HVAC Training Schools & Certifications in Fresno, CA

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Fresno, California (CA) sits in an area classified as semi-arid. Summers are long, hot, and dry, with temperatures consistently in the high 90s during the day. Residents experience relief from the heat at night when temperatures drop an average of 30 degrees. Most days are sunny, and rainfall is minimal. Winters are cooler (but not cold) most of the time. Nighttime lows occasionally dip to freezing levels, but generally hover in the high 30s to low 40s. An average of more than two inches of rain falls monthly during the winter and snow is rare.

Located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, the City of Fresno is the Fresno county seat. The county is “one of the most productive agricultural counties in the nation.” The economy has long been based on agriculture and related food-processing industries, but the area is experiencing diversification. Industry giants such as Amazon, Ultra, and Gap are taking advantage of Fresno’s central location and transportation hubs to establish fulfillment centers in the area. Economic development is shifting to high tech companies. Plans for a large industrial park are winding their way through the approval process.

Fresno’s mayor believes that the “entire economy here is growing,” adding that there are signs that “companies are ready to invest in building new businesses.” The performing arts, cultural events, historic sites, and outdoor recreation support a growing hospitality industry.

The weather—particularly the hot summers and wet winters—makes heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) essential in homes and workplaces. Agriculture and food processing facilities require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) to keep their products fresh. Warehouses, tourist venues, and operations that rely on technology all need specialized climate control.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reports that 610 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in Fresno, CA. Industries such as the following provide training and networking to the technicians and their employers:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Associated General Contractors of California
  • National Association of Women in Construction Fresno Chapter
  • Northern California Mechanical Contractors Association
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of California
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

These and other industry associations coordinate with state and local agencies to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards designed to ensure the health and safety of members and the public.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Fresno, CA

The BLS (May 2019) expects job opportunities in all occupations in the U.S. to increase an average of 5 percent during the decade ending in 2028. The nationwide demand for new HVAC and HVAC/R technicians is expected to increase by 13 percent—more than double the national average—between 2018 and 2028. And the rate of increase in job opportunities for technicians in California exceeds national expectations.

CareerOneStop (2020)—a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 20 percent increase in HVAC positions across California between 2016 and 2026. With the predicted addition of 3,530 fresh HVAC positions in CA and 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession in CA and across the country.

Construction of new residences and commercial structures is the primary factor driving the growth of the HVAC industry. The newer “smart buildings” require sophisticated climate control systems. Homeowners and businesses alike want systems and equipment that are energy efficient. When new systems are not installed, the old equipment and systems in existing buildings must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet contemporary environmental standards.

Due to the complexity of modern climate control systems, technicians must undergo extensive training. They are expected to understand electronics and computerized systems. They also need to hone their troubleshooting skills to have the best job prospects.

Technicians who work exclusively as installers may occasionally experience unemployment. As the economy in Fresno is continuing to grow and attracting new businesses and more workers, HVAC and HVAC/R technicians are unlikely to experience a slowdown in jobs in the foreseeable future. Technicians who maintain and repair existing equipment can expect year-round employment as Fresno homeowners and businesses need to keep their systems in good operating order regardless of the economy.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Fresno, CA

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 29,650 HVAC mechanics and installers in California with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $59,550. It also stated that there were 610 HVAC mechanics and installers in Fresno with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $52,970 and the following percentiles:

United States California Fresno, CA
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 29,650 610
Annual mean wage $51,420 $59,550 $52,970
10th Percentile $30,610 $33,580 $30,170
25th Percentile $37,660 $41,730 $36,870
50th Percentile (median) $48,730 $56,690 $52,260
75th Percentile $62,070 $71,710 $62,580
90th Percentile $77,920 $93,740 $85,970

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

  • 10th percentile: $30,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,963
  • 90th percentile: $74,000

It’s important to keep in mind that the cost of living in California is higher than in other states. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that CA was the fourth most expensive state, coming in behind only New York, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii. For HVAC technicians, this means relatively high salaries may still not go as far as lower salaries in other states, so that is something to keep in mind.

HVAC Apprenticeships in Fresno, CA

HVAC and HVAC/R workers in the past took jobs as assistants and learned their craft through on-the-job training. Although that is still possible, it’s become challenging to find employment without training. Most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Their training gives them more employment opportunities as well as higher wages as beginners. They also potentially earn more throughout their career.

