HVAC Training Programs in Columbus, GA – Degrees, Certifications & Salaries

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Native Americans lived for centuries in the Chattahoochee River area now known as Columbus, GA. They engaged in fur trading with the European settlers that later moved in. The city itself resulted from an action in 1828 by the Georgia legislature, which named it after Christopher Columbus. The city’s location at the point where the Chattahoochee becomes navigable contributed significantly to Columbus’s growth. It is the county seat of Muscogee County, with which it merged in 1970 to become a consolidated city-county. It’s second in size only to Atlanta, and in combination with nearby Alabama towns, is part of Georgia’s fourth-largest metro area.

The river helped the city grow into a thriving industrial center, allowing cotton to be shipped to international markets. Textile mills reduced the area’s reliance on agriculture. Economic diversity has continued with a multitude of industries. Fort Benning, an Army post, and related businesses and suppliers are a mainstay of the economy. Dozens of insurance companies make their home in Columbus, and banking institutions have established hundreds of offices in the area. Other industries and businesses have recession-proofed Columbus, including data processing, education, food processing, health care, manufacturing, research, retail trade, and telecommunications. The city also boasts the world’s longest urban whitewater rafting course, numerous museums, and historic districts that support a robust hospitality industry.

Columbus is humid, with more than four inches of rain falling nearly every month, for an annual total of almost 50 inches. It’s also hot in the summer, with average highs in the high 90s F from June through September. Highs can reach 100+ degrees in record years, with 106 degrees being the highest recorded to date. Spring and autumn are slightly cooler, but still hot, with averages in the high to mid-80s. By November, the daytime high starts dropping, hovering in the high 50s and low 60s until March, when temperatures increase. The coldest months are December and January, averaging lows in the 40s and high 30s. Temperatures do not drop to freezing, and there is scant snowfall in December and March. Annual snowfall is less than half an inch.

Columbusites depend on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort in their homes and workplaces. The educational, healthcare, and research facilities often add refrigeration (HVAC/R) to their systems. Hospitality and entertainment venues also need refrigeration for the comfort of visitors and guests. Local attractions require controlled temperature and humidity levels, including museum displays and artifacts. Retail stores, food processing plants, and manufacturing facilities often need HVAC/R to protect their inventories and for the comfort of their workers and customers. The expanding high-tech and telecommunications industry and military-related security installations often need specialized climate-control equipment and systems to keep the electronics operating correctly.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), 290 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in Columbus, GA-AL. National, state, and local industry associations such as the following provide the technicians and their employers with resources and support:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Associated General Contractors of America of Georgia (AGCGA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Conditioned Air Association of Georgia (CAAG)
  • Greater Columbus Home Builders Association (GCHBA)
  • Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association of Georgia (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

HVAC industry organizations such as these cooperate with others in the industry, regulatory agencies, and businesses to establish and maintain educational, licensing, and performance standards for the safety of technicians, the public, and the environment.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Columbus, GA

Employment data from the BLS (2022) for the decade 2021 through 2031 shows that trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect an annual increase of five percent in new job openings. That’s a projected average of 40,100 new positions each year.

Several factors contribute to the continued growth of the HVAC industry. The construction of new commercial and residential structures is the primary factor. Renovating or remodeling older buildings in historic cities like Columbus additionally contribute significantly to industry growth. Technicians must repair, replace, or retrofit existing buildings’ aging or obsolete equipment and systems. As regulations change and new businesses have evolving technological demands, even climate-control systems in newer buildings must occasionally be replaced. Another factor contributing to sustained industry growth is the contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction.

Homes and workplaces are often “smart” buildings, whether new or modernized. Homeowners and businesses expect sophisticated climate-control equipment and systems. HVAC technicians working with those increasingly complex systems must be skilled troubleshooters, proficient with computers, and understand electronics and high-tech. Their training and expertise provide the best job opportunities.

Technicians specializing in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines. A slowdown in Columbus doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future due to the “business strength” and diverse economy. The city “has long been an economic hub of Georgia, and business leaders “believe there’s a bright future coming.” The service and telecommunications industries will only continue to expand.

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians specializing in maintenance and service can expect continuous employment as businesses and homeowners rely on year-round climate control regardless of the economy.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Columbus, GA

Data compiled by the BLS (May 2021) shows that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,630. Data collected for Columbus, GA-AL, indicates an annual median wage of $46,640. The cost of living in Georgia is lower than in other American states, so salaries are about equal.

