HVAC Training in the San Francisco Bay Area

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While the San Francisco Bay Area may enjoy a relatively mild climate throughout the year, that doesn’t mean that heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration professionals (HVAC) are unable to find lasting employment within the region. In fact, the HVAC industry is strong in the Bay Area and is supported by a wide array of organizations and societies.

For example, members of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) of San Francisco enjoy many membership benefits, including business education and training, networking opportunities, a calendar of events, an annual trade show, and the chance to be part of a federation that serves contractors’ local, state, and national needs. Similarly, the Northern California Mechanical Contractors Association (NCMCA) offers resources to members such as education, safety information, advocacy, networking, a routine newsletter, and political lobbying to support the needs of mechanical contractors in California.

In general, these associations help support the HVAC industry in the state, but what exactly do HVAC workers in the Bay Area do on a daily basis? These professionals may be required to:

  • Test components and circuitry of HVAC equipment
  • Ensure all projects comply with all relevant laws and regulations
  • Maintain all required credentials for jobs
  • Travel to and from job sites when necessary
  • Read blueprints
  • Lay piping and wiring structure for HVAC equipment
  • Provide education to customers regarding best practices for saving energy in the future

Furthermore, all HVAC mechanics and installers who work with environmentally sensitive refrigerants need to maintain an active EPA Section 608 Certification, as the failure to do so may lead to legal repercussions. Ultimately, pursuing a career in this field requires an aspiring HVAC worker to have a deep understanding of both the occupation and the industry, as well as appropriate education and credentialing.

The following guide provides a roadmap for prospective HVAC professionals, including information about salary, licensure, and certification, as well as accredited HVAC programs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019) predicted a 4 percent increase in HVAC positions nationally between 2019 and 2029; this is as fast as the average growth expected across all occupations in the country during that same decade.

And in California specifically, the estimates are even more promising; by illustration, Projections Central (2020)—a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 12.5 percent increase in HVAC positions across California between 2018 and 2028. With the predicted addition of 4,100 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.

There are several reasons for the promising career outlook in HVAC nationwide and specifically in the Bay Area.

  • First, HVAC equipment and systems require regular servicing and maintenance and often need to be replaced every 10 or 15 years.
  • Second, regulations that directly impact the HVAC industry are constantly in flux, as well as the technologies of the trade, meaning that routine system upgrades are available.
  • Third, almost all buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area have some sort of climate-control technology, and virtually all new construction will require the installation of HVAC systems.

Given that the Bay Area’s development is booming, there are expected to be ample opportunities for HVAC installers and mechanics into the future.

Also, a brief survey of popular job posting websites further demonstrates the wealth of opportunities in this field. For example, Indeed (Nov. 2020) yielded 156 potential openings in the Bay Area for HVAC professionals with companies such as Johnson Controls, The Appliance Repair Doctor, Sodexo, Legacy Air, JLL, Blue Mountain Construction Services, and the University of California, Berkeley.

A similar search on Monster (Nov. 2020) showed 338 results at a wide array of companies, including United Rentals, EMCOR Group, CBRE, Sears Holdings Corporation, Randstad, and ITS Technologies & Logistics, among others. In short, it’s a thriving career.

San Francisco Bay Area HVAC Technician Salary Data

According to the BLS (May 2019), HVAC professionals earn relatively generous salaries, particularly in California and the Bay Area. HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730 according to a May 2019 BLS report. Technicians in San Francisco, CA received an annual median salary of $71,960.

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 2020) 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 compares national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

United States California San Francisco, CA
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 29,650 3,340
Average mean wage $51,420 $59,550 $76,480
10th percentile $30,610 $33,580 $39,390
25th percentile $37,660 $41,730 $54,340
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $56,690 $71,960
75th percentile $62,070 $71,710 $98,700
90th percentile $77,920 $93,740 $121,300

The BLS (May 2019) reported that there were 29,650 HVAC mechanics and installers across California, the second-most among all US states.

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

  • 10th percentile: $31,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,775
  • 90th percentile: $75,000

HVAC Apprenticeships in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA

To prepare for a career in HVAC, aspiring trade professionals can complete an apprenticeship, graduate from a traditional educational program, or obtain knowledge and on-the-job training through licensed contractors.

For example, those interested in hands-on training may wish to consider the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Apprenticeship through the California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association. Applicants must be 18 and have a high school diploma or GED, as well as meet a number of other criteria. The apprenticeship lasts for five years and requires 8,000 hours of work to reach journeyman status. Compensation for apprentices starts at a percentage of that of a journeyman and increases periodically.

Workers who are unable to participate in a local apprenticeship program can find HVAC and HVAC/R programs 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 the San Francisco Bay Area, CA

University of California

Aspiring HVAC workers seeking a formal education may consider the part time certificate program from the University of California at Berkeley. This HVAC certificate program provides students with a rigorous curriculum that trains them in designing new HVAC systems and retrofitting existing HVAC systems. The faculty of the program includes working professionals who have many years of practical experience.

While the program has no specific admission requirements, a bachelor’s in engineering or previous work experience in HVAC is preferred.

In this program, students complete four required courses, as well as two or three elective courses, for a total of 165 hours of instruction. Classes include ductwork and piping systems, HVAC control and energy management systems, HVAC system design considerations, and HVAC system load calculations and psychrometry.

