HVAC Trade Schools & Certifications in San Jose, CA

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The climate in San Jose, California (CA) is distinguished by summers that are hot and dry. Daytime temperatures are consistently in the high 80s. Evenings bring relief from the heat with lows in the mid-50s. Winters are cool with lower temperatures and rain. Daytime highs are in the mid-60s, and nighttime lows are in the 40s. Up to three inches of rainfall each month, with February receiving the greatest amount of precipitation. Temperatures rarely drop to freezing, and the occasional snowfall melts quickly.

San Jose is the county seat of Santa Clara County but is better known as the capital of Silicon Valley. Founded in 1777 as the first city in California, San Jose was part of Mexico from 1821 to 1848. The city briefly served as California’s first state capital and since then, this rural area with an economy based on agriculture has grown into an urban center of high technology.

Business Insider ranked the San Jose area as one of the “places with the best economies in the country.” It’s home to dozens of large and small high-tech companies as well as medical and educational institutions. Technology-based businesses “continue to grow and expand in the 21st century, as does the growth of service and support businesses.” Various governmental agencies and supporting organizations continue to fuel the economy.

Although the weather isn’t extreme, the residents of San Jose depend on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort when working, playing, or relaxing at home. Commercial-scale refrigeration (HVAC/R) is essential to keep electronic equipment in businesses and institutions operating correctly. The use, and development, of high-tech equipment, necessitates climate-controlled facilities that often incorporate specialized systems.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reports that 1,920 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in San Jose, CA as of May 2019. Technicians and their employers receive training and support online and via local industry organizations that include:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Northern California Mechanical Contractors Association
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association Bay Area Chapter
  • Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 104
  • UA Local 38, Plumbers & Pipefitters
  • UA Local Union 393 Plumbers, Steamfitters, and HVAC/R Service Technicians

These and other industry associations advocate with state and local agencies and authorities to solve industry issues and establish educational, licensing, and performance standards designed to ensure the health and safety of members and the public.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in San Jose, CA

The BLS (May 2019) expects the demand for new employees to increase by an average of 4 percent for all occupations in the U.S. between 2019 and 2029. Opportunities for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians are expected to rise 4 percent nationwide during the same decade—which is as fast as the average growth figure.

And the demand for new technicians in California is growing even faster than national expectations. Projections Central (2021) predicted a 12.5 percent statewide increase between 2018 and 2028. With the expected addition of 4,100 new positions in California and 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession in CA and across the country.

Growth in the HVAC industry is primarily driven by the construction of new residences and commercial structures. The current emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction also contributes to industry growth as businesses require sophisticated equipment and systems, especially in the newest “smart” buildings. When new systems are not installed, the old equipment and systems in existing buildings must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet current environmental standards.

Effective May 2019, San Jose has implemented an Energy and Water Building Performance Ordinance. Commercial and large multifamily buildings are encouraged to track their resource consumption. They will be on a five-year cycle to complete upgrades and improve their performance.

Due to their complexity, modern climate control systems require trained technicians for installation and maintenance. The best job prospects go to technicians who have honed their troubleshooting skills and those who are proficient with computers and electronics. Workers who specialize in new installations occasionally experience seasonal unemployment. That’s unlikely in San Jose anytime soon due to the energy ordinance and forecasts of continued strong economic growth.

Technicians who perform maintenance and repair services can expect year-round employment as residents and businesses need to keep their equipment and systems operating regardless of the economy.

HVAC Salaries in San Jose, CA

According to the BLS (May 2019), HVAC professionals earn relatively generous salaries, particularly in California and San Jose. HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730 according to a May 2019 BLS report. Technicians in San Jose, CA received an annual median salary of $68,750. 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 third most expensive state, coming in behind only 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 Jose, CA
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 29,650 1,920
Average mean wage $51,420 $59,550 $71,460
10th Percentile $30,610 $33,580 $35,320
25th Percentile $37,660 $41,730 $48,200
50th Percentile (Median) $48,730 $56,690 $68,750
75th Percentile $62,070 $71,710 $92,660
90th Percentile $77,920 $93,740 $104,070

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 (2021), 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): $48,246
  • 90th percentile: $75,000

HVAC Apprenticeships in San Jose, CA

In the past, HVAC and HVAC/R workers were able to find employment as assistants. They learned their skills through on-the-job training. That has become more difficult, and these days most workers attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Formal training offers more employment opportunities. There are also increased opportunities for higher wages as novice technicians, and they can earn more throughout their career.

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). The State of California Department of Industrial Relations maintains a database of apprenticeship programs. As of December 2020, five HVAC-related programs are available in Santa Clara County; however, not all programs are accepting apprentices at all times.

