HVAC Schools in Tampa and St. Petersburg, FL

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Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida (FL) are two neighboring coastal cities located on peninsulas that jut into Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. The bays, towns, and surrounding areas are collectively known as the Tampa Bay area.

The water moderates the climate at the cost of high humidity. Summertime temperatures in the area range from highs in the 90s to lows in the 70s. High temperatures in the winters are in the 70s and lows drop into the 50s. No month is without rain, with seven or more inches a month during the summer.

St. Petersburg, however, has earned the nickname of “The Sunshine City” as nearly every day of the year has some sunshine. Residents in the Tampa Bay area require heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) to make the heat and humidity bearable.

Although tourism is an essential part of Tampa’s economy, the city has diversified sources of revenue and growth. Construction, healthcare, insurance, finance, maritime operations, and technology all contribute to the economy. Furthermore, St. Petersburg’s beaches, art, and vibrant cultural attractions draw thousands of tourists every year.

Most recent economic growth, however, is fueled by the influx of new businesses in St. Petersburg, thanks to the city’s pro-business and favorable tax climate. Technology-based industries, hospitality venues, zoos, museums, and research facilities in both cities often require advanced, commercial-scale HVAC systems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2017), 5,450 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL area. Those technicians receive training and support from the following local industry organizations:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter
  • Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Professional Alliance
  • Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association
  • Pinellas Association of Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Contractors
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of Central Florida
  • Tampa Bay Builders Association
  • U.A. Plumbers, Pipefitters, HVAC Local Union 123

These organizations work with others in the industry and with government organizations to serve all aspects of the HVAC and HVAC/R industries, including performance and promotion.

Read on to discover how to become an HVAC professional in Tampa or St. Pete, including information on accredited training schools and credentialing.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Tampa and St. Petersburg, FL

The BLS (2018) reports that openings for technicians are expected to swell 15 percent nationally between 2016 and 2026, which is more than double the average 7 percent increase projected for all occupations in the U.S. The market for technicians in Florida is growing even faster than the national average, as Projections Central predicted a 26.8 percent statewide increase for the same decade.

The HVAC industry is booming for several reasons, including the complexity of modern climate control systems. Older equipment and systems must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet industry standards, and the sophisticated technology powering economic growth in Tampa and St. Petersburg necessitates elaborate climate control. The emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction serves to increase the opportunities for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians.

Technicians with superior troubleshooting skills as well as those who are computer- and electronics-literate generally have the best job prospects, and those who specialize in new installations may experience seasonal unemployment if growth slows.

Florida has energy programs in place that provide incentives to consumers who increase their energy efficiency. The economy is expanding and generating ongoing construction of new business facilities, hospitality venues, and residences. Maintenance and repair work continues all year, as businesses and homeowners depend on keeping their climate control systems in good operating condition regardless of the economy.

HVAC Salaries in Tampa and St. Petersburg, FL

The BLS (May 2017) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers in the U.S. receive a median salary of $47,080 annually. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater technicians earn an annual median wage of $38,450; however, Floridians enjoy a lower cost of living than the national average.

The following compares the national, state, and local salaries of HVAC professionals:

United States Florida Tampa and St. Petersburg
Number of employed HVAC professionals 307,060 29,450 5,450
Average annual salary $49,530 $42,260 $40,750
10th percentile $29,120 $27,410 $27,920
25th percentile $36,150 $33,030 $32.410
50th percentile (median) $47,080 $40,300 $38,450
75th percentile $60,270 $50,110 $47,780
90th percentile $75,330 $61,070 $58,390

HVAC Apprenticeships in Tampa and St. Petersburg, FL

Aspiring HVAC technicians typically attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program before they become employed professionals. Apprenticeships average 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom work annually for three to five years.

The Florida Department of Education implements and oversees registered apprenticeships. Florida laws specify that tuition should not be charged for apprenticeship programs provided by Local Education Agencies (LEA). Apprentices who complete a program are awarded a certificate of completion and are granted journey-level status. A list of available apprenticeships, including HVAC, is maintained on the Department’s website.

The Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors sponsors trade apprenticeships including those in HVAC in Tampa. Applicants must be employed by a licensed contractor. The program takes four years to complete, during which time apprentices receive a minimum of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training while attending classroom lectures two nights a week.

The Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association Inc.(RACCA) offers two apprenticeship programs in St. Petersburg; one in residential, light commercial HVAC installation and servicing, the other in commercial refrigeration servicing.

Apprentices attend classes two nights a week at Pinellas Technical College (Clearwater Campus) while receiving full-time on-the-job training from their employer. The program takes four years to complete, and tuition is $700 per year. If the employer is a member of RACCA, apprentice tuition is reduced to $600 per year.

Notably, St. Petersburg College is a recipient of a five-year Florida Apprenticeship Grant. Construction trades are among the approved programs. Applicants must contact the college for details of programs available and schedules as that information is not provided on their website.

Additionally, U.A. Plumbers, Pipefitters, HVAC Local Union 123 offers a five-year HVAC/R apprenticeship program in Tampa at no cost to the apprentice. Contact them directly for details as that information is not provided on their website.

Also, workers seeking HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs can find several available through national industry associations such as:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

Information as to coursework offered and the cost is available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Tampa and St. Petersburg, FL

While apprenticeships are one option, other workers choose to complete an accredited training program at a school. Accreditation involves an evaluation of the quality of an educational institution’s program by an independent agency. The evaluation includes both the curriculum and the instructors, and when choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and which organization granted accreditation.

Two industry organizations evaluate and accredit HVAC programs: the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), which awarded accreditation to the Technical Education Center of Osceola, and HVAC Excellence, which has accredited seven Florida schools, including Pinellas Technical College in St. Petersburg.

Please note that all of the following programs have regional or programmatic accreditation from a reputable authority.

Altierus Career College

Altierus, a private college, offers an HVAC technician certificate program. Coursework is presented in a blended format, with three days on-campus supplemented by online classes.

Students start with job safety, regulatory requirements, trade math, and how to use hand and power tools. They progress to skill-based topics such as reading blueprints and drawings, material handling, the fundamentals of air conditioning and electricity, system service and maintenance, basic and advanced heating, air distribution and ducting, and energy conservation.

The cost also includes preparation and testing for industry certifications such as OSHA safety, NCCER credentials, EPA Universal 608, and Universal R410A.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Careers Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Format: On-campus and online
  • Tuition: $14,650 for the full program
  • Program length: 36 weeks

Erwin Technical Center

Erwin Technical Center is part of the Hillsborough County Public School System. The school offers full-time day and evening HVAC technology certificate programs that consist of 80 percent hands-on lab training and 20 percent classroom lectures and independent study. The curriculum for both includes courses on safety and tool use, HVAC theory, systems components, troubleshooting and system repair, indoor air quality and air distribution systems, and much more. Graduates are prepared to take the EPA 608 certification exam.

The progression of coursework is based on Occupational Completion Points (OCP) which allows interim designations as HVAC helper, assistant, mechanic level 1, mechanic level 2, and finally, HVAC technician. Students are qualified to seek entry-level jobs as they achieve each level.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Format: On-campus
  • Tuition: $3,753 for the full program
  • Program length: 15 months for the day program; 22 months for the evening program

Florida Career College

Florida Career College offers a career-focused HVAC training program. Coursework combines classroom lectures with hands-on experience. The curriculum includes the following: electricity, motors, and HVAC controls, refrigeration theory and application, air conditioning, heating systems, and boilers, troubleshooting, green awareness, duct design and load calculation, and more. Graduates receive a diploma and are qualified for entry-level positions as HVAC technicians.

  • Location: Tampa, FL, and eight other locations in Florida
  • Format: On-campus
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
  • Tuition: $20,500 for the full program
  • Program length: 41 weeks

Technical Education Center of Osceola

The Technical Education Center of Osceola, also known as oTECH, offers an HVAC/R technology certificate. The curriculum includes classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab.

Students learn how to troubleshoot electrical and mechanical systems, maintain and service HVAC/R systems and equipment, use specialized tools, estimate job costs, and comply with local codes, as well as about health, safety, and environmental issues. They also are taught employability skills and entrepreneurship. Students receive OCPs as they progress and are qualified to seek entry-level employment as a helper, assistant, mechanic level I or II, or a technician.

Graduates are prepared to take industry exams, such as NATE, OSHA, EPA Section 608, and CPR certification. To create a professional atmosphere, students are required to wear uniforms befitting their trade. HVAC/R students dress in navy polo shirts and blue work pants.

