HVAC Schools in Huntsville, Alabama (AL)

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Huntsville, Alabama (AL) is hot in more than one sense of the word. StateTech magazine once stated that 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 have 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 May 2019), 620 HVAC maintenance and installation technicians were employed in Huntsville. These professionals can receive training and support from the following Alabama industry organizations:

  • Associated Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Alabama (APHCC)
  • Huntsville Madison County Builders Association (HMCBA)
  • Subcontractors Association of Alabama (SubAla)

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.

Occupational Demand for HVAC/R Technicians in Huntsville, AL

The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), the number of job openings in HVAC is expected to swell 13 percent nationally between 2018 and 2028, adding 46,300 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 (5 percent).

This rate is roughly the same for Alabama HVAC opportunities, as CareerOneStop —a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 14 percent increase in HVAC positions across Alabama between 2016 and 2026. With the predicted addition of 650 fresh HVAC positions in AL and 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession in AL and across the country.

Several factors are contributing to the growth of the HVAC industry in Huntsville and across the country:

  • New home and business construction
  • Increasing complexity of climate control systems
  • Contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution
  • Replacing, retrofitting, or upgrading older systems

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.

HVAC Worker Salaries in Huntsville, Alabama

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019), there were 342,040 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $51,420 and 6,430 HVAC mechanics and installers in Alabama with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $43,170. It also stated that there were 620 HVAC mechanics and installers in Huntsville with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $45,270 and the following percentiles:

United States Alabama Huntsville, AL
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 6,430 620
Average annual salary $51,420 $43,170 $45,270
10th percentile $30,610 $26,490 $27,780
25th percentile $37,660 $32,820 $33,330
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $41,340 $41,550
75th percentile $62,070 $51,900 $57,590
90th percentile $77,920 $62,640 $70,450

Salary figures do vary slightly by source of data. Payscale—an aggregator of self-reported salaries—found the following percentiles among its HVAC respondents nationwide in August 2020:

  • 10th percentile: $30,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,779
  • 90th percentile: $74,000

The BLS figures are generally considered more reliable due to the organization’s methods of data collection and relatively high sample size. Regardless of the source, HVAC workers in Alabama had lower salaries than the national averages. That said, it is important to keep in mind that AL is also one of the cheapest states in which to live, and therefore less money goes further. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that AL was the eight most affordable state in the country.

HVAC Apprenticeships in Huntsville, AL

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 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 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:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

Details of what each offer and fees are available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Huntsville, AL

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:

  • HVAC Excellence
  • Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA)

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

Calhoun State Community College offers three certificates and a 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 66- to 70-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.

  • Location: Huntsville, Alabama; Tanner, Alabama
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificates (six months to one year); degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state tuition ($131 per credit-hour); out-of-state tuition ($262 per credit-hour)

J. F. Drake State Community & Technical College

J. F. Drake State Community & Technical College offers the following HVAC programs:

  • Heating and air conditioning short certificate (12 credit-hours)
  • Heating and air conditioning certificate (38 credit-hours)
  • Associate in applied science degree in heating and air conditioning (66 credit-hours)

The purpose of the HVAC program is to provide quality and accessible educational opportunities that provide students with technical skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for obtaining entry-level employment in the HVAC profession. They learn to diagnose, install, service, and repair commercial, residential, and industrial HVAC systems.

The curriculum includes courses such as HVAC/R electrical components, fundamentals of electric heating systems, residential air conditioning, HVAC/R electric circuits, principle of electricity for HVAC/R, principles of refrigeration, refrigeration piping practices, HVAC/R service procedures, heat pump systems l and ll, troubleshooting HVAC/R systems, commercial air conditioning systems and fundamentals of gas heating systems, among others.

Students graduating from these programs are prepared for entry-level employment in the HVAC field and can take up roles such as facility maintenance supervisor, service technician, and heating & air conditioning lab technician.

  • Location: Huntsville, Alabama
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: One to six semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $161 per credit-hour

Lawson State Community College

The air conditioning and refrigeration program at Lawson State Community College offers four awards, allowing students to earn one or more of the following: one certificate, an A.O.T. (Associate in Occupational Technologies) degree option, and one short-certificate with two specialties. Students are groomed to install, repair and troubleshoot HVAC/R systems. Graduates of the program are trained in both residential and commercial services.

