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 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 an 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 San Francisco Bay Area.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in (and Near) San Francisco

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2016) predicted a 14 percent increase in HVAC positions nationally between 2014 and 2024; this is more than double the average growth expected across all occupations in the country during that same decade (6.5 percent). And in California specifically, the estimates are even more promising; by illustration, Projections Central (2017) estimated a statewide growth of 31.8 percent between 2014 and 2024—the addition of 7,100 new jobs.

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 (June 2017) yielded 931 potential openings in the Bay Area for HVAC professionals with companies such as Johnson Controls, Bio-Rad Inc., United Airlines, Inc., Apple, JLL, Baker Distributing Company, LLC, and the University of California, Berkeley. A similar search on Monster (June 2017) showed 641 results at a wide array of companies, including Liebert Corporation, CyberCoders, TRS Staffing, Cameron Craig Group, Manpower Inc., and Emcor Group, among others. In short, it’s a thriving career.

San Francisco Bay Area HVAC Technician Salary Data

According to the BLS (May 2016), HVAC professionals earn relatively generous salaries, particularly in California and the Bay Area. For comparison, here is the average salary and percentiles for all HVAC workers nationwide:

United States (294,730 HVAC workers): $48,320 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,440
  • 25th percentile: $35,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,910
  • 75th percentile: $58,960
  • 90th percentile: $73,350

In hourly figures, these salaries amounted to:

United States: $23.23/hr. Average

  • 10th percentile: $13.67/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.04/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.07/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $28.35/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.26/hr.

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, Payscale (June 2017), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:

United States: 466 HVAC workers

  • 10th percentile: $28,000
  • 25th percentile: $35,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,594
  • 75th percentile: $54,000
  • 90th percentile: $67,000

An additional 2,599 HVAC workers gave Payscale their hourly salary figures with these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $13.00/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.00/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.96/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $24.00/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.00/hr.

Compensation for HVAC workers in California, in general, is higher than the rest of the country, perhaps because the cost of living is much greater, as well. In fact, the average annual salary for HVAC workers in the Golden State was $54,750, according to the BLS (May 2016), with the following percentiles:

California (25,360 HVAC workers): $54,750 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,790
  • 25th percentile: $38,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,500
  • 75th percentile: $67,320
  • 90th percentile: $87,940

In hourly figures, these figures equated to:

California: $26.32/hour average

  • 10th percentile: $14.80
  • 25th percentile: $18.27
  • 50th percentile (median): $24.76
  • 75th percentile: $32.37
  • 90th percentile: $42.28

Furthermore, the BLS (May 2016) offers regional statistics, as well. There are 13 BLS-designated regions within 100 miles of the San Francisco Bay Area with the following numbers of HVAC workers, average salaries, and wage percentiles:

Modesto, CA (330 HVAC workers): $46,500 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $32,940
  • 25th percentile: $35,760
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,460
  • 75th percentile: $56,690
  • 90th percentile: $66,050

Napa, CA (80 HVAC workers): $60,820 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $35,220
  • 25th percentile: $42,880
  • 50th percentile (median): $50,720
  • 75th percentile: $74,780
  • 90th percentile: $111,550

North Coast Region of California Nonmetropolitan Area (190 HVAC workers): $48,240 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,150
  • 25th percentile: $33,910
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,990
  • 75th percentile: $58,560
  • 90th percentile: $75,200

Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA Metropolitan Division (1,530 HVAC workers): $60,080 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $33,890
  • 25th percentile: $42,230
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,130
  • 75th percentile: $72,280
  • 90th percentile: $103,310

Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA (2,030 HVAC workers): $47,820 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $30,220
  • 25th percentile: $34,330
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,560
  • 75th percentile: $61,150
  • 90th percentile: $75,490

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA (2,310 HVAC workers): $59,590 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $34,150
  • 25th percentile: $42,340
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,570
  • 75th percentile: $71,710
  • 90th percentile: $99,240

San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division (680 HVAC workers): $55,870 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $34,130
  • 25th percentile: $41,560
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,280
  • 75th percentile: $63,350
  • 90th percentile: $88,870

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (1,640 HVAC workers): $75,470 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $34,290
  • 25th percentile: $45,160
  • 50th percentile (median): $80,700
  • 75th percentile: $98,130
  • 90th percentile: $119,140

San Rafael, CA Metropolitan Division (110 HVAC workers): $75,940 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $40,610
  • 25th percentile: $62,370
  • 50th percentile (median): $73,520
  • 75th percentile: $83,860
  • 90th percentile: $119,050

Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA (Data not released on number of HVAC workers): $53,870 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,860
  • 25th percentile: $37,060
  • 50th percentile (median): $52,050
  • 75th percentile: $64,500
  • 90th percentile: $87,630

Santa Rosa, CA (370 HVAC workers): $67,520 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $42,170
  • 25th percentile: $53,590
  • 50th percentile (median): $62,530
  • 75th percentile: $85,410
  • 90th percentile: $98,060

Stockton-Lodi, CA (420 HVAC workers): $45,580 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $26,030
  • 25th percentile: $32,730
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,270
  • 75th percentile: $57,780
  • 90th percentile: $64,230

Vallejo-Fairfield, CA (280 HVAC workers): $39,160 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $20,810
  • 25th percentile: $27,100
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,190
  • 75th percentile: $47,070
  • 90th percentile: $50,960

Accredited HVAC Schools in San Francisco

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.

Aspiring HVAC workers seeking a formal education may consider the certificate program from the University of California at Berkeley. 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; and HVAC system load calculations and psychrometry. The HVAC certificate costs between $4,875–$5,285, not including additional fees or materials. Graduates receive a certificate of accomplishment from the Golden Gate Chapter of the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Finally, aspiring HVAC workers can consider a degree program such as the associate in sciences (A.S) degree in environmental control technology available at Laney College in Oakland. This program focuses on commercial HVAC systems and has instruction in the fundamentals of electricity for ECT; mechanical and electrical devices; motors and drives; advanced refrigeration; the fundamentals of heating and air conditioning; and HVAC installation, among other topics. This school also has certificates of achievement and A.S. programs in residential and light commercial HVAC and refrigeration; refrigeration technology; and building performance and energy efficiency. Tuition costs $46 per unit for residents and $230 for nonresidents.

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 June 2017, 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.

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 (26 percent of exam questions)
  • Fabrication, Installation and Startup (27 percent)
  • Troubleshooting, Repair, and Maintenance (22 percent)
  • Safety (25 percent)

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 licensure and permits prior to beginning work.