HVAC Training Schools in California

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With California (CA) under the constant threat of drought and record-breaking temperatures every summer, it is no surprise that the demand for qualified HVAC professionals in the Golden State has been on the rise.

Fortunately for workers in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (i.e., HVAC-R or HVAC), there is a wealth of professional associations, trade groups, and other networking opportunities around the state. For instance, the Air Conditioning Trade Association (ACTA) based in Manteca, CA is a nonprofit group that organizes educational seminars, apprenticeships, and events to support HVAC workers.

Additionally, the California Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) Association provides legal advocacy, widespread training events, conferences, and a federally registered apprenticeship program in its mission to remain “dedicated to the advancement and education of the plumbing and HVAC/R industry for the health, safety, and comfort of society and the protection of the environment.”

The vast array of professional groups and societies is only part of the good news. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reports that as of early 2021, California boasts 29,650 HVAC mechanics and installers—the second-most among US states—and pays an average annual salary of $59,550—significantly higher than the national average in this occupation ($51,420).

HVAC workers in CA and beyond take on a variety of responsibilities such as installing, maintaining, and repairing HVAC systems and components; reading blueprints; ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal regulations; responding to customer service needs and educating clients on the proper use of HVAC equipment; documenting all activities in a logbook; testing parts for proper functioning and energy efficiency, and maintaining their state licensure through the CA Contractors State License Board. HVAC professionals may work across a range of systems, or they may specialize in a specific technique or technology (e.g., solar panels, commercial refrigeration, testing & balancing).

HVAC workers not only ensure that residential and commercial spaces are comfortable for people, but they also safeguard the transport of perishable foods and medicines, providing an invaluable service in California and across the country.

Read on to learn more about the bright occupational outlook for HVAC workers in CA, including the salary prospects, accredited training programs, and licensure information.

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Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in California

As mentioned in the introduction, there is a strong demand for HVAC technicians, mechanics, and installers in California. The CA Employment Development Department (EDD) points out that as the state population continues to grow, so too does the construction of new residential, commercial, and industrial structures, which need temperature-control systems. The EDD also mentions that as HVAC technologies, components, and legislation continue to evolve and often increase in complexity, the demand for qualified HVAC professionals rises.

Further, HVAC systems not only require regular maintenance but also typically need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years, again requiring a trained professional for removal and replacement. HVAC technicians are expected to have an increasing role in installing and maintaining energy-efficient products as part of the emphasis on green technology.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) support the EDD’s promising assessment. By illustration, the BLS predicts a 4 percent increase in openings for HVAC installers and mechanics nationwide between 2019 and 2029. This is as fast as the average growth projected for all occupations during that period (4 percent). With the addition of 15,100 opportunities for HVAC workers around the country, the career landscape in this field has a decent future.

According to the BLS (2019), nearly 7 percent of HVAC workers were self-employed in 2019, while 66 percent were in the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contractors industry. While some HVAC techs in CA work normal business hours, others may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, or holidays, particularly in the busy winter and summer seasons.

As a further testament to the abundant opportunities in this field, Indeed (2021) posted recent job opportunities with CA-based employers such as Lennox International, Ralphs, Sunbelt Rentals, TechFlow, Sears Home Services, and Commercial Appliance Service LLC, to name a few. Monster (2021) had a whopping 3,724 jobs at organizations such as Blair Heating and Air, EMCOR Group, Apex Systems, Jobot, ABM Industries, and CyberCoders.

HVAC Technician Salaries in California

As mentioned in the introduction, not only do HVAC workers in California have a bright employment climate replete with job openings, but they also get paid more on average than HVAC professionals nationwide. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019) found that the 342,040 HVAC workers around the country had an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $51,420. In California, the 29,650 workers enjoyed a mean annual salary of $59,550.

In granular terms, the BLS (May 2019) found the following national and state-based percentiles for HVAC technicians, mechanics, and installers:

United States California
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 29,650
Average annual salary $51,420 $59,550
10th percentile $30,610 $33,580
25th percentile $37,660 $41,730
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $56,690
75th percentile $62,070 $71,710
90th percentile $77,920 $93,740

It is important to keep in mind that while the salaries for HVAC workers in CA are relatively generous, the cost of living in the Golden State is also higher than most US states. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that California was the third most expensive state, coming in behind only the District of Columbia and Hawaii.

