HVAC Programs in Los Angeles

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Californians interested in becoming heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) professionals have an abundance of accredited HVAC programs in Los Angeles. In the Golden State, HVAC workers must have a C-20 contracting license to perform maintenance on and install these systems, and notably, some unlicensed HVAC workers have gotten into trouble for not obtaining the proper documentation.

In the past, the Contractors State License Board’s (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) has organized sting operations against HVAC technicians who had been operating illegally according to California’s Energy Efficiency Standards. These rules stipulate that contractors must get a city or county permit prior to installing or making any changes to a building’s HVAC unit which costs $500 or more. The Board maintains a “most-wanted” list of violators.

So what exactly do HVAC professionals in Los Angeles do? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (BLS OOH 2020), these skilled technicians perform a variety of tasks such as installing, repairing, or maintaining HVAC systems; performing tests on fuel pumps, air ducts, insulation, pipes, water systems, electrical circuits and other components of systems to ensure proper functioning; making suggestions to increase energy efficiency; interpreting blueprints and using them to inform repair and installation of HVAC equipment; and complying with all local, state, and federal legislation regarding these systems (e.g., EPA codes).

Many HVAC technicians choose to specialize in a particular aspect of maintenance and installation of HVAC systems, such as commercial refrigeration, solar panel installation, or residential HVAC maintenance, to name a few. It’s important to note that licensing and certification requirements vary not only by region but also by specialty. There is one mandatory credential for all HVAC technicians who handle refrigerants: EPA Section 608 certification.

Read on to discover the occupational demand for HVAC techs, the salary prospects, and the wealth of accredited HVAC programs in Los Angeles.

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Demand For HVAC Technicians in Los Angeles

According to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD 2020), the demand for HVAC professionals is on the rise, particularly as the population increases across the state. Climate control systems are especially crucial in places like Los Angeles during the warmer summer months. The EDD also points out that HVAC equipment these days is growing more complex, thereby increasing the likelihood of malfunctions, repairs, or simple customer education on how to control thermostats.

Furthermore, California is relatively progressive when it comes to investments in renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, wind, natural gas). This agenda, coupled with an overall concern for increasing energy efficiency in systems, makes the prospects for HVAC professionals in Los Angeles bright.

In more granular terms, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) found that across the country, openings for HVAC techs are expected to swell 13 percent between 2018 and 2028. This equates to 46,300 new jobs nationwide. That is more than twice the average growth rate anticipated in all occupations during that time period (5 percent).

And the growth of HVAC positions is expected to be even more robust in California according to the most recent data from CareerOneStop (2020), a data organization that is partnered with the US Department of Labor. CareerOneStop found that California-based openings in HVAC are poised to grow 20 percent between 2016 and 2026. With this anticipated addition of 3,530 new jobs across the Golden State—many of them in Los Angeles—there is expected to be ample opportunities in this field in the coming decade.

Finally, the BLS (2019) found that California is one of the top three employers in this field, with 29,650 HVAC technicians working. Impressively, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area employs the second-most HVAC technicians of any city in the country at 9,450.

HVAC Technician Salary in Los Angeles

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), HVAC mechanics and installers make more money on average in Los Angeles than figures nationally. In fact, the BLS (2019) reported an average annual salary of $51,420 among the 342,040 technicians nationwide. This figure swelled to $59,780 in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area.

In more detailed terms, the table below compares the average annual salary percentiles for HVAC technicians nationwide as well as California and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan areas (BLS May 2019):

United States California Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 342,040 29,650 9,450
Average Annual Salary $51,420 $59,550 $59,780
10th Percentile $30,610 $33,580 $34,100
25th Percentile $37,660 $41,730 $44,740
50th Percentile (Median) $48,730 $56,690 $57,760
75th Percentile $62,070 $71,710 $72,050
90th Percentile $77,920 $93,740 $91,630

Not surprisingly, these figures also tended to vary based on the source of data. California’s Employment Development Department (EDD 2019) found the following ranges for HVAC professionals across CA:

  • 25th percentile: $40,121
  • 50th percentile (median): $55,851
  • 75th percentile: $70,923

Indeed (2020) found an average annual hourly wage of $24.75 among HVAC techs in Los Angeles, and Payscale (2020)—an aggregator of self-reported salaries—found the following percentiles among its 84 responding techs in LA:

  • 10th percentile: $14.93/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.87/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $39.33/hr.

Overall, the discrepancies between the salaries for HVAC professionals in LA could be attributed to the nature of self-reported information, the relatively small sample size for Payscale, or other factors that are beyond the scope of this article.

Accredited HVAC Training in Los Angeles

For prospective HVAC technicians in the City of Angels, there are a variety of accredited HVAC programs to get a person prepared for the career.

Although graduating from an accredited program is not essential to qualify for a C-20 contractor license or other essential certifications (e.g., EPA Section 608), the accreditation status of a program can be an indicator of the quality of instruction and indicate to potential employers the rigorousness of preparation in the field. The two main accrediting agencies for these programs are the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) and HVAC Excellence.