BLS data shows national, state, and regional earnings of HVAC professionals as follows:

United States Georgia Columbus, GA-AL
Number of HVAC professionals employed 356,960 10,450 290
Average annual salary $54,690 $49,110 $44,810
10th percentile $34,320 $29,160 $28,610
25th percentile $38,450 $37,140 $36,990
50th percentile $48,630 $47,270 $46,640
75th percentile $62,000 $59,840 $51,530
90th percentile $78,210 $75,940 $59,380

HVAC Apprenticeships in Columbus, GA

Even in prosperous areas like Columbus, untrained workers have few employment opportunities. Aspiring HVAC technicians now seek the training they need by attending classes or participating in apprenticeships. Apprenticeships typically average 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom work annually for three to five years.

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association Georgia (PHCCA) sponsors a plumbing and HVAC/R apprenticeship program. The coursework is taught online. Apprentices arrange for their on-the-job training with a participating employer.

Workers can also participate in HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs from other industry associations such as the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

Each organization has details regarding available courses, scheduling, and fees on its website.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in Columbus, GA

Columbus workers who attend a school must ensure that it’s an accredited institution. Accreditation is the process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the school’s program. The evaluation includes both the curriculum and the instructors. HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) accredit HVAC programs.

HVAC Excellence has accredited the following Georgia schools:

  • Coastal Pines Technical College: Brunswick, GA; Jesup, GA; Waycross, GA
  • Lanier Technical College, Gainesville, GA Expired May 2022
  • North Georgia Technical College, Clarkesville, GA
  • Southern Crescent Technical College, Griffin, GA
  • Southern Regional Technical College: Moultrie, GA, Thomasville, GA Expired September 2022

PAHRA has accredited the following Georgia schools:

  • Georgia Piedmont Technical College, Clarkston, GA; Covington, GA
  • Gwinnett Technical College, Lawrenceville, GA
  • West Central Technical College, Carrollton, GA

Although all the accredited schools require a commute for Columbus students, Southern Crescent Technical College and West Central Technical College are the closest and are profiled below due to their accreditation.

Technical College System of Georgia

The Technical College System of Georgia includes 88 campuses throughout the state. Columbus Technical College is located in Columbus, GA. The nearest colleges in the system that offer an HVAC curriculum are:

  • South Georgia Technical College, Americas, GA
  • Southern Crescent Technical College, Griffin, GA

Specific colleges in the system offer a degree or a diploma in air conditioning technology. Most campuses offer one or more of the following certificate programs:

  • Advanced Commercial Refrigeration
  • Advanced Residential Systems Specialization
  • Air Conditioning Technician Assistant
  • Air Conditioning Electrical Technician
  • Air Conditioning Repair Specialist
  • Air Conditioning System Maintenance Technician
  • Basic Residential Air Conditioning System Design
  • Basic Residential Gas Heat System Design
  • Heating and Air Conditioning Installation Technician
  • Light Commercial Air Conditioning Specialization
  • Refrigeration System Service Technician
  • Residential Air Conditioning Technician

Not all programs are available at all colleges at all times. For example, Advanced Commercial Air Conditioning and Industrial – Commercial Air certificates have been available in the past but are not currently offered.

It should be noted that each college in the system offers identical curricula for each of its programs. Students will complete the same coursework regardless of which college they attend.

All the certificate programs start with basics such as HVAC/R fundamentals and electrical motors, components, and controls. Additional coursework that matches the title of the certificate builds on that basic knowledge. Students planning to earn a diploma may transfer the credits from a certificate program to the credits needed for the diploma. They should always consult with their class advisor or department head when planning. The certificates prepare graduates for entry-level positions.

The technical curriculum for the air conditioning technology diploma program offered by specific colleges includes refrigeration fundamentals, principles, and practices, refrigeration systems components, HVAC/R electrical fundamentals and motors, electrical components and controls, air conditioning systems applications and installation, gas heat, heat pumps and related systems, troubleshooting air conditioning systems, and an occupational elective. Students will also complete core education coursework in fundamentals of English, foundations of mathematics, and interpersonal relations and professional development to earn their diploma. Graduates are qualified to seek positions as air conditioning technicians.

Students enrolled in the air conditioning technology degree program complete the technical curriculum included in the diploma program, with the addition of residential system design, commercial refrigeration design, and a technical elective. They must also take additional general education coursework, including electives from language arts/communication, natural sciences/mathematics, social sciences, and humanities/fine arts. Graduates are qualified to take the EPA Section 608 exam and seek employment as HVAC technicians.

Columbus Technical College

Students who enroll in CTC may earn an HVAC certificate and a diploma:

  • Air conditioning technician assistant certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technology diploma – 51 credit-hours

Coursework includes a combination of air conditioning theory and practical application.

