HVAC Trade Schools in Tucson, AZ

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Tucson, Arizona (AZ) is sweltering in the summer, with temperatures often soaring above 100. Although it is situated in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson gets several inches of rain annually, most of which falls in the late-summer monsoon season. Brief autumns and springs bracket winters that are dry and cool, with temperatures rarely dropping to freezing levels. Occasionally snow frosts the cacti.

Tucson was hard-hit by the last recession, but the city is well on the road to recovery. The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the nearby U.S. Army Intelligence Center are hubs of high-tech industries. Companies such as Raytheon Missile Systems and Honeywell Aerospace also contribute to technological advancements.

According to a recent economic outlook report generated at the University of Arizona, Tucson is experiencing growth in the “education and health-services sector—mainly in healthcare—followed by leisure and hospitality and professional and business services.”

The hot desert sun keeps Tucson residents inside, and they require heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) for indoor comfort in their homes and workplaces. The growth industries and commercial industries often require the addition of large-scale refrigeration (HVAC/R) services as well as specialized climate control systems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 1,050 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in Tucson. State and local chapters of industry organizations such as the following provide training and support to the technicians:

  • American Subcontractors Association of Arizona (ASA-AZ)
  • Arizona Construction Trades (ACT)
  • Mechanical Trade Contractors of Arizona (MTCAZ)
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association, Arizona Chapter (SMACNA AZ)
  • SMART Local 359
  • Southern Arizona Home Builders Association (SAHBA)

Explore how to join this high-growth occupation in Tucson by attending an accredited HVAC trade school.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Tucson, AZ

Demand for HVAC technicians is growing nationwide.

The BLS (2018) reports that the demand for technicians nationally is expected to increase by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. That is more than twice than the average 7 percent increase projected for all occupations in the U.S. The demand for technicians in Arizona is growing at an even greater rate than the national average. Projections Central predicted a 41.6 percent statewide increase for the same decade.

The HVAC industry is growing rapidly for several reasons, including the complexity of modern climate control systems. Older equipment and systems must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet industry standards. The sophisticated technology powering economic growth in Tucson necessitates elaborate climate control. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution is another reason for the increased installation of new equipment and systems.

Technicians with superior troubleshooting skills as well as those who are computer- and electronics-literate generally enjoy the best job prospects. Technicians who specialize in new installations may experience seasonal unemployment if construction declines, although that is not anticipated to happen in the foreseeable future in Tucson. The economy is expanding, generating ongoing construction of new office buildings, warehouses, hospitality venues, and residences. Maintenance and repair work continues all year, as businesses and homeowners depend on keeping their climate control systems in good operating condition regardless of the economy.

HVAC Salaries in Tucson, AZ

The BLS (May 2017) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $47,080 annually. Technicians in Tucson receive an annual median salary of $46,130, but given the relatively affordable cost of living in Arizona, this is still a competitive wage.

Here is a detailed national, state, and regional salary comparison of HVAC professionals:

United States Arizona Tucson, AZ
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 307,060 8,020 1,050
Average Annual Salary $49,530 $46,440 $46,450
10th Percentile $29,120 $26,280 $31,960
25th Percentile $36,150 $34,200 $37,840
50th Percentile (Median) $47,080 $44,080 $46,130
75th Percentile $60,270 $56,710 $55,810
90th Percentile $75,330 $67,160 $63,130

Accredited HVAC Schools in Tucson, AZ

In the past, HVAC technicians were able to start as helpers and learn the trade through on-the-job training. It is still possible to do so, but most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeships include around 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom work annually for three to five years. The Arizona Department of Economic Security Apprenticeship Office provides information for workers seeking to obtain job skills. Employers and associations offering apprenticeship opportunities are sorted by region. Several are offered in Tucson, including HVAC.

SMART Local 359 offers an apprenticeship program that includes HVAC training. The program takes five years to complete and includes a total od 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 720 hours of coursework through the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS). Classes are taught in the evenings at the Phoenix facility. The cost is $855 annually.

Sun Mechanical, a Tucson HVAC contractor, offers an apprenticeship program for full-time employees. Trainees learn job safety, how to use computers, project management, how to read blueprints, and soldering and brazing. Costs and employment obligations are not disclosed on the website.

