refrigerants used in HVAC systems can be hazardous, certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. There are four types of certifications according to the systems on which technicians work. The Universal certification allows technicians to work on all equipment.

Various industry organizations offer Section 608 certification and other certifications designed to increase the employability of technicians. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • HVAC Excellence
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details of certifications available, qualifications, and fees are available on each organization’s website. Further information is available on the HVAC certifications page.

The State of Alabama Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Contractors Act governs licensing for technicians. Those who have completed an apprenticeship or an educational program must submit proof of completion. Those who have not obtained training need proof of a minimum of 3,000 hours of experience under the supervision of an HVAC/R licensee. All applicants are required to take a licensing exam and pay the $150 exam fee. Contractors must first obtain licensing, then complete additional forms, submit proof of a $15,000 performance bond, and pay a certification fee.

Contractors holding valid licenses from Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, or West Virginia may apply for an Alabama licensing by reciprocity. Contractor licenses must be renewed annually with the payment of a fee and proof of at least four hours of continuing education.

The City of Birmingham requires “each person contracting for or engaged in installing or repairing” HVAC is required to obtain an annual license. The fee is based on gross receipts, with a minimum of $250.

As licensing guidelines are subject to change, HVAC professionals are encouraged to ensure that they have all necessary state and local licenses before beginning any projects.

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith was introduced to the HVAC industry when she worked as a bookkeeper and secretary for a small air-conditioning contractor. She eventually became a CPA and started her own practice specializing in small business taxes and accounting. After retiring from business, she began writing articles for newspapers, magazines, and websites. She also authored four books. Sandra makes her home in the mountains with a rescue dog that naps on her lap as she writes.