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 HVACR 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 2017) reports that California boasts 25,010 HVAC mechanics and installers—the second most among US states—and pays an average annual salary of $56,350, nearly 14 percent higher than the national average in this occupation ($49,530).

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 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 the 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. In fact, 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.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) support the EDD’s promising assessment. By illustration, the BLS predicts a 15 percent increase in openings for HVAC installers and mechanics nationwide between 2016 and 2026. This is twice as robust as the average growth projected for all occupations during that time period (7 percent). With the addition of 48,800 opportunities for HVAC workers around the country, the career landscape in this field is expected to be promising into the future.

According to the BLS (2017), nearly one in ten HVAC workers were self-employed in 2016 while 64 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 (Oct. 2018) posted recent job opportunities with CA-based employers such as Riverside Community Hospital, University of California Santa Barbara, Monarch Home Services and the J Paul Getty Trust, to name a few.

HVAC Technician Salary in CA

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 (2017) found that the 307,060 HVAC workers around the country had an average annual salary of $49,530. In California, the 25,010 workers enjoyed a mean annual salary of $56,350. Interestingly, Indeed (Oct. 2018) found a substantially higher average for HVAC workers in CA at $73,908, but the BLS figures are more reliable given their much larger sample size.

In granular terms, the BLS (2017) found the following national percentiles for HVAC technicians, mechanics, and installers:

United States (307,060 HVAC workers): $49,530 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $29,120
  • 25th percentile: $36,150
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,080
  • 75th percentile: $60,270
  • 90th percentile: $75,330

In hourly terms, these numbers equated to:

US: $23.81/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $14.00/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.38/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.64/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $28.98/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $36.22/hr.

Notably, Payscale (Oct. 2018)—a site which relies on self-reported salary data—found differing percentiles among its 879 responding HVAC workers around the country:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 25th percentile: $36,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,402
  • 75th percentile: $56,000
  • 90th percentile: $71,000

Impressively, the BLS (2017) found that HVAC professionals in California enjoy substantially higher salaries than national averages and percentile figures:

California (25,010 HVAC workers): $56,350 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $32,120
  • 25th percentile: $39,020
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,630
  • 75th percentile: $68,450
  • 90th percentile: $90,300

Translated into hourly figures, these BLS (2017) figures equated to:

California: $27.09/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $15.44/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $18.76/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $25.79/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $32.91/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $43.42/hr.

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. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2018) found that CA is the third most expensive state in the country, with particularly high housing costs.

The BLS (2017) has designated 31 regions in CA. It’s no surprise that the Silicon Valley currently pays the highest salaries in this profession. By illustration, the San Rafael region paid an annual average salary of $74,710, making it the top-paying metropolitan area in the nation. Listed with the number of HVAC techs employed, the average annual salaries, and the percentiles, here’s an overview of HVAC salaries in areas of CA. These are grouped into Northern and Southern regions of the state, using Fresno as the dividing line:

Northern California:

Chico, CA (number of workers unavailable): $49,530 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,950
  • 25th percentile: $35,840
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,320
  • 75th percentile: $59,600
  • 90th percentile: $78,260

Madera, CA (130 workers): $45,960 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,120
  • 25th percentile: $34,310
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,080
  • 75th percentile: $51,650
  • 90th percentile: $72,070

Merced, CA (90 workers): $43,530 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $26,740
  • 25th percentile: $32,080/li>
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,660
  • 75th percentile: $56,460
  • 90th percentile: $62,170

Modesto, CA (400 workers): $51,990 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,030
  • 25th percentile: $39,930
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,310
  • 75th percentile: $61,590
  • 90th percentile: $73,020

Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA Metropolitan Division (1,320 workers): $58,410 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $33,450
  • 25th percentile: $40,910
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,690
  • 75th percentile: $65,460
  • 90th percentile: $102,420

Redding, CA (80 workers): $43,290 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,620
  • 25th percentile: $32,990
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,920
  • 75th percentile: $51,670
  • 90th percentile: $61,130

Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA (1,820 workers): $50,080 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,040
  • 25th percentile: $36,400
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,320
  • 75th percentile: $60,670
  • 90th percentile: $75,290

Salinas, CA (200 workers): $62,280 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $40,120
  • 25th percentile: $48,770
  • 50th percentile (median): $61,000
  • 75th percentile: $75,310
  • 90th percentile: $91,320

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA (2,120 workers): $61,110 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,420
  • 25th percentile: $43,030
  • 50th percentile (median): $55,090
  • 75th percentile: $73,750
  • 90th percentile: $102,760

San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division (670 workers): $63,880 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $38,190
  • 25th percentile: $47,460
  • 50th percentile (median): $59,790
  • 75th percentile: $80,040
  • 90th percentile: $99,420

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (1970 workers): $70,480 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,2600
  • 25th percentile: $41,160
  • 50th percentile (median): $68,260
  • 75th percentile: $94,530
  • 90th percentile: $112,740

Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA (180 workers): $59,220 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,840
  • 25th percentile: $38,810
  • 50th percentile (median): $58,500
  • 75th percentile: $77,440
  • 90th percentile: $93,160

Santa Rosa, CA (560 workers): $70,650 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $44,020
  • 25th percentile: $54,380
  • 50th percentile (median): $64,740
  • 75th percentile: $89,480
  • 90th percentile: $103,100

Stockton-Lodi, CA (460 workers): $48,150 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,410
  • 25th percentile: $34,400
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,620
  • 75th percentile: $59,880
  • 90th percentile: $68,600

Vallejo-Fairfield, CA (230 workers): $43,280 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,320
  • 25th percentile: $35,340
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,510
  • 75th percentile: $49,720
  • 90th percentile: $56,690

Yuba City, CA (70 workers): $55,940 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $35,390
  • 25th percentile: $40,890
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,090
  • 75th percentile: $58,580
  • 90th percentile: $93,760

North Coast Region of California Nonmetropolitan Area (190 workers): $50,610 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,330
  • 25th percentile: $34,180
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,470
  • 75th percentile: $64,270
  • 90th percentile: $76,720

Northern Mountains Region of California Nonmetropolitan Area (number of workers unavailable): $47,360 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $33,710
  • 25th percentile: $36,850
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,220
  • 75th percentile: $57,650
  • 90th percentile: $61,780

Southern California:

Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division (2,190 HVAC workers): $55,690 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $34,770
  • 25th percentile: $42,0500
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,160
  • 75th percentile: $66,450
  • 90th percentile: $82,540

Bakersfield, CA (500 workers): $50,670 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,190
  • 25th percentile: $37,600
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,740
  • 75th percentile: $61,610
  • 90th percentile: $69,310

El Centro, CA (60 workers): $46,830 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,640
  • 25th percentile: $36,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,430
  • 75th percentile: $56,410
  • 90th percentile: $68,710

Fresno, CA (670 workers): $43,550 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $24,850
  • 25th percentile: $31,500
  • 50th percentile (median): $38,910
  • 75th percentile: $54,160
  • 90th percentile: $68,510

Hanford-Corcoran, CA (60 workers): $47,900 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $30,460
  • 25th percentile: $39,210
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,350
  • 75th percentile: $56,420
  • 90th percentile: $63,190

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA (7,710 workers): $60,650 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $34,430
  • 25th percentile: $44,630
  • 50th percentile (median): $58,720
  • 75th percentile: $76,650
  • 90th percentile: $93,670

Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA (440 workers): $49,870 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,910
  • 25th percentile: $37,630
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,980
  • 75th percentile: $60,830
  • 90th percentile: $70,650

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (3,010 workers): $46,400 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $29,700
  • 25th percentile: $34,830
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,380
  • 75th percentile: $56,040
  • 90th percentile: $66,520

San Diego-Carlsbad, CA (2,290 workers): $54,630 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $32,370
  • 25th percentile: $42,390
  • 50th percentile (median): $55,290
  • 75th percentile: $63,850
  • 90th percentile: $77,240

San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA (420 workers): $41,050 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $24,600
  • 25th percentile: $28,930
  • 50th percentile (median): $36,410
  • 75th percentile: $53,440
  • 90th percentile: $62,010

Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA (unknown number of HVAC workers): $51,040 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $26,490
  • 25th percentile: $30,690
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,190
  • 75th percentile: $67,230
  • 90th percentile: $80,100

Visalia-Porterville, CA (310 workers): $50,140 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $31,900
  • 25th percentile: $35,860
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,030
  • 75th percentile: $62,200
  • 90th percentile: $78,040

Accredited HVAC Schools in CA

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.

These days, it is increasingly common for HVAC professionals in CA to enroll in a six-month to two-year diploma, certificate, or degree program at an accredited school. There are two main entities which 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 October 2018, there were five programs in CA accredited by HVAC Excellence.

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. Courses in the AS degree program include welding for air conditioning & refrigeration; air conditioning codes & standards; refrigeration fundamentals; electrical fundamentals for air conditioning & 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.

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 & manufacturing.

El Camino College in Torrance offers an HVAC Excellence-accredited HVAC program. Students at El Camino can choose from an Associate of Arts (AA) degree or a Certificate of Achievement with courses offered including air conditioning fundamentals; solar energy applications; refrigeration and air conditioning control systems; and heating technologies.

Brownson Technical School (BTS) offers HVAC-R training out of 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 only two programs (HVAC-R and Mechanical Acceptance), both students and faculty are highly focused on HVAC technologies. The BTS HVAC program has earned accreditation from HVAC Excellence.

The North American Training Center (NATC) in Redlands offers both HVAC and EPA technician training. The HVAC 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 prepared HVAC students to sit for their NATE certification upon completion of the program.

For residents of more rural regions of CA 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 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 appliance), 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 has 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 credentials page.

Finally, state licensure is mandatory for HVAC workers in CA who provide services in excess of $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’ competency 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.