HVAC Schools & Certifications in San Bernardino, CA

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The city of San Bernardino, CA, is the county seat for the county named after it. It’s also the economic center of the San Bernardino Valley and an essential part of the Inland Empire region of Southern California. Mexico owned the area until they lost it in 1847, at the end of the Mexican-American war. The valley boasts numerous creeks, waterways, and aquifers, which allowed the early Mormon settlers to establish a thriving economy based on agriculture and lumber. Gold was discovered later, and the region prospered during the gold rush years.

The rich cultural heritage and natural resources of San Bernardino contributed to its continued growth until 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. The city proved its resilience and has since become a busy intermodal logistics and shipping hub. It’s served by an international airport, several freeways, and freight trains.

Companies that include Mattel, Pep Boys, and Amazon have built large warehouses. A recent report noted that “The Inland Empire’s transportation, warehousing, and utilities sector has seen explosive growth . . ..” Retail and wholesale trade, tourism and entertainment, healthcare and educational services, and aerospace continue to make significant contributions to the economy. The area has made close to a full recovery from the pandemic.

San Bernardino is hot in the summer and cool in the winter. Temperatures during July, August, and September soar into the 90s F. December through February are the coolest months, averaging in the high 60s during the day and low 40s during the nights. January, February, and March receive the most precipitation, at more than 3 inches each month. Freezing temperatures are rare, but residents occasionally experience snow flurries during the winter. The hilly geography surrounding the valley, combined with the climate, gives rise to the Santa Ana winds each autumn, putting the area at risk of wildfires.

The temperatures and winds keep many San Bernardino residents indoors. In addition, the air quality is often poor, so they rely on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort and their health. The many warehouses and industrial facilities often require refrigeration (HVAC/R) to protect their products. The hospitality venues also require refrigeration to keep visitors comfortable. The healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and expanding e-commerce centers often require specialized climate-control systems.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) shows that 5,310 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA area. The technicians and their employers receive resources and support from national, state, and local industry associations. A sampling of these includes:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Associated General Contractors of California Riverside-San Bernardino District
  • Association of Building Contractors – San Bernardino Mountains
  • Building Industry Association of Southern California (BIASC)
  • Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling Contractors Association of Orange County, Riverside, And San Bernardino (PHCC ORSB)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • UA Local Union 364 of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Refrigeration

These organizations cooperate with others in the industry, regulatory agencies, and businesses to establish and maintain educational, licensing, and performance standards for the safety of technicians, the public, and the environment.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in San Bernardino, CA

Nationwide, trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect a national increase of 5 percent in new job openings between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS (2021). That’s an average of 38,500 new job openings each year.

The HVAC industry’s growth results from the continued construction of new commercial and residential structures. Additionally, existing structures are often renovated and remodeled to fit unique business demands. Obsolete and aging climate control systems and equipment must be repaired, replaced, or retrofitted to operate efficiently. On occasion, systems in new structures are replaced to meet technological advances and contemporary climate-control regulations. California emphasizes energy efficiency and pollution reduction, which also drives HVAC industry growth.

Technology has created a demand for “smart” buildings. Homeowners and businesses want sophisticated climate-control equipment and systems. Installing or servicing the complex systems requires HVAC technicians who are skilled troubleshooters, proficient with computers, and understand electronics and high-tech. Their training and expertise provide the best job opportunities.

Technicians who specialize in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines. A decline doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future. San Bernardino County’s population is “expected to nearly double in the next 30 years.” Fortune 500 companies and local startups have recognized of the county “as one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.”

Technicians specializing in maintenance and service can expect continuous employment as businesses and homeowners rely on year-round climate control regardless of the economy.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in San Bernardino, CA

The BLS (May 2021) reports that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,630. Their data shows that Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA, area technicians earned an annual median salary of $46,730. The cost of living in California is much higher than in other American states; however, it is much lower in San Bernardino than in other parts of the state, so the lower wages aren’t as significant as they seem at first glance.