HVAC Apprenticeships in California

There are various routes to becoming a qualified HVAC professional in California. In the past, pursuing an apprenticeship under the guidance of an experienced professional was common. Apprenticeship programs today typically last three to five years and involve at least 144 hours of formal instruction and 2,000 hours in the field.

For example, the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Joint Journeymen and Apprentice Training Center based in Los Angeles is open to applicants with at least a high school diploma or GED and proof of having completed specific coursework (e.g., algebra, geometry) or passing a qualifying math exam.

Accredited HVAC Programs in California

These days, it is increasingly common for HVAC professionals in CA to enroll in a diploma, certificate, or degree program at an accredited school.

Two main entities accredit HVAC programs: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). Please visit those websites or the HVAC programs homepage to learn more about the program accreditation process.

As of March 2021, there were five programs in CA accredited by HVAC Excellence, which are featured below.

Mount San Antonio Community College

Mount San Antonio Community College, located in Walnut, offers its HVAC program as either an associate of science (AS) degree or a certificate of achievement. This program imparts the theory-based and hands-on fundamentals of dealing with HVAC systems, including how to perform residential heat loads, troubleshoot components, and properly dispose of refrigerants.

The certificate consists of 31.5 credits and the associate of science (AS) degree is made up of 61.5 credits. Courses in the AS degree program include welding for air conditioning and refrigeration; air conditioning codes and standards; refrigeration fundamentals; electrical fundamentals for air conditioning and refrigeration; gas heating fundamentals; and advanced mechanical refrigeration.

Most notably, Mount San Antonio has the distinction of being the only program in the Golden State to be both HVAC Excellence- and PAHRA-accredited.

  • Location: Walnut, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; and PAHRA
  • Tuition: In-state ($46 per unit); out-of-state ($334 per unit)
  • Program length: AS degree (two years); certificate (one year)

Cypress College

Cypress College, located in Cypress, also offers a two-year program accredited by HVAC Excellence, which boasts opportunities for specialization within the industry in applied engineering, sales, estimating & system design, and building automation and manufacturing. The college also offers a selection of certificate programs.

The college offers the following programs:

  • Mechanical Systems Core Certificate – 12 credits (one semester)
  • Air Conditioning Customer Service – 20 credits (two semesters)
  • Air Conditioning Building Commissioning Certificate – 24 credits (two semesters)
  • Air Conditioning Codes and Estimating Certificate – 23 credits (two semesters)
  • Commercial Air Conditioning Certificate – 25 credits (two semesters)
  • Commercial Refrigeration Certificate – 21.5-22 credits (two semesters)
  • Heat Pump Certificate – 24 credits (two semesters)
  • Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Project Management Certificate – 21 credits (two semesters)
  • Air Conditioning Environmental Controls Certificate – 25.5-26 credits (two to three semesters)
  • Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Certificate – 38.5-39 credits (three to four semesters)
  • Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Associate in Science Degree – 60 credits (two years)

The curriculum includes courses such as principles of thermodynamics and heat transfer, electricity for air conditioning and refrigeration, gas heat transfer systems, piping practice, tools & safety, blueprints & dimension analysis, commercial air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, heat pumps, and project management to name a few.

Designed to be a bridge between service technology and engineering, this program will provide students with technical hands-on skills for supporting engineering applications. Upon completion, graduates will be at the leading edge of the application of new engineering solutions to the industry.

  • Location: Cypress, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence & Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per credit
  • Program length: Six months to two years

El Camino College

El Camino College in Torrance offers an HVAC Excellence-accredited HVAC program. Students at El Camino can choose an associate of arts (AA) degree or can choose from numerous certificates of achievement. The programs offered here include:

  • The air conditioning and refrigeration electric controls certificate (13 credits)
  • The refrigeration certificate (13 credits)
  • The air conditioning certificate (17 credits)
  • The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and refrigeration certificate (39 credits)
  • Associate in arts degree (60 credits)

These programs help students develop skills in installation, troubleshooting, and service of industrial, commercial, and residential HVAC/R systems. They become proficient at diagnosing control circuits, reading wiring diagrams, interpreting the Uniform Mechanical Code, servicing pneumatic and electronic controls, and operating equipment for tests. Graduates can work as advanced apprentices or entry-level HVAC technicians upon completion.