Additionally, workers seeking HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs can find several available through national industry associations such as:

  • 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)

Information as to coursework offered and the cost is available on their websites.

Other students choose to complete an accredited training program. Accreditation involves an evaluation of the quality of an educational institution’s program by an independent agency. The evaluation includes both the curriculum and the instructors, and when choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and which organization granted accreditation.

Two industry organizations evaluate and accredit HVAC programs: the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), which has awarded accreditation to Gateway Community College (Phoenix, AZ), and HVAC Excellence, which has not currently accredited an Arizona program.

Pima Community College

Pima offers an HVAC/R technician certificate program. The curriculum includes instruction in:

  • Service professionalism
  • Construction and technical math
  • Basic rigging
  • Soldering and brazing
  • Job safety
  • Using hand and power tools
  • Reading blueprints
  • Residential and industrial HVAC
  • Trade and technical writing
  • Career planning

Students complete 33 credit-hours divided between hands-on training in labs and classroom lectures. Please note that the certificate coursework forms the HVAC concentration for the building and construction technology associate of applied science (AAS) degree program. Students complete additional curriculum that includes soldering and brazing, advanced residential and industrial HVAC, sustainability, science, and humanities. Graduates complete a total of 63 to 65 credit-hours to earn their degree.

  • Location: Tucson, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $82.50 per credit-hour
  • Program length: 32 weeks (certificate); self-paced (degree)

Gateway Community College

Gateway offers a pre-apprenticeship construction program designed for beginners. The curriculum includes:

  • OSHA-10 certification
  • Hand and power tools
  • Reading blueprints
  • Rigging
  • Materials handling
  • Green construction
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Computers

The tuition is $1,062, and graduates are awarded a certificate of completion.

Gateway also offers the following HVAC programs:

  • Residential and light air conditioning certificate: 22 – 25 credit hours
  • Air conditioning, refrigeration, and facilities technology certificate: 44 – 47 credit hours
  • Air conditioning, refrigeration, and facilities degree: 72 – 74 credit hours

Coursework is divided between hands-on training in the lab and classroom lectures.

The curriculum for the residential and light air conditioning certificate includes the following:

  • Refrigeration applications and components
  • Section 608 preparation
  • Electricity
  • Load calculation and duct design
  • Industrial and construction safety
  • Computers

The air conditioning, refrigeration, and facilities technology certificate requires completion of the above and adds the following:

  • Motors, controls, and wiring diagrams
  • Instrumentation
  • Codes
  • Air and water balancing

The degree program includes all of the above, with the addition of coursework in computers, math, and humanities. Graduates complete 65 to 71 credit-hours to earn their degree.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); PAHRA
  • Tuition: $85 per credit-hour
  • Program length: 18 – 24 months (certificate); two years (degree)

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Tucson, AZ

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain EPA Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. The four certifications are:

  • Type 1: small appliances
  • Type II: high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III: low-pressure refrigerants
  • Technicians who will be working on all types of equipment are required to obtain Universal HVAC certification.

Practice exams are available on the website.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. These include the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and HVAC Excellence. These organizations and others offer Section 608 testing and certification.

As a final note, the State of Arizona Registrar of Contractors has three classifications of licensing: residential, commercial, and dual residential/commercial. Any job that exceeds $1,000 for labor and materials must be performed by a licensed contractor.

HVAC contractor licenses are classified as follows: residential R-39; commercial C-39 or C-58; and dual CR-39 or CR-58. Each has a specific definition as to the type of work allowed or restricted. All applicants must pass a business management exam and an HVAC exam. They must also submit proof of experience, pass a background check, and submit an insurance bond. The bond amount is dependent on the classification of the license and the volume of work.

The fees are as follows: HVAC residential license ($720), HVAC commercial license ($580), and HVAC dual residential/commercial license ($850). The biennial renewal fees are $540, $480, and $650 respectively.

Pima County does not require contractors to obtain additional licensing, but the City of Tucson requires all business to obtain a license.

All HVAC professionals are encouraged to ensure that they have all necessary credentialing prior to beginning any projects.

Barry Franklin

Barry is the Editor in Chief of HVACClasses.org, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures, which he joined as partner in 2013 after almost 20 years in the financial software industry.