As per the BLS (May 2021), national, state, and regional earnings of HVAC professionals are as follows:

United States California Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 356,960 32,640 5,310
Average annual salary $54,690 $61,670 $51,310
10th Percentile $34,320 $37,200 $30,090
25th Percentile $38,450 $46,640 $37,120
50th Percentile $48,630 $59,750 $46,730
75th Percentile $62,000 $75,170 $60,010
90th Percentile $78,210 $94,740 $75,220

HVAC Apprenticeships in San Bernardino, CA

Aspiring HVAC technicians traditionally took jobs as helpers and learned their skills through on-the-job training. Few opportunities exist now for doing so, and most untrained workers currently attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Trained technicians have better job opportunities and can potentially start at higher wages and earn more throughout their professional careers. Time spent in classrooms varies according to the expertise sought. Apprenticeships include specified hours of on-the-job training, usually 2,000 hours, and classroom work, usually 144 hours, annually for three to five years.

The State of California Department of Industrial Relations maintains a database of HVAC apprenticeship programs. As of August 2022, one program was available near San Bernardino: a 48-month sheet metal technician at the J.A.&T.C. facility, Basset, CA. The UA Local 364 Plumbers, Pipefitters, Refrigeration apprenticeship program teaches all aspects of plumbing and steamfitting for commercial, industrial, and residential construction. It’s conducted at the Colton, CA training center. Contact them directly for details.

Workers who are unable to attend these programs may select HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs presented by industry associations such as the following:

  • 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)

Details of classes offered, fees, and times are available on each organization’s website.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in San Bernardino, CA

When selecting a school, students should choose an accredited institution. Accreditation means that an independent agency has evaluated the quality of the school’s program, including both the curriculum and the instructors. HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) accredit HVAC programs.

HVAC Excellence has accredited the following California schools:

  • Brownson Technical School, Anaheim, CA
  • Cypress College, Cypress, CA
  • North American Training Center, Redlands, CA

PAHRA has accredited Mount San Antonio College, Walnut, CA.

Although all the schools require a commute for San Bernardino students, North American Training Center and Mount San Antonio College are included in the profiles, as they are a short distance from San Bernardino. Other reputable agencies have accredited the remaining schools.

Note: The information in this article was compiled in August 2022, when pandemic restrictions were in a state of flux. The profiled schools may have temporarily suspended classes or are offering online options. Please direct questions about timing and format to the school administration.

Center for Employment Training

CET offers HVAC and green technology training at several California locations, including Colton. Students may attend during the day or evenings. The coursework is presented via classroom lectures and hands-on training in fully-equipped labs. The curriculum includes HVAC safety, mathematics, pipefitting, brazing, soldering, green HVAC technology, tools, electricity, refrigeration and recovery, heating, duct work, basic computers, job preparation, and customer service. Students are prepared to take industry certification exams, such as the EPA 608 exam. CET assists graduates with job placement.

  • Location: Colton, CA
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education
  • Tuition: $14,500
  • Program length: Eight to nine months

InterCoast College

ICC, a private institution, offers an HVAC technician certification program at several campuses, including one in Riverside. Students learn through a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab.

The curriculum includes an intro to trades, construction math, OSHA safety and NEC, electrical theory and conductors, practical applications of electrical theory, refrigeration components and applications, EPA 608 transition and recovery, heating systems, air conditioning, heat pump systems, and air distribution and installation. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level positions as residential or commercial HVAC technicians.

  • Location: Riverside, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Tuition: $16,680
  • Program length: 40 weeks

Mount San Antonio College

Students at Mt. SAC can select an HVAC certificate program or an HVAC degree program. Both programs present coursework in classroom lectures followed by hands-on training in the lab. Graduates are prepared to seek entry-level positions as technicians.

The technical curriculum in the certificate program includes HVAC/R technical mathematics, HVAC/R welding, A/C codes and standards, refrigeration fundamentals, HVAC/R electricity, gas heating, heat load calculations and design, commercial HVAC/R, air properties and measurement, and commercial systems. They are awarded their certificate after 31.5 units.

Degree-seeking students complete the same technical coursework as those in the certificate program. They also complete general education coursework that includes public speaking, composition, arts, humanities, lifelong understanding, political science, physical education, and science. They receive their degree after 65.5 to 68.5 units.

  • Location: Walnut, CA
  • Accreditation: PAHRA, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per unit
  • Program length: Certificate one year, degree two years

North American Training Center

NATC offers an HVAC/R program that also prepares students for the EPA certification exam. The exam may be taken on campus. The coursework is divided between classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab.