Some of the courses in the curriculum are electrical applications, refrigeration & air conditioning control systems, HVAC electronics, commercial refrigeration applications, air conditioning fundamentals, heating technologies, electrical applications, energy-efficient residential, commercial & industrial air conditioning, fundamentals of automation systems, and energy control and optimization systems, among others.

  • Location: Torrance, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Tuition: California residents ($46 per unit); non-resident student ($331 per unit)
  • Program length: AA degree (two years); certificate (one to two years)

Brownson Technical School

Brownson Technical School (BTS) offers HVAC/R training at its Anaheim campus. Notably, the BTS program is offered as a full-time or part-time on-campus program and as a hybrid online and classroom training. Because BTS offers two HVAC/R technology programs, both students and faculty are highly focused on HVAC technologies. The BTS HVAC program has earned accreditation from HVAC Excellence.

Graduates of this program will be able to diagnose, service, install and repair heating, ventilation, air conditioning equipment, as well as understand the reasons for buildings to gain or lose heat and to help mitigate the impact on energy usage.

The curriculum is offered in a lab and lecture format. A significant portion of the course length is dedicated to hands-on training. Sample some of the coursework: basic thermodynamics, refrigeration, and copper works, electrical, residential and light commercial air conditioning and gas heat, commercial refrigeration, and direct digital controls.

  • Location: Anaheim, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Tuition: $15,600 per academic year
  • Program length: Ten months

North American Training Center

The North American Training Center (NATC) in Redlands offers both HVAC/R and EPA technician training. The HVAC/R program consists of training in “electricity and thermodynamics and their application to air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment used in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.” NATC also prepares HVAC students to sit for their NATE certification upon completion of the program. NATC has been awarded HVAC Excellence accreditation for its program.

The HVAC/R program at The North American Training Center consists of 624 hours including classes such as electricity, commercial and industrial buildings, heating, gas, hydronic, and heat pumps, refrigeration, controls, heating, air conditioning, & refrigeration, and technical discovery.

  • Location: Redlands, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Tuition: Contact NATC for a customized assessment
  • Program length: Varies

The five programs featured below are either accredited by HVAC Excellence or other regional accrediting bodies such as the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET).

ABC Associated Builders and Contractors

ABC Associated Builders and Contractors offers professional HVAC training programs and continuing education credits for current HVAC technicians or students. Courses are offered online and can be purchased and completed by students within one year. Students enrolled in this program can access the content 24 hours a day and can track their progress.

Courses are offered in English and Spanish and are organized into the following modules: foundation, electrical, chillers, mechanical, heating, business courses, and examination preparation. Advanced training is offered through premium programs and includes courses in building automation, refrigeration, NATE certification, and chiller mechanics.

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence and NATE recognized
  • Tuition: $350 annually
  • Program length: 12 months

Capstone College

Capstone College features an HVAC technician program in Pasadena, California. Students in this program benefit from small class sizes, hands-on training, courses taught by industry experts, and job placement assistance after graduation.

This HVAC technician program is designed to provide students with the skills, knowledge, practical applications, and work habits of HVAC/R systems required for entry-level employment in today’s HVAC /R industry. Students are prepared to efficiently perform and specialize in the installation, maintenance, and service of HVAC/R systems.

Comprising 56.5 credit hours, the program includes courses such as HVAC air conditioning and heating fundamentals, HVAC tools, materials and supplies, HVAC theory, brazing & soldering, refrigerants, & charging techniques, and EPA refrigerant certification.

Graduates can obtain entry-level positions as HVAC technician, HVAC service technician, HVAC/R technician, HVAC/R service technician, HVAC installers, HVAC apprentices, HVAC helpers, and sheet metal workers, and other related positions.

