HVAC Programs in Honolulu, Hawaii (HI) – Degrees & Licensing

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As the Aloha State’s largest city and capital, the city of Honolulu, Hawaii, (HI) continues to expand and diversify its economy. Its location has made it an international center for finance, business, and transportation.

Although once dependent on agriculture, the economy of Honolulu is now based on manufacturing, military, and research and development. The University of Hawaii in Honolulu is known for its research in the areas of “oceanography, astrophysics, geophysics, and biomedicine.” Tourists flock to the beaches and attractions in Honolulu, bringing billions of dollars annually to the area.

Daytime temperatures during Honolulu summers are mostly in the mid-to-high 80s, with rare record-setting spikes into the 90s. During the winter months from December through February, the temperatures drop to the low 80s during the day. The nighttime lows during those months are in the mid-to-high 60s. Lows during the rest of the year hover in the mid-70s. An average of slightly more than 17 inches of rain falls every year, with each month receiving a share. Summer months receive the least, less than an inch every month. December receives the most precipitation, with more than three inches on average. Snow has not been recorded in Honolulu.

Although ocean breezes provide some relief, the year-round humidity keeps many Honoluluans indoors, especially during the hot summer days. They rely on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort in their homes and workplaces. The hospitality venues require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) both for comfort and to keep their equipment operating efficiently. Businesses that rely on technology and research facilities often need specialized systems and equipment to provide precise air quality, temperature, and humidity levels.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) workforce records show that 990 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Urban Honolulu area for the period ended May 2018. Local and national industry organizations provide services and support to the workers and their employers. These include but are not limited to:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Hawaii Chapter
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc Hawaii Chapter
  • Building Industry Association of Hawaii
  • General Contractors Association of Hawaii
  • Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Association of Hawaii
  • Sheet Metal Contractors National Association Hawaii Chapter
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Local 293
  • UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 675

These and similar organizations work with others in the industry and regulatory agencies to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards designed to ensure the safety of technicians and the public, as well as protect the environment.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Honolulu, HI

According to the BLS (2019), HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect a 13 percent increase in new job opportunities nationwide between 2018 and 2028. By comparison, occupational data for all new jobs for all US occupations during the same decade will only increase by 5 percent. Most fortunately, the demand for HVAC technicians in Hawaii remains favorable. Projections Central predicts a 12 percent statewide increase in new opportunities between 2016 and 2026.

Its position as a crossroads between East and West continues to fuel growth in Honolulu, creating a demand for additional business facilities and residences. The new structures are often “smart” buildings that rely on climate-control systems that are technologically advanced.

When existing buildings are put to new use, obsolete equipment and systems must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet contemporary energy efficiency and pollution reduction standards. Technological advances or changing regulations can make the installation of new systems or equipment necessary even in some newer structures. Old and new companies expect sophisticated climate-controlled facilities. Some companies and research facilities need areas or rooms with specialized HVAC and HVAC/R equipment to keep electronic systems operating efficiently.

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians must undergo comprehensive training to install, maintain, or service the complex climate-control systems and equipment now in use. They must have excellent computer and electronics skills, as well as proficiency in troubleshooting. Technicians who specialize in new installations may have occasional periods of unemployment if construction declines.

As much of the former agricultural land around Honolulu is being converted to commercial, industrial, and residential use, a decline doesn’t seem likely in the near future. The tourism industry is expected to keep growing, creating an on-going need for HVAC and HVAC/R installations. Technicians who specialize in maintenance and service can expect full-time employment as businesses and homeowners want to keep their systems in good operating condition regardless of the state of the job economy.

HVAC Salaries in Honolulu, HI

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide received a median salary of $47,610, during the period that ended in May 2018. Employment data for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians in Hawaii for the same time period shows a median salary of $60,070. The difference in earnings is less significant as it appears as the cost of living in Hawaii is much higher compared to other states.