Graduates receive a certificate of accomplishment from the Golden Gate Chapter of ASHRAE (the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) which is a leading professional organization of this industry.

  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $4,875 to $5,285 (not including additional fees or materials)

Laney College

Aspiring HVAC workers can consider the environmental control technology program offered by Laney College. The program helps students acquire the technical and theoretical skills necessary for working in today’s HVAC/R industry. The faculty of the program includes dedicated instructors who have extensive commercial and residential experience. This environmental control technology program includes the following degrees and certificates in HVAC/R:

  • Building automation systems (certificate of achievement/ associate in sciences) – This 48-credit program includes instruction in the fundamentals of electricity for ECT, mechanical and electrical devices, commercial HVAC systems, blueprint reading and interpretation for ECT, and advanced building commissioning.
  • Residential and light commercial HVAC and refrigeration (certificate of achievement/ associate in sciences) – This 27-credit program includes courses such as the fundamentals of refrigeration, motors and drives, advanced refrigeration, refrigeration equipment troubleshooting, heating and air conditioning troubleshooting, and HVAC installation practices, among others.
  • Commercial HVAC systems (certificate of achievement/ associate in sciences) – This 52.5-credit program includes coursework in mechanical and electrical codes, advanced refrigeration, refrigeration equipment troubleshooting, heating and air conditioning troubleshooting, commercial electricity for HVAC applications, commercial HVAC systems troubleshooting, advanced direct digital controls, and HVAC systems design.
  • Refrigeration technology (certificate of proficiency) – This 16.5 credit program has instruction in the fundamentals of electricity for ECT, mechanical and electrical devices, fundamentals of refrigeration, advanced refrigeration, refrigeration equipment troubleshooting, mechanical and electrical codes, and technical mathematics for ECT.

For all associate in science (AS) degrees, there are additional general education requirements.

Students in this program will get an opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-world situations, and get hands-on experience with cutting edge technology in one of the best laboratories in San Francisco. Upon completion, graduates can seek employment as heating, ventilation, air conditioning technicians, building engineers and technicians, and refrigeration technicians.

  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Accreditation: Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: Building automation systems (four semesters); residential and light commercial HVAC and refrigeration (two semesters); commercial HVAC systems (four semesters); Refrigeration technology (one semester)
  • Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit

City College Of San Francisco

The City College of San Francisco offers a certificate of accomplishment in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) program. Combining practical training with theory, the program prepares students to build a successful career in the HVAC field.

Made up of 9.5 credit-hours, the program includes courses such as applied fluid mechanics for mechanical engineering technology, HVAC system fundamentals, fundamentals of air conditioning and refrigeration, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) building information modeling (BIM) in Revit.

Graduating students will be qualified for employment as HVAC/R mechanics, technicians, and installers. Upon completion, students will be able to calculate air-conditioning heating and cooling load calculations, verify safety devices, record data in logs, and identify any potential problems, select appropriate air conditioning units, refrigeration components, equipment for fluid systems, and demonstrate a strong understanding of thermodynamic properties of the steam tables.

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit

Finally, it’s advisable for HVAC workers to complete a six-month to two-year degree or certificate at an accredited program, if available. There are currently two main organizations that offer accreditation for HVAC programs: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

As of November 2020, there are no programs in San Francisco accredited by these organizations. The bulk of the state’s accredited programs were in Southern California, but this may change in coming years with the proliferation of demand for HVAC services. Please note that all of the programs profiled above are approved by other reputable regional accreditation authorities as noted.

San Francisco Bay Area HVAC Certification & Licensing

As mentioned in the introduction, there is one required credential for all individuals who work with refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 Certification. There are four subtypes of this certification: type 1 (small appliances), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal). Of course, virtually all HVAC training programs prepare graduates to sit for the examination.

Additionally, a host of skill-specific, employment-ready certifications are offered in California through organizations such as North American Technician Excellence (e.g., Industry Competency Exams or ICE); HVAC Excellence (e.g., Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology Plus); the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (e.g., entry-level Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator); and other organizations. These certifications demonstrate that the holder has specific competencies, and in turn, can help enhance the worker’s employment candidacy.

To learn more about the variety of credentials for HVAC workers, check out the main HVAC certification page.

It’s also important to note that state licensure is necessary for HVAC professionals within California who offer services in excess of $500. The main state credentialing agency is the California Contractors State License Board. In order to earn licensure as an HVAC professional in California, an applicant must meet the following prerequisites:

  • Submit a C-20 license application to the Board
  • Have 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 California Warm-Air Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning Contractor examination, for example, tests applicants’ knowledge and skills in four areas:

  • Evaluation, Design, and Estimation
  • Fabrication, Installation, and Startup
  • Troubleshooting, Repair, and Maintenance
  • Safety

Learn more about the requirements by visiting the Contractors State License Board website.

Lastly, the city of San Francisco and nearby Bay Area cities also may have permit requirements. The City and County of San Francisco, for example, regulates permitting for HVAC work.

To qualify for most HVAC jobs, candidates must have a CA contractor’s license; a valid San Francisco business license; a workers’ compensation certificate; and registration with the Department of Building Inspection Contractor Database. Overall, credentialing requirements vary by municipality, and HVAC professionals are strongly encouraged to contact their city offices to ensure they have all necessary licenses and permits prior to beginning work.

Farheen Gani

Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).