The Center no longer includes details of its program on its web page. The curriculum overview includes HVAC/R electricity and thermodynamics used in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Students acquire the technical working knowledge of trade fundamentals, safety practices, the skills to service and maintain equipment, and customer service. Graduates are qualified to take various industry certification exams and seek entry-level employment.

All further information is available only by direct contact.

  • Location: Redlands, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence
  • Tuition: Contact the institution for a customized assessment
  • Program length: Not disclosed on website

San Bernardino Valley College

Valley College has three HVAC programs: an HVAC/R certificate that prepares students for entry-level employment, a refrigeration service engineer society (HVAC) certificate that prepares students for advanced positions, and an HVAC/R degree.

The HVAC/R certificate program curriculum includes HVAC/R fundamentals, domestic and commercial refrigeration, HVAC/R electricity, air distribution systems, welding, and math. The coursework takes 27 to 32 units to complete. Students are encouraged to complete an elective in automotive A/C for an additional four units.

Students in the advanced refrigeration certificate program complete the following technical coursework: compressors, condensers, and cooling towers, heating fundamentals, transfer, and distribution, gas and hot water heating, tools, controls, and troubleshooting, RSES electricity, RSES heat pump training, and RSES technical training. Students complete 40 units to earn their certificates. The courses meet NATE standards, and as each course is completed, students may apply for credit toward their NATE certification renewal.

Degree-seeking students first complete the technical curriculum required for the HVAC/R certificate. They then add general education coursework. Those classes will vary according to whether they plan to transfer their credits to another institution toward a higher degree. They complete 60 units in total to earn their Valley College degree.

  • Location: San Bernardino, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per unit
  • Program length: Certificates vary, degree two years

Summit College

Summit College located its newest campus in San Bernardino. Students have access to classroom learning coupled with hands-on training in the lab. The HVAC program curriculum includes principles of heat, energy, and pressure, electrical systems and components, brazing, green job training, commercial environmental systems, commercial refrigeration, system design, residential and commercial HVAC, and refrigerant and refrigeration systems.

The coursework may be completed during the days or evenings. Graduates are qualified to take the EPA Section 608 exam and seek entry-level employment.

  • Location: San Bernardino, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Tuition: $16,970
  • Program length: 36 weeks

UEI College

UEi, a private school, offers an HVAC technician training program at its Riverside campus. The training includes basic electricity, motors, and HVAC controls, refrigeration theory and application, HVAC troubleshooting, heat pumps, heating systems, duct design, reading blueprints, load calculation, commercial refrigeration systems, specialized commercial refrigeration, green awareness, regulations, and building automation.

Students are prepared to take the EPA Section 608 exam and the R-410-A certification exam. Graduates are qualified to seek employment as HVAC/R technicians.

  • Location: Riverside, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $21,500
  • Program length: Ten months

San Bernardino students who cannot attend one of the above schools may find that online institutions can better meet their needs. More information on accredited programs is available at online HVAC training.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in San Bernardino, CA

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) regulations require all HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who handle refrigerants to obtain Section 608 certification. Four certification levels, each with a specific exam based on the type and size of equipment on which a technician works, are available, as described below:

  • Type I – for servicing small appliances
  • Type II – for servicing or disposing of high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and automotive air conditioning
  • Type III – for servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances
  • Universal – for servicing all types of equipment

Details of the criteria for each certification are available on the EPA website.

Section 608 and other certifications increase a technician’s employability. Industry organizations offer study materials and exams. These include:

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

Check each organization’s website for availability, scheduling, and fees. There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians employed by a contractor are not required to obtain a state license. Technicians who advertise their services are regarded by the California Contractors State Licensing Board as contractors and must be licensed. HVAC contractors need the C-20 specialty license, and HVAC/R contractors need the C-38 specialty license. Most applicants must pass exams in law and business, and trade. All applicants must then submit proof of the following to obtain their license:

  • Minimum of four years of journey-level experience
  • At least $2,500 in working capital
  • Workers compensation insurance
  • General liability insurance
  • A $15,000 bond

All applicants must be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check. Licenses are renewed every two years. The initial license and renewals require payment of a fee.

The City of San Bernardino requires all individuals and businesses operating within the city to register. The registration and renewal fees are based on gross receipts. The County of San Bernardino does not require HVAC or HVAC/R registration or payment of fees.

As licensing regulations may change, HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they comply with current guidelines before starting 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.