The table below compares national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

United States Hawaii Urban Honolulu, HI
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 324,310 1,050 990
Average Annual Salary $50,160 $61,670 $61,410
10th Percentile $29,460 $34,200 $34,120
25th Percentile $36,520 $41,330 $40,800
50th Percentile (Median) $47,610 $60,070 $59,200
75th Percentile $60,900 $79,510 $79,530
90th Percentile $76,230 $96,450 $96,660

HVAC Apprenticeships in Honolulu, HI

Traditionally, workers seeking employment in the trades, including HVAC, began their career as a helper and acquired their skills through on-the-job experience. While that is still possible, fewer opportunities for doing so exist today. Contemporary workers typically gain the training they need by participating in an apprenticeship or by attending school. Training not only gives workers more job opportunities, but it also potentially allows them to start at higher wages and earn more throughout their career.

Apprenticeships often have different programs, but participants typically make a three- to five-year commitment, during which they receive 2,000 hours of on-the-job training along with an average of 144 hours of classwork each year. The State of Hawaii Workforce Development Division publishes listings of apprenticeship openings along with other resources and information for workers. Hawaii Laborers’ Apprenticeship & Training offers a construction trade apprenticeship program.

The Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Association of Hawaii and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 675 jointly sponsor a five-year refrigeration and air conditioning fitters apprenticeship program at Pearl City and Iwilei. Apprentices complete 10,000 work hours and ten semesters of classroom instruction that includes hands-on training in a state-of-the-art lab.

Workers in Honolulu who are unable to attend local programs can obtain training from industry associations such as the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society

Details of their programs, schedules, and fees can be found on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Honolulu, HI

Accreditation is the process by which an independent agency evaluates the curriculum and instructors of a program offered by an educational institution. Workers who choose to obtain HVAC training from a school should ensure that it is accredited. HVAC programs are accredited by two industry organizations: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). To date, neither organization has awarded accreditation to a Hawaii school, although the following are regionally approved.

Honolulu Community College

Honolulu Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges, offers a refrigeration and air conditioning technology certificate program and a refrigeration and air conditioning technology degree program. Coursework for both programs is a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on practice in the lab.

The curriculum for the certificate program includes basic and commercial refrigeration and air conditioning I and II. Students complete a total of 48 credits to earn their degree. The degree program adds technical math, advanced technical writing, and general education electives to the certificate curriculum, for a total of 63 credits. Both programs prepare students for entry-level positions as HVAC technicians.

  • Location: Honolulu, HI
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Tuition: $131 per credit
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Certificate one year; Degree two years

Honolulu workers who are unable to attend their local college may find that online HVAC training at an accredited online school will meet their needs.

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Honolulu, HI

Although states set their own certification and licensing requirements, all technicians who work with refrigerants are required by federal law to obtain Section 608 Certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Technicians must pass an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants to be certified. The four levels of certifications are:

  • Type 1: small appliances
  • Type II: high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III: low-pressure refrigerants
  • Type IV: universal, for technicians who will be working on all types of equipment

Further information and practice exams are available on the EPA website.

Technicians may obtain Section 608 certification and other certifications that increase their employability from industry organizations such as the following:

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

Information as to the certifications available, scheduling, and fees are available on each organization’s website. Further information is available on the HVAC certification page.

The State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs requires contractors to obtain a license. Applicants must submit a completed application along with a non-refundable fee of $50. They must also provide:

  • Financial statements and credit report
  • Proof of liability, property damage, and worker’s compensation insurance
  • Proof of four years of supervisory experience within the past ten years
  • History of projects
  • Trade name registration if applicable
  • Tax clearance

If the Contractor Licensing Board approves the application, the applicant must take two exams: business and law and trade, for which separate fees are due. The license is granted upon passing the exams and paying a fee. The fee depends on when the license is issued and is $663 unless prorated. The license must be renewed every two years for a fee of $353.

Some companies may need to designate a “Responsible Managing Employee” (RME), who will also need to be licensed. Note that HVAC contractors are classified as specialty contractors as follows: C-4 designation for boiler, hot water heating, and steam fitting contractors; C-40 designation for refrigeration contractors; and C-52 designation for venting and air conditioning contractors. All businesses are additionally required to register with the state.

The City of Honolulu does not currently require separate business licenses. As licensing agencies and governments can change their guidelines, HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they are in compliance with current 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.