California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association provides trade apprenticeships throughout the state. The HVAC apprenticeship program is available in San Jose, sponsored by UA Local Union 393 at the Pipe Trades Training Center. Applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be physically able to perform the work
  • Pass an aptitude test and oral interview
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English
  • Have a valid California driver’s license
  • Verify their legal right to work in the U.S.

Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis

Apprentices can expect to complete a total of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training during their five-year apprenticeship. They also attend classes two nights a week for a total of 216 hours each year. Graduates are awarded journey-level status.

The Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 and the Bay Area Training Fund offer HVAC apprenticeship training in San Jose. Applicants must meet the same general requirements as above. Apprentices complete a five-year program that includes on-the-job training and classroom work.

Additional HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs are available through national industry associations such as:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details are available on their websites.

Additionally, J & J Air Conditioning, a San Jose HVAC contractor, provides in-house air conditioning instruction and research training. The training has received the Air Conditioning Contractors of America Award for Excellence in Training. Classes include:

  • Basic refrigeration systems
  • Basic electrical troubleshooting for HVAC
  • Gas heating – rooftop packaged equipment and boilers
  • Rooftop packaged equipment
  • VAV Box car systems
  • Beginning pneumatics
  • Airflow and duct design for HVAC

Classes are conducted in the evening at the company’s business location. Each class is $495.

Accredited HVAC Schools in San Jose, CA

When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and by which organization. Accreditation is a process in which an independent agency evaluates the quality of a program, which includes both the curriculum and the instructors.

Two industry organizations accredit HVAC programs. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has awarded accreditation to Mount San Antonio Community College in Walnut, CA. HVAC Excellence has accredited the following programs:

  • Brownson Technical School, Anaheim CA
  • Cypress College, Cypress, CA
  • Mount San Antonio Community College, Walnut, CA
  • North American Training Center, Redlands, CA

Mount San Antonio Community College is included in the schools profiled below, due to its accreditation, although attending would probably require San Jose students to temporarily relocate as the commute is too long to be practical otherwise.

City College of San Francisco

City College offers an HVAC/R certificate program providing training, instruction, and theory in the design and repair of HVAC/R systems and equipment. Combining theory with hands-on training, this program has been designed for simulating the skills and work environment needed for excelling in this challenging field.

The coursework may be completed online and on-campus in classrooms and labs. Students complete 9.5 units to earn their certificate. The curriculum includes instruction in applied fluid mechanics, HVAC system fundamentals, HVAC/R fundamentals, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) building information modeling.

Upon completion of this program, students may obtain the certificate of accomplishment in HVAC/R. They are qualified to seek employment as entry-level HVAC/R installers, mechanics, and technicians.

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: California Residents ($46 per unit); non-California residents ($290 per unit)

Institute for Business and Technology

The institute offers a commercial refrigeration heating and air conditioning diploma program. Students learn through classroom lectures and hands-on training in a lab. The program provides students with the skills and knowledge needed for a rewarding entry-level career in the HVAC/R field. Through aggressive training, students in this program gain the confidence needed for working in this ever-changing and highly technical industry.

The length in clock-hours for this HVAC/R program is 840. The curriculum includes courses such as basic electricity theory, basic refrigeration theory, advanced electric/commercial refrigeration, heat pump systems, commercial/residential air conditioning & heat pumps, heating systems, and advanced troubleshooting and equipment installation.

Students also learn how to install, service, and repair commercial and residential HVAC/R systems. Graduates are qualified to sit for industry certification exams such as HVAC Excellence, EPA certification, 410A, and OSHA. Certifications can increase the employability and wages of technicians. Upon completion, graduates can take up a variety of entry-level employment opportunities in property management facilities, contracting services, and hospitals. They can take up roles such as assistant facilities manager, field service technician, and maintenance technician.

  • Location: Santa Clara, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 42 weeks
  • Estimated Tuition: $14,461

Laney College

The college offers four certificate programs as part of environmental control technology, as follows:

  • Building automation systems – 48 units
  • Commercial HVAC systems – 52.5 units
  • Refrigeration technology – 16.5 units
  • Residential and light commercial HVAC/R – 27 units

Except for refrigeration technology, credits earned in the other certificate programs may be applied toward the degree programs of the same names.

The curriculum includes subjects such as the fundamentals of electricity, PC hardware and building software, technical mathematics, motors and drives, mechanical and electrical devices, direct digital controls, troubleshooting, reading and interpreting blueprints, welding, HVAC installation, psychrometrics and load calculations, HVAC system design, mechanical and electrical codes, and refrigeration.

Students will also complete additional and advanced coursework relevant to the certificate they are seeking.