The air conditioning/refrigeration short certificate is made up of 25 credit-hours. It includes courses such as principles of refrigeration, principles of electricity for HVAC/R, HVAC/R service procedures, refrigeration piping practices, fundamentals of gas heating systems, HVAC/R electric circuits, HVAC/R electrical components, and residential air conditioning. The air conditioning/refrigeration short certificate (specialty in major appliance repair) is also made up of 25 credit-hours, involving courses such as customer relations in HVAC, principles of electricity for HVACR, ranges, cook-tops, and ovens, clothes washers and dishwashers, electric and gas dryers, refrigerant transition/recovery theory, and refrigerators and freezers.

The air conditioning/refrigeration certificate consists of 49 credit-hours. Take a look at some of the courses in the curriculum: commercial refrigeration, mechanical/gas/safety codes, ice machines, principles of refrigeration, principles of electricity for HVAC/R, refrigeration piping practices, HVAC/R electric circuits, HVAC/R electrical components, computer-assisted HVAC troubleshooting, system sizing and air distribution, basic drawing/blueprint reading HVAC, and refrigerators and freezers, among others.

The air conditioning/refrigeration associate in occupational technologies degree (AOT) comprises 73 credit-hours. The air conditioning/refrigeration certificate must be completed prior to beginning this degree. Technical major courses that were taken in the certificate apply to this AOT Degree. Additional minor courses include an introduction to engineering technologies, commercial/industrial wiring I, fundamentals of industrial hydraulics & pneumatics, and principles of industrial mechanics.

  • Location: Birmingham, Alabama; Bessemer, Alabama
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: One to six semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($134 per semester credit-hour); out-of-state ($268 per semester credit-hour)

Bevill State Community College

Bevill State Community College offers two air conditioning and refrigeration programs: a long-term certificate, and an associate in applied science (AAS) degree. The programs are currently available at two campuses. Students should consult with their advisor regarding if/when courses are available at other campuses or online.

The long-term certificate requires the completion of 49 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, math, and computers.

The AAS degree program builds on the certificate program with additional coursework in servicing HVAC/R systems, gas heating systems, commercial refrigeration, electric motors, troubleshooting, and natural science. Students also have the opportunity to serve in an HVAC apprenticeship/internship and prepare for the contractor’s exam. They must complete 67-68 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.

Upon completion of the program, graduates learn to install, maintain, and repair all types of HVAC/R systems and are well prepared to take up positions such as HVAC service technician, appliance technician, commercial refrigeration technician or service writer, duct installer, HVAC installer, HVAC dealer, restaurant refrigeration technician, and HVAC parts dealer.

  • Location: Hamilton, Alabama; Sumiton, Alabama
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificates (six months to one year), degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: $133 per credit-hour

Gadsden State Community College

Gadsden State Community College offers three programs: an associate in applied science degree in air conditioning and refrigeration, an air conditioning and refrigeration certificate, and an air conditioning and refrigeration short-term certificate program. To be accepted into the program, students will require a high school diploma or GED.

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, including 40 hours in technical and 6 hours in general education courses) program adds written composition, oral communication, math, residential and commercial systems, troubleshooting, computers, and drafting to the curriculum.

The 76-credit-hour (61 hours in technical courses and a minimum of 15 in general education courses) 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.

  • Location: Gadsden, Alabama
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (five semesters or two years); certificate (two years); short-term certificate (one year)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-State ($164 per credit-hour); Out-of-State ($297 per credit-hour)

Wallace State Community College-Hanceville

Wallace State Community College of Hanceville offers an associate in applied science degree in HVAC general technology, an HVAC certificate, and two short certificates. These programs help HVAC/R service technicians and installers gain the required skills and knowledge needed for passing licensing and certification to be gainfully employed in the field.

The refrigerant usage/handling specialist short-term certificate is made up of 9 credit-hours. It includes courses such as service procedures, refrigerant transition & recovery, and principles of refrigeration.

The electrical systems specialist short-term certificate comprises 12 credit-hours. The curriculum includes topics such as HVAC/R electrical circuits, principles of electricity, HVAC/R electrical components, and HVAC/R electrical motors.

The 55-credit-hour HVAC certificate builds on the two short term certificates mentioned above, with additional courses such as of fundamentals of electric heat, refrigerant piping practices, heat pump systems I and II, gas heating systems, residential air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, commercial air conditioning, troubleshooting HVAC/R systems, freshman seminar, technical math, and english composition I.

Finally, the HVAC general technology AAS program builds on all programs mentioned above and includes additional courses such as ethics, principles of biology, and western civilization I.

  • Location: Hanceville, Alabama
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: Associate in Applied Science Degree (4 semesters); Certificate (4 semesters); Short-Term Certificates (1 semester)
  • Estimated Tuition: $133 per credit-hour

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Huntsville, AL

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 on 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:

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

Details of certifications, 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.

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.