Additionally, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredits institutions as a whole and is one of the six regional accreditation agencies recognized by the US Department of Education Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Finally, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) accredits distance-based programs. For more information about HVAC program accreditation, please visit the HVACClasses homepage.

So how much education do HVAC techs in LA typically have prior to seeking employment? According to CareerOneStop (2020), here is the distribution of the highest level of educational attainment among HVAC techs nationally aged 25 to 44:

  • Less than a high school diploma: 10 percent
  • High school diploma or GED: 42 percent
  • Some college, no degree: 28 percent
  • Associate’s degree: 14 percent
  • Bachelor’s degree: 5 percent
  • Master’s degree or above: 1 percent

The bulk of respondents have at least a high school diploma, and many have some post-secondary training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) adds that many HVAC professionals are educated in vocational and technical schools over a period of six months to two years, often achieving a certificate or associate degree. While many HVAC techs in the past typically learned their skills on-the-job through apprenticeships and other mentoring programs, these days it’s increasingly common for people in this field to have some formal education before entering the workforce.

Mount San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in Walnut, California provides an associate of science (AS) degree in air conditioning and refrigeration technology. It is the only California program to have both PAHRA and HVAC Excellence accreditation. Mt. SAC has a work-study component for interested students in addition to training in refrigerant handling, welding, and mechanical and electrical operation. Classes are available days and evenings. A certificate program is also offered in air conditioning and refrigeration.

  • Location: Walnut, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence and PAHRA
  • Tuition: AS degree $2,760 (in-state), $20,040 (out-of-state); certificate $1,449 (in-state), $10,521 (out-of-state)
  • Program length: AS degree, two years; certificate, one year

Capstone College in Pasadena provides an HVAC technician training program to prepare techs for entry-level employment. Coursework can be completed in 30 weeks for full-time students and 48 weeks for students attending part-time during the evenings.

Capstone College seeks to instruct students in areas such as common HVACR systems, electrical components, how to test equipment, safety procedures, compliance with the law, sheet metal work, schematics, and more. In this school’s state-of-the-art lab, students get the opportunity to use the same equipment as top-notch industry professionals. Some courses in this program include HVAC theory, brazing and soldering, refrigerants and charging techniques (EPA refrigerant certification), and heating fundamentals.

  • Location: Pasadena, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, and the United States partment of Veterans Affairs
  • Tuition: $14,800
  • Program length: Seven to 12 months

Los Angeles Trade-Tech College (LATTC) offers an associate of science (AS) degree program in refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics. Requiring a time commitment of 21 hours weekly, this program features courses such as electrical mathematics, refrigeration component instruction, fundamentals of refrigeration, and pipe and tube joining processes. As part of the program, students also receive their EPA Section 608 certification, a mandatory credential for people who work with refrigerants. Please note that LATTC also offers certificate and associate of arts (AA) options in this field.

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per unit
  • Program length: Two years

El Camino College, one of the five California schools with HVAC Excellence accreditation, in Torrance, California also has a 60-unit associate of science (AS) degree program with coursework in electrical applications, refrigeration and air conditioning control systems, solar basics, heating technologies, commercial refrigeration applications, HVAC customer service, and fundamentals of pneumatic (i.e., pressurized air or gas) controls.

This school offers four unique tracks for specialized instruction: air conditioning (17 units), air conditioning and refrigeration electric controls (13 units), HVAC/R (39 units), and refrigeration (13 units).

  • Location: Torrance, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Tuition: No cost for in-state residents; out-of-state residents ($331 per credit)
  • Program length: AA degree, two years; certificate, one to two years

Online HVAC Training

For some students with professional, familial, or other time commitments that make attending a traditional program difficult, distance-based HVAC training programs are available.

Brownson Technical College in Anaheim, California has been awarded accreditation by HVAC Excellence and offers both on-campus and blended learning (i.e., online and on-campus hybrid) options. In the 40-week blended program, students are required to visit the campus only 13 hours per week to complete the hands-on component of their instruction.

Meanwhile, students take courses online to complement their in-house learning in areas such as basic thermodynamics, refrigeration and copper works; EPA, safety, customer service and basic HVAC/R competency; commercial refrigeration; and building performance. Brownson prepares students to sit for national certification exams, including EPA Section 608, North American Technician Excellence, and HVAC Excellence credentials.

For more information about distance-based training, check out the online HVAC programs page.

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Los Angeles

For all HVAC professionals who deal with environmentally sensitive refrigerants, there is one mandatory credential: the EPA Section 608 certification. There are four main subtypes, which vary by the type of equipment one works on:

  • Type I (small appliances)
  • Type II (high-pressure appliances)
  • Type III (low-pressure appliances)
  • Type IV (universal)

Additionally, there is a wide range of professional certifications in HVAC. These are available from organizations such as the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association, North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and HVAC Excellence, among others.

As a final note, all HVAC workers in California who provide work in excess of $500 are required to have a state license through the California Contractors State License Board. To qualify, candidates must:

  • Submit a C-20 application
  • Have four years or more 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

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

Furthermore, those working in Los Angeles must have the requisite permits through the LA Department of Building and Safety (LADBS).

All HVAC professionals are encouraged to verify that they have all the necessary credentialing prior to beginning a project.

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.