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 fall 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 May 2019), 1,110 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

The demand for HVAC technicians is growing nationwide.

The BLS (May 2019) reports that the demand for technicians nationally is expected to increase by 4 percent between 2019 and 2029. That is as fast as the average 4 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 (2020)—a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 21 percent increase in HVAC positions across Arizona between 2018 and 2028. With the predicted addition of 810 fresh HVAC positions in AZ and 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession in AZ and across the country.

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

HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730, according to a May 2019 BLS report. Technicians in Tucson, AZ received an annual median salary of $43,340. When reviewing any state or local salary data, it is important to consider the cost of living in that area. For instance, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) Arizona is ranked 29th in terms of affordability, making it about average, with the cost of utilities and transportation being somewhat higher.

The table below compares national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

United States Arizona Tucson, AZ
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 9,600 1,110
Annual mean wage $51,420 $47,580 $45,570
10th percentile $30,610 $31,260 $28,750
25th percentile $37,660 $36,200 $34,240
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $45,280 $43,340
75th percentile $62,070 $57,090 $55,280
90th percentile $77,920 $67,930 $64,170

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, Payscale (Oct. 2020), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $30,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,723
  • 90th percentile: $75,000

HVAC Apprenticeships 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.

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.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Tucson, AZ

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 provide accreditation to 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 providing students with the skills and knowledge to build a successful career in HVAC. Taking deep doves into diagnostic methods and working principles of electricity, electronics, and mechanics, this HVAC training program provides training in the repairing, installing, servicing and maintaining of HVAC/R systems.

The curriculum includes instruction in service professionalism, construction and technical math, soldering and brazing, basic rigging, job safety, using hand and power tools, reading blueprints, residential and industrial HVAC, trade and technical writing, and 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 an additional curriculum that includes soldering and brazing, advanced residential and industrial HVAC, sustainability, science, and the humanities. Graduates complete a total of 63 to 65 credit-hours to earn their AAS degree.

  • Location: Tucson, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 32 weeks
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($87 per credit-hour); out-of-state ($306per credit-hour)

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, and computers. Graduates of this program are awarded a certificate of completion.

Gateway also offers the following HVAC programs:

  • Residential and light air conditioning certificate (22 to 25.5 credit-hours)
  • Air conditioning, refrigeration, and facilities technology certificate (44 to 47.5 credit-hours)
  • Air conditioning, refrigeration, and facilities degree (66 to 74.5 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, and 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, and air and water balancing.

The degree program includes all of the above, with the addition of coursework in computers, math, and humanities. Graduates complete 66 to 74.5 credit-hours to earn their degrees.

These programs are designed for providing students with training in the areas of HVAC/R systems, electricity, electronic controls, hydronics, general repair, and electro-mechanical devices. On completion of these programs, students can take up roles such as heating and air conditioning mechanics, installers, and refrigeration technicians and installers.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (18 – 24 months); Degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-county ($85 per credit-hour); out-of-county ($441 per credit-hour)

Arizona Western College

Various programs are offered here at Arizona Western College preparing students for employment in the HVAC/R industry. They are provided training in several areas such as electrical controlling devices, troubleshooting, repairing, and maintaining of air conditioning units, and refrigerant safety factors. The college offers the following programs:

  • Occupational certificate in basic air conditioning and refrigeration service technician (20 credit-hours)
  • Occupational certificate in air conditioning and refrigeration (38 credit-hours)
  • Associate in applied science degree in air conditioning (64 credit-hours)
  • Associate in applied science degree in air conditioning (STEM Emphasis) (75 credit-hours)

The basic HVAC/R service tech certificate includes courses such as introductory craft skill, air conditioning and refrigeration, air conditioning and refrigeration motors, and controls, control systems, and heating technology.

The 38-credit HVAC/R certificate includes all the above courses, with additional coursework in air conditioning and refrigeration 3 and 4, heat and load calculations and duct design, light commercial systems, employee and occupational safety, techniques in flux-cored arc welding, techniques in oxyacetylene welding or cutting, techniques in shielded metal arc welding, and techniques in gas metal arc welding.

The AAS degree in air conditioning includes all the courses mentioned above, with the addition of basic electricity, technical writing, introduction to entrepreneurship, and general education courses such as mathematics for the applied sciences, and introduction to composition.

The STEM emphasis AAS degree includes nearly all courses from the program mentioned above. This program provides courses in the air-conditioning and technical subject areas as well as the required general education courses to prepare students to transfer to a university.

  • Location: Yuma, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Estimated Time to Completion: AAS (two years); certificate (six to 12 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Arizona and California residents ($88 per credit-hour); non-residents ($98 per credit-hour)

Cochise College

Cochise College offers the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning certificate to provide students with a competitive advantage in the current job market. They gain skills needed for servicing, troubleshooting, and maintaining commercial and residential HVAC systems.

Comprising 16 credit-hours, the certificate includes the following four courses:

  • HVAC I: This course introduces students to the refrigeration process covering refrigerants, equipment, tools, refrigerant management, and brazing
  • HVAC II: Students in this course study about the fundamentals of refrigeration covering electrical components and the functions of motors, controls, and other electrical loads in refrigeration systems. The course also covers troubleshooting, schematics, and power distribution
  • HVAC III: This involves studying the various types of air conditioning systems. Covering subcooling, superheating, temperatures, and pressures and emphasizing repairs and troubleshooting, this course prepares students for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Universal Certification test
  • HVAC IV: This HVAC course covers the operation and repair of heat pumps and other modern heating equipment

Students through this certificate will be able to identify the controls and equipment used in the HVAC field, solve and troubleshoot problems that are associated with HVAC equipment, identify problems and solve them, and solve problems arising in gas and heat pump systems.

  • Location: Sierra Vista, Arizona
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($91 per credit-hour)

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.

To learn more about HVAC credentialing, check out the HVAC certification guide.

As a final note, the State of Arizona Registrar of Contractors has three classifications of licensing: residential, commercial, and dual residential/commercial.

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.

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

All HVAC professionals are encouraged to ensure that they have all the necessary credentialing prior to 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.