HVAC Training Schools in San Diego, CA

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In “America’s Finest City,” the sunny skies beget a wealth of employment opportunities in climate control, particularly in air conditioning and refrigeration. By illustration, the PHCC of San Diego is a thriving branch of a national organization which bestows many benefits upon its members, including frequent membership dinner meetings; a monthly newsletter; professional networking; political representation for issues affecting the industry; apprenticeship opportunities; annual events (e.g., golf tournament, holiday party, family picnic, trade show, etc.); and various members-only discounts, among other perks.

Additionally, the SMACNA of San Diego represents both workers in air conditioning and sheet metal, providing services such as virtual safety courses; an active job board; reimbursement for OSHA 10/30 outreach training; and a long-established apprentice program. In short, these skilled individuals are well-supported in San Diego.

So what do heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R) professionals do on a day-to-day basis? They take on varied responsibilities such as laying wiring and piping structures for HVAC equipment; conducting maintenance and repairs on systems; reading blueprints; verifying compliance with all local and federal regulations; testing HVAC circuitry and components (e.g., motors, belts, fans, valves, filters, heat pumps, water pumps, boilers, multimeters, economizers, hermetic compressors, split systems, humidifiers, ducts, etc.); soldering and brazing parts; performing heat load and loss calculations; calibrating all controls to manufacturer specifications; maintaining all necessary credentialing; traveling to job sites; maintaining detailed service records; and educating customers on practices for energy conservation. Additionally, all HVAC workers in SD who deal with refrigerants must maintain active EPA Section 608 certification.

This piece explores how to become an HVAC worker, including a discussion of the employment demand, salary prospects, credentialing information, and accredited HVAC schools in San Diego.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Workers in San Diego, CA

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Sept. 2019), HVAC workers occupy a high-growth and relatively lucrative career. In fact, the BLS projected a 13 percent increase in HVAC openings across the country between 2018 and 2028—the addition of 46,300 positions—which is more than double the average growth expected across all jobs during that same decade (5 percent). And in the Golden State, the prospects are even brighter. As proof of point, Projections Central (2020) predicted a 19.6 percent increase in HVAC opportunities in California between 2016 and 2026. This is significantly greater than the national figure and nearly four times the growth expected across all jobs.

Currently, California employs the second most HVAC mechanics and installers of any US state, just behind Florida. The BLS (March 2019) found that there were 27,720 HVAC professionals across CA, with many of them concentrated in the relatively warm climates of the southern regions.

There are several factors contributing to the healthy employment climate for HVAC technicians in San Diego and beyond. First, these systems generally need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years and require regular servicing. Second, local laws, regulations, and technologies are continually evolving, which also leads to a steady stream of system upgrades. Additionally, nearly all buildings in San Diego have climate control systems and, especially in areas with high rates of construction, there’s a demand for the installation of brand-new equipment.

According to the BLS (Sept. 2019), 9 percent of HVAC workers nationwide were self-employed, and 64 percent worked in the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contracting industry. The remainder were employed by institutions and in the retail and wholesale trades. Some of them work normal business hours, and others may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, or holidays, especially in the summer when demand for air conditioning and refrigeration services peaks.

As proof of the thriving employment climate, Indeed (2020) had numerous HVAC jobs posted in the SD area, including opportunities at Legacy Air, Trane, Airtec, DMG, Precision Temperature, Bay Air Systems, UC San Diego, General Atomics, and San Diego Natural History Museum, among others. The job openings include calls for installers, mechanics, facilities managers, and similar. Monster (2020) lists more than 200 openings, including positions with CBRE, EMCOR, Pacific Rim Mechanical Contractors, Sodexo, Johnson Controls, ABM Industries, Sears, and the County of San Diego.

HVAC Tech Salary in San Diego, CA

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2018), HVAC mechanics and installers make a relatively generous salary—especially in San Diego, California. Here is a breakdown of the numbers of HVAC workers and salary percentiles in the U.S., California, and San Diego specifically:

United States California San Diego – Carlsbad
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 324,310 27,720 1,930
Average Annual Salary $50,160 $58,130 $58,770
10th Percentile $29,460 $32,900 $36,730
25th Percentile $36,520 $39,610 $48,180
50th Percentile (Median) $47,610 $55,140 $58,460
75th Percentile $60,900 $70,020 $68,770
90th Percentile $76,230 $94,380 $81,250

HVAC Apprenticeships in San Diego, CA

There are various routes to becoming an HVAC professional in San Diego. Some workers choose to enroll in an apprenticeship program.