Those preferring a degree will complete the above coursework along with advanced technology subjects. They will also complete required general education courses in natural science, social and behavioral science, humanities, language, and ethnic studies. They may choose from general education and other electives to accumulate the 60 units needed to earn their degree.

Upon completion, students can seek employment as heating, ventilation, air conditioning technicians, building engineers & technicians, and refrigeration technicians.

  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificates (varies); degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit

Mount San Antonio Community College

Mount San Antonio offers an HVAC/R technology certificate and degree program. Coursework for both programs is divided between classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab. Credits earned in either program may be transferred to a bachelor’s degree program if students first consult with an academic advisor.

The curriculum for the certificate program includes the following: technical mathematics, welding, codes and standards, refrigeration fundamentals, electrical fundamentals, gas heating, heat load calculations and design, air properties and management, and commercial systems.

Students complete 31.5 units and are qualified to seek entry-level employment as HVAC technicians.

Degree-seeking students complete 61.5 units that include the above coursework as well as other courses in public speaking and freshman composition, science and math, art and humanities, social science, lifelong understanding, and electives.

These programs prepare students for employment in this broad field of HVAC/R leading to occupations in 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)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (one year); degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit

San Jose City College

The college offers two HVAC/R technology certificate programs as well as an HVAC/R technology degree program. Coursework in all programs is divided between classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab.

The HVAC/R technology Level 2 certificate includes 20.5 units, comprising the following:

  • HVAC/R principles
  • Intermediate air conditioning
  • Refrigeration service
  • Facilities management

The HVAC/R technology Level 3 certificate includes the above, as well as refrigeration service, hydronics & air systems, control systems, and facilities management. Students also choose from technical electives to accumulate a total of 32 units to earn their certificate.

Degree program participants complete all the above as well as some of the following technical electives:

  • Computer information systems
  • Residential/commercial wiring
  • Residential plumbing
  • Electrical concepts
  • Low and high-pressure boilers
  • Programmable logic controllers
  • Sheet metal principles
  • Industrial electronics and controls

They also choose from general education electives that include written and oral communication, critical thinking, physical science, life science, fine arts, humanities, social and behavioral science, physical health, and cultural diversity. They complete a total of 60 units to earn their degree.

Upon completion, graduates can take up roles such as refrigeration technician, facilities technician, air conditioning technician, estimator, counter sales, and many such roles.

  • Location: San Jose, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificates (varies); degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: $46 per unit

Silicon Valley Adult Education

The school is part of the Metropolitan Education District (MetroED) and offers an HVAC program through its Career Technical Education division. Classes are offered two evenings a week. Students practice on classroom equipment and obtain hands-on experience as assistants to the college staff. They learn how to maintain, repair, and adjust residential and commercial HVAC/R equipment. Graduates receive:

  • A certificate of completion
  • Level One HVAC technician, green certification
  • Morrell Foundation tool kit scholarship
  • College credit from San Jose City College if they maintain grade B or above

They are also qualified to sit for industry exams that include:

  • EPA Certification
  • Preventive Maintenance Technician Certification
  • OSHA 10
  • Green Mechanical Council Certification

The goal of the program is to provide workplace skills that increase employability as technicians.

  • Location: San Jose, CA
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four months
  • Estimated Tuition: $410

HVAC Certification & Licensing in San Jose, CA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who maintain, service, repair, or dispose of equipment that uses refrigerants to obtain Section 608 certification. Obtaining certification requires passing an exam on refrigerant-handling safety. The four types of certification are:

  • Type I – small appliances
  • Type II – high-pressure appliances
  • Type III – low-pressure appliances
  • Universal (Type IV) – all types of equipment

Practice exams are available online.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations, which also offer Section 608 testing and certification. These include, but are not limited to:

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

Their websites include details about the certifications, cost, and requirements. For further information, visit the HVAC certifications page.

The California Contractors State Licensing Board requires HVAC contractors to be licensed for all projects that exceed $500. A self-employed technician is considered a contractor and must have a contractor’s license. Applicants must submit proof of four years of journey-level experience, a minimum of $2,500 in working capital, and workers’ compensation and general liability insurance, in addition to filing a bond, passing exams in trade and law and business, and paying the required fees.

Applicants must also disclose details of criminal convictions and be fingerprinted. An exam waiver is available to applicants with proof of five years of journey-level experience with a licensed contractor. Licenses must be renewed every two years.

The County of Santa Clara does not require additional contractor licensing. The City of San Jose requires all businesses to register. Registration requires an annual fee that is based on the size of the business.

As a final note, licensing requirements are always subject to change. HVAC professionals should verify that they are meeting the requirements of the state as well as the county and city where they work. Technicians are responsible for keeping license requirements and professional credentials up to date.

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.