  • Location: Pasadena, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Tuition: $15,700
  • Program length: Eight months

DeHart Technical School

DeHart Technical School is the only school in the region owned by a heating, air conditioning, and plumbing company and provides HVAC/R training courses. Students in this program learn through classroom education and hands-on training and NATE certification. Graduates from this program are prepared to begin careers as HVAC service technicians, HVAC facilities maintenance technicians, or HVAC/R facilities maintenance technicians. Course content is updated regularly and students learn in state-of-the-art facilities. Financial aid is available for qualified applicants.

Students will delve into topics such as electrical and solar applications, gas & electric heating, wiring diagrams and troubleshooting, air quality, air distribution & balance, advanced climate control systems, and HVAC installation, to name a few.

  • Location: Modesto, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
  • Tuition: $2,500 to $15,695 (cost varies per program)
  • Program length: Four weeks to one year

Institute for Business & Technology

The Institute for Business & Technology offers EPA certification by ESCO through hands-on practical training. Students in this program learn how to install, service, and repair residential and commercial air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration systems. Graduates from this program are prepared to take certification exams through ESCO, HVAC Excellence, 410A, and OSHA.

Top employment industries for graduates from this HVAC technician program include mechanical contractors, construction sites, data centers, hospitals, hotels, office buildings, and manufacturers. Upon completion, graduates can take up roles such as facilities manager, field service technician, maintenance technician, and installer.

  • Location: Santa Clara, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) and the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
  • Tuition: $15,448
  • Program length: 10.5 months

Institute of Technology

The Institute of Technology – Redding, CA offers HVAC technician training programs throughout California. Students attend classes Monday through Thursday for 40 weeks and an independent study component is included for a total of 800 hours. Through this program, graduates can gain employment as HVAC technology specialists as air conditioning, heating, refrigeration technicians, or systems engineers.

The program provides students with hands-on training in the techniques, practices, and theories involved in this HVAC field. They will gain an understanding of the basics of installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting HVAC system installations and will be conversant with industry standards. They will also be prepared to complete the EPA Universal certification process, which is required for graduation. Graduates can take up roles such as air conditioning technician, refrigeration technician, heating technician, and systems engineer, among others.

  • Location: Redding, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) and the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
  • Tuition: $18,248 per academic year
  • Program length: 40 weeks

For residents of more rural regions of California or those with inflexible schedules, attending an on-campus program can be difficult. Luckily, there’s a range of distance-based HVAC programs available as well.

To learn more, please check out the online HVAC programs page.

HVAC Licensing & Certification in California

There is one mandatory certification for all people nationwide who work with refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 certification. There are four subtypes of this credential: type 1 (small appliances), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal). Many vocational and trade schools in CA offer preparation for one of these exams as part of their curricula. For those that do not, the Environmental Protection Agency provides a list of Section 608 certification programs.

There is also a wide range of skills-specific certifications for HVAC professionals in CA offered through North American Technician Excellence (e.g., Industry Competency Exams or ICE); HVAC Excellence (e.g., Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology Plus); the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (e.g., entry-level Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator); and others.

These credentials can demonstrate various competencies and enhance an HVAC technician’s employment prospects or salary. To discover the wide range of national certifications available, please check out the main HVAC certifications page.

Finally, state licensure is mandatory for HVAC workers in CA who provide services over $500. The main state credentialing agency is the CA Contractors State License Board. To become licensed as an HVAC professional, a person must meet the following requirements:

  • Submit a C-20 license application to the Board
  • Have at least four years of experience
  • Show proof of having at least $2,500 in working capital
  • File a bond with the registrar for $10,000
  • Pass two exams (business & law and a trade-specific test)
  • Pay licensure and examination fees

The California Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Contractor exam tests applicants’ competence in four areas:

  • Evaluation, Design, and Estimation (26 percent of exam questions)
  • Fabrication, Installation, and Startup (27 percent)
  • Troubleshooting, Repair, and Maintenance (22 percent)
  • Safety (25 percent)

To learn more in-depth about the requirements, please visit the Contractors State License Board website.

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.