Huntsville, Alabama (AL) is hot in more than one sense of the word. According to StateTech magazine, Huntsville is the “hottest job market” for the tech industry, boasting the fastest growth rate in the U.S. Known as the Rocket City, Huntsville is home to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Aerospace and defense contractors have facilities there, with companies such as Aerojet Rocketdyne planning to relocate to the city. The mayor has actively worked to attract a variety of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries with the goal “of making Huntsville a global leader in research and development.”
In another sense, Huntsville is hot and humid during the summer. Winters are mild, seldom dipping below freezing. Spring and fall bring thunderstorms and tornadoes. Not surprisingly, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) have always been important for keeping residents comfortable. Furthermore, the high tech industries and research facilities require climate control, often necessitating the installation and maintenance of specialized equipment, including refrigeration services (HVAC/R).
Also, Alabama utilities has budgeted millions of dollars for energy efficiency programs. Specific rebates are available for certain HVAC/R installations and incentives are available for participants in energy conservation programs.
For all of these reasons, the demand for skilled HVAC professionals in Huntsville is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017), 520 HVAC maintenance and installation technicians were employed in Huntsville. These professionals can receive training and support from the following Alabama industry organizations:
These organizations are familiar with local building codes and guidelines. They also cooperate with others in the industry and with government organizations to establish educational and licensing standards, serving all aspects of the HVAC and HVAC/R industries, including performance and promotion.
Read on to discover HVAC training programs in Huntsville, AL, including discussions of the career outlook, expected salary, and certification.
The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2018), the number of job openings in HVAC is expected to swell 15 percent nationally between 2016 and 2026, adding 48,800 fresh positions around the country. That’s much faster growth than the average anticipated growth for all occupations in the U.S. during that same decade (7 percent). Projections Central predicted a 13.9 percent increase in HVAC jobs in Alabama for the decade ending in 2024. Separate figures for Huntsville are not available.
Several factors are contributing to the growth of the HVAC industry in Huntsville and across the country:
As noted above, the incentives and rebates offered by the Alabama utilities serve to stimulate the local demand for climate control technicians. The growth of space and STEM-related industries in Huntsville demands sophisticated HVAC/R equipment and systems. Technicians who are computer and electronics literate, and those with good troubleshooting skills, generally have the best job prospects. HVAC professionals in Huntsville generally work full-time, although demand typically increases during adverse weather conditions.
According to the BLS (May 2017), the 520 HVAC mechanics and installers in Huntsville, AL had the following salary averages and percentiles:
$39,450 average annual salary
$18.96 average hourly salary
Most aspiring HVAC professionals attend classes or participate in apprenticeship programs. The United Association of Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union No. 52, based in Montgomery, AL, sponsors an apprentice program that includes opportunities in HVAC. Trainees receive on-the-job experience and class work during 40 hours each summer for five years. The programs are registered and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.
The State of Alabama Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act includes apprenticeship training for the trades. As of June 2018, there isn’t a specific listing for HVAC. There is, however, training for electrical and welding skills.
The Alabama Chamber of Commerce started a program titled Apprenticeship Alabama in 2017. The purpose is to develop a registered apprenticeship program that complies with the U.S. Department of Labor guidelines. The construction industry, which encompasses HVAC, is included as one of the areas for which apprenticeship programs will be developed. As of this writing, Apprenticeship Alabama does not yet list a program for HVAC, but it may have one in coming months.
Industry associations are another source of apprenticeship programs. These include, but are not limited to:
Details of what each offers and fees are available on their websites.
In addition to apprenticeships, aspiring HVAC professionals in Huntsville can pursue a degree or training program. When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited, and if so, what agency accredited it. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the curriculum and the instructors. Certain standards must be met before accreditation is granted.
Two organizations evaluate and award accreditation to HVAC programs:
Both organizations have accredited programs in Alabama and the Huntsville area, as indicated below. Calhoun State Community College and Drake State Community & Technical College (both profiled below) are the only accredited Huntsville-based schools offering HVAC programs. The other schools described are within an hour’s driving distance from Huntsville and have been included because of their accreditation by HVAC Excellence or PAHRA.
Calhoun State Community College offers three certificate and one degree program in air conditioning and refrigeration.
In the air conditioning and refrigeration certificate program, students complete coursework in the principles of thermal electricity, safety practices, piping practices, and the fundamentals of gas and electric heating. The program takes 15 credit-hours to graduate. In the air conditioning and refrigeration fundamentals certificate program, students complete the same coursework as the first certificate, as well as the principles of HVAC/R electricity and electrical circuits. In the advanced air conditioning and refrigeration certificate program, students complete 18 credit-hours in HVAC/R electrical components, heat pump systems, refrigeration, and system sizing and air distribution.
