HVAC Training Schools & Certification 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 that 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 2021), HVAC workers occupy a high-growth and relatively lucrative career. The BLS projected a 5 percent increase in HVAC openings across the country between 2020 and 2030—the addition of 19,000 positions—which is just slightly slower than the average growth expected across all jobs during that same decade (8 percent). Projections Central predicts a 12.5 percent statewide increase, which means 4,100 new positions for HVAC technicians between 2018 and 2028.

Currently, California employs the second most HVAC mechanics and installers of any US state, just behind Florida. The BLS (May 2020) found that there were 32,410 HVAC professionals across CA, with many of them concentrated in the relatively warm climates of the southern regions.

Several factors are 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 (May 2020), 9 percent of HVAC workers nationwide were self-employed, and 66 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 (October 2021) had numerous HVAC jobs posted in the San Diego area, including opportunities at ABM Industries Dennis Group, ARS-Rescue Rooter, CoolSys, General Atomics and Affiliated Companies, Chugach Government Solutions, Anderson Plumbing Heating & Air, J&J Worldwide Services, and City of San Diego, among others. The job openings include calls for installers, mechanics, facilities managers, and similar.

Monster (October 2021) lists several openings, including positions with Sherlock Heating and Air Conditioning Inc, Power home Solar, Pearce Services, ABM Industries, Bill Howe Plumbing, General Atomics & Affiliated Companies, and Jackson and Foster Heating and Air.

HVAC Tech Salary in San Diego, CA

The BLS (May 2020) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $50,590 in May 2020. Technicians in San Diego, CA received an annual median salary of $61,690.

As with any salary projections, taking into account the cost of living is also important. As such, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021) found that California 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.

The table below is a comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

The BLS (May 2020) reported the following salary figures in the San Diego area:

United States California San Diego – Carlsbad, CA
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 344,020 32,410 2,160
Average mean wage $53,410 $63,560 $63,250
10th Percentile $31,910 $35,450 $41,420
25th Percentile $39,320 $45,940 $53,600
50th Percentile (Median) $50,590 $59,800 $61,690
75th Percentile $64,350 $77,890 $73,950
90th Percentile $80,820 $100,120 $87,970

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (Oct. 2021), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $32,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,639
  • 90th percentile: $78,000

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. Apprenticeships typically take three to five years to complete. Apprentices receive on-the-job training (2,000 hours annually) along with classroom work (typically 144 hours annually).

For example, 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).

The State of California Department of Industrial Relations maintains a database of apprenticeship programs. As of October 2021, three HVAC-related programs are available in San Diego County; however, not all programs are accepting apprentices at all times.

The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of San Diego also offers an apprenticeship program that combines hands-on training with classroom learning.

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.

Mt. San Antonio College

Mt. San Antonio College offers an associate of science degree and a certificate in air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration. Apart from knowledge of HVAC systems, students will also get hands-on learning experience in handling refrigerant, welding, troubleshooting, building automation, and electrical and mechanical operation. Interestingly, this is the only program in California that has received accreditation from HVAC Excellence and PAHRA.

The associate of science degree is made up of 63.5 units, while the certificate consists of 31.5 units. The programs feature 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; commercial systems and more.

The programs are designed to prepare students for employment in the broad field of air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration. They work in varied industries including manufacturing, design, operation, distribution, sales, installation, repairs, controls, and maintenance.

  • Location: Walnut, CA
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; HVAC Excellence; Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS degree (24 months); certificate (12 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Residents ($46 per unit); out-of-state ($334 per unit)

San Diego City College

San Diego City College offers an air conditioning, refrigeration, and environmental control technology (AIRE) associate in science (AS) program. With a focus on green technology, this program delves into areas such as construction drawings & estimating; fluid flow dynamics; comfort heating systems theory; and HVAC/R systems design.

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.

On successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as air conditioning and/or refrigeration contractor, dispatcher, service manager, HVAC or refrigeration service technician, sales engineer, manufacturer service representative, service engineer, HVAC/R consultant, and much more.

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: California residents ($46 per unit); non-residents ($307 per unit)

University of California, San Diego

University of California, San Diego provides an HVAC systems design and control certificate program. This certificate enables professionals in HVAC, facility engineering, and building automation, to take their careers a step further.

After completing this certificate program, students will have an in-depth understanding of the basics of HVAC, direct digital control system design, and their applications in real-world situations. It is especially helpful for those looking to take the Mechanical Professional Engineering exam.

Consisting of 12 credit-hours, three courses in this hybrid program are hands-on and in-class, while two courses are offered online using Canvas, an online learning platform. Sample some of the coursework: HVAC DDC networking design, HVAC design calculations, HVAC DDC basics, HVAC DDC system design, HVAC systems design.

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $3,370 for the program

These are a few 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

Before seeking employment, all HVAC workers in San Diego must ensure they have proper certification and licensing.

First, there is one mandatory certification for professionals who handle environmentally sensitive refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 certification.

This certification has four categories depending on the type of appliance: 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 before beginning work. HVAC workers in the state are licensed by the California Contractors State License Board. The Board requires all HVAC workers performing work over $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 required 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 instead 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 before agreeing to any work. Failure to do so can result in legal action and financial penalties.

Jocelyn Blore

Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.