An apprenticeship typically takes three to five years to complete. Apprentices receive on-the-job training (2,000 hours annually), along with classroom work (about 144 hours annually). The State of California Department of Industrial Relations maintains a database of apprenticeship programs. As of August 2020, five HVAC-related programs are available in Fresno county. Not all programs accept apprentices at all times.

Fresno & Vicinity Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Training offers an apprenticeship program, through which students can earn the journeyman title and start a well-benefited as well as a well paying career as a sheet metal worker in all kinds of different fabrication industries, from HVAC and fabrication to roofing and even shipyard work.

Additional HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs are available through national industry associations such as:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc (ABC)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details are available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Fresno, CA

Determining whether a school is accredited is the first step in choosing a formal training program. Accreditation is the process by which an independent agency evaluates the curriculum and instructors of a program.

Two industry-recognized organizations accredit HVAC programs. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has provided accreditation to Mount San Antonio Community College in Walnut, CA. HVAC Excellence has accredited programs at the following schools:

  • Brownson Technical School, Anaheim CA
  • Cypress College, Cypress, CA
  • El Camino College, Torrance, CA
  • Mount San Antonio Community College, Walnut, CA
  • North American Training Center, Redlands, CA

El Camino College is included in the schools profiled below, as it is the closest accredited school, although attending would probably require Fresno students to temporarily relocate as the commute is too long to be practical otherwise.

El Camino College

El Camino College offers an HVAC degree program and the following four certificates of achievement in air conditioning and refrigeration:

  • Air conditioning certificate (17 units)
  • Air conditioning and refrigeration electric controls certificate (13 units)
  • HVAC/R certificate (39 units)
  • Refrigeration certificate (13 units)

Students in these programs develop the knowledge and skills to troubleshoot, install, and service commercial, residential, and industrial HVAC/R systems. They learn how to read diagrams related to wiring, understand control circuits, go over the Uniform Mechanical Code, use the equipment for tests, and service electronic controls. After completing these programs, students can work as entry-level HVAC technicians or advanced apprentices.

The air conditioning and refrigeration electric controls certificate includes courses such as electrical applications, HVAC electronics, refrigeration and air conditioning control systems, EPA and NATE certification training, electric control, and HVAC customer service.

The refrigeration certificate includes courses such as air conditioning fundamentals, refrigeration and air conditioning control systems, commercial refrigeration applications, and HVAC customer service, and (EPA) and NATE certification training.

The air conditioning certificate consists of courses such as air conditioning fundamentals, electrical applications, heating technologies, energy-efficient residential, commercial and industrial air conditioning, and HVAC customer service and (EPA) and NATE certification training.

The HVAC/R certificate includes all of the above-mentioned courses, with the addition of fundamentals of automation systems, business mathematics, and energy control and optimization systems.

Lastly, the degree program includes all of the courses mentioned above, including additional electives such as business mathematics, cooperative work experience education, building fundamentals, and computer information systems.

  • Location: Torrance, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Degree program (24 months); certificates (12 to 24 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit

Fresno City College

The college offers an HVAC technology degree and the following certificate programs:

  • Air conditioning
  • Air conditioning, commercial, heating and ducting systems
  • Air conditioning mechanical and electrical systems
  • Air conditioning technology overview
  • Digital air conditioning controls
  • Industrial refrigeration

Not all programs are available at all times, so the curriculum and the number of additional units required for each are not listed in the current catalog. Prospective students need to consult with an academic advisor to select additional coursework.

Technical coursework for the certificate programs is also part of the degree program. All courses are taught in classroom lectures and hands-on training in a state-of-the-art lab. The degree program curriculum includes the following: technical computer applications, introduction to HVAC, HVAC comfort systems and components, troubleshooting, system processes, installation, digital control principles, and wireless HVAC controls.

Students must also complete general education electives in subjects such as natural sciences, language and rationality, social and behavioral sciences, and humanities. They complete 60 units to earn their degree. The credits earned are transferable to a four-year college.

  • Location: Fresno, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Degree program (24 months); Certificates (Vary)
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,330

Institute of Technology – Clovis

Institute of Technology, a private postsecondary vocational institution, prepares students for entry-level employment as HVAC technicians and other industry-related positions. Classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab teach students how to install, maintain, and troubleshoot HVAC systems.