  • Location: Columbus, GA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $100 per credit
  • Program length: Certificate (three to four months); diploma (12 to 18 months)

South Georgia Technical College

SGTC students have an extensive selection of HVAC programs from which to choose. These currently include:

  • Air conditioning electrical technician certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning repair specialist certificate – 20 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technician assistant certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technology diploma – 51 credit-hours
  • Light commercial air conditioning specialist – 12 credit-hours
  • Refrigeration system service technician certificate – 20 credit-hours
  • Residential air conditioning technician certificate – 16 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technology degree – 66 credit-hours

Although coursework is typically scheduled during the days on Monday through Friday, SGTC’s policy of meeting student needs means that coursework can be scheduled during the evenings or on Saturdays if there is enough demand.

  • Location: Americas, GA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $100 per credit
  • Program length: Certificates (varies); degree (two years)

Southern Crescent Technical College

SCTC has several campuses. Students should consult an academic advisor before enrolling to determine which campus and terms a specific program is available. They have seven certificate programs from which to choose, as well as diploma and degree programs:

  • Air conditioning electrical technician certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning repair specialist certificate – 20 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning system maintenance technician certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technician assistant certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Heating and air conditioning installation technician certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Light commercial air conditioning specialization certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Residential air conditioning technician certificate – 16 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technology diploma – 51 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technology degree – 66 credit-hours

Graduates are qualified to seek employment as HVAC technicians in a variety of positions.

  • Location: Griffin, GA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $100 per credit
  • Program length: Certificates (varies); diploma (12 to 18 months); degree (two years)

West Central Technical College

WCTC has nine campuses. Currently, the HVAC programs are available only at the Carroll and LaGrange campuses. Students may choose certificates or a diploma program.

  • Air conditioning electrical technician certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning repair certificate – 20 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technician assistant certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Heat and air conditioning installation technician certificate – 12 credit-hours
  • Air conditioning technology diploma – 51 credit-hours

Graduates are qualified to seek employment as HVAC technicians in a variety of positions.

  • Location: Carrollton, GA
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $100 per credit
  • Program length: Certificates (varies); diploma (12 to 18 months)

Columbus students who are unable to attend any of the above schools may find that online institutions can better meet their needs. More information on accredited programs is available at online HVAC training.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Columbus, GA

Refrigerants can pose a danger if not correctly managed. Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires HVAC and HVAC technicians to obtain Section 608 certification. Four certification levels are available based on the type and size of equipment on which a technician works. Each level described below requires technicians to pass a specific exam on refrigerant safety:

  • Type I – for servicing small appliances
  • Type II – for servicing or disposing of high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and automotive air conditioning
  • Type III – for servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances
  • Universal – for servicing all types of equipment

The EPA includes details of the criteria for each certification on its website.

Section 608 certification and other certifications that increase a technician’s employability are available from industry organizations such as the following:

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

Each organization includes details of availability, scheduling, and fees on its website. There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.

The Georgia State Board of Conditioned Air Contractors requires all HVAC contractors with residential or commercial projects of $2,500 or more to obtain a license. Applicants with four years of qualifying experience may obtain a Class I restricted license. Qualifying experience includes two years of residential installation experience as a lead technician, and one year each as a service technician and a residential supervisory position. Applicants must also complete a board-approved heat loss and gain and a duct design course. They may work on systems and equipment systems or equipment not exceeding 175,000 BTU of heating and 60,000 BTU of cooling.

A Class II unrestricted license is available to applicants with five years of experience that includes installing systems of at least 175,000 BTU heating and 60,000 cooling. Their experience requirement adds one year of commercial-only installation and two years of commercial supervisory experience to the Class I requirement.

Applicants who have completed a diploma program in engineering may receive credit for up to two years of experience. Those who have completed a certificate program may receive credit for one year of experience. All applicants must have Section 608 certification.

Applicants for both licenses must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, submit a notarized application with education and experience verification, submit proof of U.S. citizenship or right-to-work documents, undergo a background check, pass a licensing exam, and pay a fee.

As applicable, licensed contractors must submit proof of liability insurance, surety bond, and workers’ compensation insurance. Licenses must be renewed biannually. Renewal requires the completion of four units of approved continuing education. Each business must also be registered, which entails submitting a notarized application. A fee is not required for registration.

The City of Columbus requires all businesses operating within the City and Muscogee County to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the Department of Inspections and Codes, obtain applicable state licensing, and apply for a business license. The license fee is based on gross receipts for most businesses.

Licensing regulations are always subject to change. HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they comply with current state and local guidelines before starting a project.

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.