For example, the PHCC of San Diego HVAC Apprenticeship for HVAC service tech is a seven-month program designed for workers with no experience. Students receive hands-on training combined with classroom theory. They learn light residential and commercial maintenance and troubleshooting, as well as preparing for and taking the EPA and OSHA 10 exams. The program costs $1,975 annually for PHCC members and $2,495 for non-members. Additional fees may apply for books and other materials.

Also, the Associated Builders and Contractors sponsors a four-year HVAC apprenticeship program at the San Diego Community College District Poway campus. To qualify, students must pass a TABE test, which measures students’ knowledge in math in English (secondary school level).

Accredited HVAC Schools in San Diego, CA

Other aspiring HVAC workers in SD may choose to enroll in an accredited training program. These typically last two years and may be recognized by an accreditation organization such as HVAC Excellence or the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). To learn in-depth about how programs are approved, please check out the HVAC programs homepage accreditation section.

One prominent PAHRA-accredited school is Mt. San Antonio College in nearby LA county. Mt. SAC provides an abundance of HVAC training degree and certificate programs, featuring courses such as technical mathematics in air conditioning & refrigeration; welding for air conditioning & refrigeration; air conditioning codes & standards; refrigeration fundamentals; electrical fundamentals for air conditioning & refrigeration; gas heating; heat load calculations & design; commercial electrical for air conditioning & refrigeration; air properties & measurement; advanced mechanical refrigeration; building automation fundamentals; and more. These programs cost $46 per unit for California residents and $288 for non-residents.

San Diego City College offers an air conditioning, refrigeration, and environmental control technology (AIRE) associate in science (AS) program. With preparation for HVAC and green careers working with solar panels, students learn areas such as construction drawings & estimating; fluid flow dynamics; comfort heating systems theory; and HVAC/R systems design.

Also, SDCC also offers a certificate of performance in air conditioning and solar energy with training in basic refrigeration theory; control systems theory; and solar utilization theory, among other fundamentals. The school provides additional certificates in basic refrigeration & control systems; air conditioning, refrigeration & environmental control; heating, air conditioning & solar energy; and heating, air conditioning & ventilation systems design, among others. These programs cost $46 per unit for California residents and $245 for non-residents.

Finally, the University of California, San Diego provides an HVAC systems design and control certificate featuring courses such as HVAC DDC basics; HVAC systems design; and system networking design. Part of the coursework is available only on campus, and part of it is available exclusively online. The estimated tuition is $3,370, and most students complete the program within 18 months.

These are a few of the training options available for aspiring HVAC professionals in the San Diego area. To learn about the distance-based educational programs available, please check out the online HVAC programs page.

HVAC Certification & Licensing in San Diego, CA

Prior to seeking employment, all HVAC workers in San Diego must ensure that they have the proper certification and licensing.

First, there is one mandatory certification for all people who handle environmentally sensitive refrigerants—the EPA Section 608 certification—and there are four types: type 1 (small appliances), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal). Most HVAC training programs include 608 exam preparation as part of their curriculum.

There’s an abundance of other national entities that offer competency-based, employment-ready trade certifications. These organizations and some sample certifications offered include:

  • HVAC Excellence (e.g., Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology [HEAT], HEAT Plus, carbon monoxide safety, heat oil combustion, residential heat load analysis, green awareness, etc.)
  • North American Technician Excellence or NATE (e.g., air conditioning, air distribution, heat pump [air-to-air], hydronics gas, commercial refrigeration, light commercial refrigeration, etc.)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society or RSES (e.g., EPA Section 608, commercial air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, domestic service, dynamic compression, HVAC-R electrical, etc.)

To learn about the gamut of national credentials available, please visit the HVAC certifications page.

Lastly, HVAC workers in San Diego must ensure that they have all local licensure prior to beginning work. HVAC workers in the state are licensed by the California Contractors State License Board. The Board requires all HVAC workers performing work in excess of $500 to hold a C-20 contractor license. To qualify, candidates must:

  • Submit a C-20 license application
  • Show proof of 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 HVAC trade exam gauges professionals’ knowledge across four areas:

  • Evaluation, design, and estimation
  • Fabrication, installation, and startup
  • Troubleshooting, repair, and maintenance
  • Safety

Please note that there is an initial $330 application fee. The first two-year license costs $200 and can be renewed every two years for $400. Also, following the submission of all requisite documentation, there is licensing reciprocity with three other states: Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Lastly, the City of San Diego requires all businesses to obtain a Business Tax Certificate in lieu of a city business license. The fee is based on the number of employees. Additionally, the City requires permits for electrical work and the installation or replacement of air conditioning units. Conveniently, the City accepts completed applications and fees online. Above all, HVAC workers in San Diego and beyond should ensure that they have all necessary certifications, licenses, and permits prior to agreeing to any work. Failure to do so can result in legal action and financial penalties.

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.