The program is 800 hours and 48.5 quarter-credit-hours. The curriculum includes courses such as HVAC fundamentals, introduction to HVAC concepts, basic HVAC/R, advanced HVAC/R, EPA regulations and preparation for the universal certification exam, and professional development.

Students work in labs designed to complement equipment used in their career paths. They will troubleshoot air compressors, ice machines, residential and commercial AC and heating units, and will be provided tool kits that include trade-appropriate tools.

Classes are available in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. HVAC technicians have the opportunity to serve in various capacities in both commercial and residential settings. They take up roles as air conditioning technicians, refrigeration technicians, heating technicians, and systems engineers.

  • Location: Clovis, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 40 weeks
  • Estimated Tuition: $18,248 (+ fees, books, and supplies)

San Joaquin Valley College

SJVC, a private junior college, offers a certificate program and a degree program for HVAC/R technology. Students in both programs must have a valid California driver’s license and no DUI convictions in the past three years. The focus of both programs is career development. All students must attend a career services seminar in addition to the required coursework. Coursework includes preparation for the EPA Section 608 exam, and the tuition includes the fee for taking the exam the first time.

The curriculum for the certificate includes the following: HVAC/R theory and application, electricity theory and application, air distribution systems, and advanced HVAC/R. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level employment as HVAC/R mechanics, installers, and maintenance and service technicians.

Students seeking a degree will complete the above curriculum, with the addition of advanced electricity and general education requirements that include composition and reading, algebra, natural science, philosophy, ethics, psychology, and sociology.

Upon completion of this program, students will be able to discuss theories of HVAC/R and relate these concepts to practical applications, apply proper procedures for the installation, operation, maintenance and repair of both residential and light commercial HVAC/R equipment and systems, create effective reports and documents, and demonstrate proper usage of the basic tools of the trade. They can take up roles such as HVAC mechanics and installers, general maintenance and repair workers, refrigeration mechanics and installers, and HVAC/R mechanics and installers.

  • Location: Fresno, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Expected time to completion: Certificate (40 weeks); degree (60 weeks)
  • Estimated tuition: $16,457

UEI College

UEI, a private institution, offers an HVAC certificate program. Students attend classroom lectures and also get hands-on practice in a lab. Their studies include the following: basic electricity, controls, motors, refrigeration theory plus application, HVAC troubleshooting, heat pump systems, heating systems and boilers, duct design and blueprint reading, green awareness, regulation, building automation, and mechanical and electrical troubleshooting.

The coursework includes preparation for the EPA Section 608 and R410A certification exams. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level employment as HVAC/R technicians. They can take up roles such as air conditioning technician, HVAC technician, refrigeration technician, HVAC mechanic, and HVAC specialist.

The program is taught by industry professionals, and throughout the program, students will learn and practice HVAC installation, repair, maintenance, basic design, and troubleshooting.

  • Location: Fresno, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Expected time to completion: 10 months
  • Estimated tuition: $19,900

Attending an on-campus HVAC school may be difficult for some students due to time or distance restrictions. Online institutions may better meet their needs. For more information on accredited programs available, visit the online HVAC training page here.

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Fresno, CA

Federal law requires all HVAC technicians 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. The Universal 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, which also offer Section 608 testing and certification. These include, but are not limited to:

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

Their websites include details about the certifications, cost, and requirements. For further information, visit the HVAC certifications page.

As a final note, the California Contractors State Licensing Board requires HVAC contractors to be licensed for all projects that exceed $500. Self-employed technicians are considered contractors and must have a contractor’s license. Applicants must submit proof of the following to obtain a license:

  • Four years of journey-level experience
  • At least $2,500 in working capital proof
  • Workers compensation insurance
  • General liability insurance

They are also required to file a bond, pass exams in business and trade and law, disclose details of criminal convictions, be fingerprinted, and pay a fee. Licenses are renewed every two years. An exam waiver is available to applicants with proof of five years of journey-level experience with a licensed contractor.

Neither the County of Fresno nor the City of Fresno requires additional contractor licensing. However, the City does require all businesses to obtain a business license.

HVAC professionals should verify that they are meeting the requirements of the state as well as the county and city before they begin a project. Technicians are responsible for keeping their professional credentials up to date.

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.