  • Location: Kissimmee, FL
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Format: On-campus
  • Tuition: $6,387 for the full program
  • Program length: 12 to 18 months

Pinellas Technical College

Pinellas Technical College offers an HVAC/R certificate program. The coursework is scheduled based on OCPs so that students are qualified as helpers, assistants, and mechanic level I as they complete each section. The curriculum covers safety, principles of HVAC, soldering and brazing, the installation of components, electricity and wiring, equipment startup, preventative maintenance, troubleshooting, and indoor air quality.

Students who complete the coursework are prepared to take the exams for industry certifications such as EPA 608, ESCO Workplace Readiness, and NCCER.

  • Location: St. Petersburg, FL
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Format: On-campus
  • Tuition: $2,190 for the full program
  • Program length: 8 months

Suncoast Technical College

Suncoast offers an HVAC/R certificate program that is divided into OCPs that prepare students for entry-level positions as helpers, assistants, and mechanic level one. Coursework is broken down between hands-on training in the lab and classroom lectures and is available days and evenings.

The coursework is designed to prepare students to install, repair, and maintain residential and commercial HVAC/R systems. Graduates are qualified to sit for the EPA Section 608 exam. Curriculum details are not available on the website.

  • Location: Sarasota, FL
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Council on Occupational Education (COE); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; AdvancED
  • Format: On-campus
  • Tuition: $1,747.50 for the full program
  • Program length: Seven months

Southern Technical College

The college offers an HVAC diploma program in which students learn through classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab. The curriculum includes an introduction to building construction, as well as courses on electricity and electronics, motors and controls, HVAC/R theory, HVAC system design, commercial HVAC/R, and career preparation.

Graduates acquire the knowledge and experience needed to seek entry-level positions as residential and light commercial HVAC technicians.

  • Location: Brandon, FL
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Format: On-campus
  • Tuition: $17,500 for the full program
  • Program length: 40 weeks

Traviss Technical College

Traviss offers HVAC/R technology I and HVAC/R technology II programs. Students learn the basics of the installation, repair, and maintenance of HVAC/R equipment and systems through classroom lectures and hands-on training in a shop. Coursework includes troubleshooting, reading blueprints, and using technical reference manuals. OCPs are awarded as students progress. Passing the EPA Section 608 exam is a requirement for graduation.

  • Location: Lakeland, FL
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Council on Occupational Education (COE); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS); AdvancED
  • Format: On-campus
  • Tuition: $5,182.50 for the level I program; $4,846 for the level II program
  • Program Length: 25 weeks for the level I program; 20 weeks for the level II program

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Tampa and St. Petersburg, FL

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain EPA Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. The four certifications are type I for small appliances, type II for high-pressure refrigerants, type III for low-pressure refrigerants, and universal for all types of equipment. Practice exams are available on the website.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) offers online courses taught by certified instructors. Technicians can study basic and advanced HVAC and HVAC/R principles. North American Technician Excellence (NATE) provides training and certification in HVAC and HVAC/R knowledge areas. And HVAC Excellence is dedicated to improving HVAC technician competence through training and certification. Details of certifications available, qualifications, and fees are available on their websites.

As a final note, the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation issues three types of contractor HVAC and HVAC/R licenses: Class A, B, and C. Class A licenses are unlimited; Class B licenses limit contractors to 25 tons of cooling and 500,000 BTU of heating in any one system, and Class C licensees are limited to the servicing of HVAC and HVAC/R systems.

Obtaining a license requires passing the relevant exams, submitting proof of work experience, financial stability, and liability insurance, as well as paying the appropriate fees. Licenses must be renewed every two years. Renewal is dependent upon obtaining 14 units of continuing education in specific subjects.

Furthermore, the County of Hillsborough requires HVAC contractors to register, which consists of providing a copy of the state license and proof of insurance. The registration renewal date is the same date as the state license. The City of Tampa requires HVAC contractors to have either a state license or registration with Hillsborough County. They do not need to register but must be able to show their license if asked.

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board requires annual licensing of HVAC contractors. Contractors must submit a copy of their state license, proof of insurance, a completed application, and pay a fee. Renewal requires 14 units of continuing education and a fee. The City of St. Petersburg requires contractors to have a state license and/or a Pinellas county license. Both Tampa and St. Petersburg require business licenses.

All HVAC technicians are encouraged to ensure that they have the necessary credentialing before beginning any projects.