The 73-credit-hour degree program includes additional topics such as HVAC servicing, HVAC/R electrical, commercial air conditioning and heating systems, residential air conditioning and heating systems, heat load calculations, safety codes, duct design and fabrication, commercial refrigeration, environmental systems, quality control, customer relations, and preparation for the contractor’s exam.
Drake State Community & Technical College offers a short-term certificate (29 credit-hours) and an associate degree in heating and air conditioning (75 credit-hours). Curriculum for the certificate includes composition, math, and computers, in addition to basic HVAC/R coursework. The associate degree builds on the certificate coursework with electives in math, science, humanities, and history, along with advanced HVAC/R classes.
Alabama Power Company sponsors an HVAC training center at Verbena, AL. They are in the process of moving the training center to Bevill State Community College in Jasper, AL. They anticipate that the relocation will be completed by mid-2018. The new training center features state-of-the-art classrooms, six labs, and an auditorium that seats 100. Attendees receive hands-on performance-based training.
Classes include, troubleshooting dual-fuel heat pumps and refrigeration systems, refrigeration and HVAC operations, electrical operations and troubleshooting electrical system, servicing HVAC systems, compressor operations, system analysis, load calculations, and duct design, fabrication, installation, testing, and repair. Attendees can take classes to prepare them for various industry certifications. Not all classes are available at all times.
Bevill State Community College offers three air conditioning and refrigeration programs: a short-term certificate, a long-term certificate, and an associate in applied science (AAS) degree. The programs are currently available at two of the four campuses. Students should consult with their advisor regarding if/when courses are available at other campuses or online.
Coursework for the short-term certificate provides students with a working knowledge and basic theory of HVAC. It’s designed to assist individuals in obtaining entry-level employment as quickly as possible.
The long-term certificate requires the completion of 55 credit-hours. Required coursework covers the principles of refrigeration, electricity, residential air conditioning, heat pumps, and heat load calculations. Students then select electives from courses such as commercial heating systems, domestic refrigeration, drawing and reading blueprints, and troubleshooting. They must also complete general education classes in English composition, oral communication, math, and computers.
The AAS degree program builds on the certificate programs with additional coursework in servicing HVAC/R systems, gas heating systems, commercial refrigeration, electric motors, troubleshooting, and computer science. Students also have the opportunity to serve in an HVAC apprenticeship/internship and prepare for the contractor’s exam. They must complete 73 credit-hours to earn their degree. Notably, the degree program is approved by the Alabama Board of Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration for the Alabama Contractor’s License Exam.
Gadsden State Community College offers three programs: an HVAC/R short certificate; an HVAC/R certificate, and an HVAC/R associate degree.
Students enrolled in the 28-credit-hour short certificate program learn the principles of refrigeration and electricity, HVAC/R service, piping, fundamentals of gas and electric heating, and heat pump system. They complete 28 credit-hours to earn their certificate. The longer certificate (46 credit-hours) program adds written composition, oral communication, math, residential and commercial systems, troubleshooting, computers, and drafting to the curriculum.
The 76-credit-hour degree program includes the above coursework, with the addition of instruction in the humanities, principles of technology, electric circuits, components, and motors, engineering, heat load calculations, safety codes, customer relations, blueprints, domestic and commercial refrigeration, system sizing and air distribution, and several special HVAC/R topics.
Wallace State Community College-Hanceville offers a certificate and a degree in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration. Students in the 46-credit-hour certificate program focus on the principles and fundamentals of HVAC/R. Curriculum for the 74-credit-hour associate degree includes work in advanced HVAC/R principles, residential and commercial HVAC/R systems, technical math, English composition, troubleshooting, humanities and history, biology, and oral communication.
Federal law requires all HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. Four levels of certifications are available based the size and type of equipment, and the universal (type IV) certification allows technicians to work on all equipment. Various organizations offer classes and administer the exam. Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations such as:
Details of certifications available, qualifications, and fees are available on their websites.
Professional licensing is governed by the State of Alabama Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors Act. Applicants who have completed an apprenticeship or an educational program must submit proof of completion. Applicants without training must submit proof of a minimum of 3,000 hours of work experience performed under the supervision of a licensee. All applicants must pay a $150 fee to take the licensing exam. Those successful in passing the exam and who plan to be active contractors must submit additional forms, a certification fee, and proof of a $15,000 performance bond. Contractors with valid licenses from Mississippi, Louisiana, or Tennessee may obtain their Alabama licensing via reciprocity. Active licenses are renewed annually for a fee of $165 and proof of continuing education.
Madison County requires some contractors to obtain business licenses. Their website doesn’t specify whether HVAC contractors are among those needing to be licensed, but they advise all businesses to contact them for information.
As a final note, the City of Huntsville requires all businesses to obtain a business license. The fee is based on gross receipts. Contractors must have state certification, proof of property, and bodily injury insurance for a minimum of $200,000 for each occurrence.