HVAC Training Schools in Des Moines, Iowa (IA)

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Located at the junction of two rivers, Des Moines, Iowa (IA) has been occupied by humans for more than 7,000 years. A variety of settlers, trappers, and soldiers arrived in the 1800s and since then the area has become urbanized.

Des Moines is currently the capital of Iowa, the Polk County seat, and the largest city in the state. It is now a center for insurance, finance, and publishing. Des Moines has been noted for its favorable business climate, and the economy continues to grow. Research is another contributor as “Many area firms are active in biotechnology, researching in such fields as human, plant, and animal disease cures; safer pesticides and herbicides; and new, higher crop yields.” Technology industries such as those developing fiber optic communications and traditional service industries such as healthcare round out the economy.

Des Moines is generally hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Although the average temperatures during the summer hover in the upper 80s F, on occasion they can soar much higher. Even on the hottest days, the nights cool to the comfortable mid-60s F.

Rainfall is close to five inches monthly from May through July, and slightly more than four inches in August, creating humid conditions. Winter is short, lasting from November through February. December and January are the coldest months, with the high temperatures barely above freezing, and the lows dropping into the teens. The record low is -34 degrees F. Snow usually begins falling in November, with eight to nine inches falling from December through February. The annual snowfall totals around three feet.

The hot and humid summers and cold and snowy winters keep many residents of Des Moines indoors. They depend on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort whether relaxing at home or while at work. Reliance on technology means that many companies require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) to keep the electronic equipment operating efficiently. The research and communications facilities often need specialized climate-control systems and equipment to maintain specified air quality, temperature, and humidity levels.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) shows that 1,120 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA area. The technicians and their employers received support and services from industry organizations such as the following:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
  • Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of Iowa
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Iowa
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association
  • UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 33 Des Moines

Associations such as these work with others in the industry and governmental agencies to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards to ensure the safety of technicians and the public.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Des Moines, IA

The BLS (May 2020) workforce data indicates that HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect a 4 percent increase in new positions nationwide between 2019 and 2029. BLS data also indicates that new jobs for all US occupations during the same decade will only increase by 4 percent. The demand for Iowa HVAC technicians is even more favorable. Projections Central (2021) predicts an 18.5 percent statewide increase in new positions between 2018 and 2028.

Modern industries continue to keep the economy strong in Des Moines. Old and new companies expect sophisticated climate-controlled facilities. The city is growing, creating a demand for additional workplaces and residences. Many of the new structures are “smart buildings” that rely on technologically advanced HVAC and HVAC/R equipment and systems. Renovation of older buildings often means that obsolete equipment and systems must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet contemporary energy efficiency and pollution reduction standards.

In some instances, technological advances or changes in regulations mean that new equipment must be installed even if the structure was recently built. Many of the businesses in Des Moines require specialized climate-controlled areas.

Climate-control systems and equipment continue to increase in complexity. HVAC and HVAC/R technicians must have extensive training to install, maintain, or service contemporary systems. Technicians are expected to be skilled in using computers, understand electronics, and be proficient troubleshooters if they want the best job opportunities. Those choosing to specialize in new installations may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines.

Iowa’s prominence in politics, especially during election years, contributes to the thriving hospitality industry in Des Moines. The venues serving visitors create an ongoing need for HVAC and HVAC/R installations. The overall prosperity and growth of the area also make a decline unlikely in the foreseeable future. Technicians who focus on maintenance and service can expect year-round employment as businesses and homeowners want to keep their systems in good operating condition regardless of the economy.

HVAC Salaries in Des Moines, IA

Not only is HVAC a high-growth profession, but it is also relatively lucrative, especially for a profession requiring only one to two years of postsecondary training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020), there were 344,020 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $53,410, and 4,010 HVAC mechanics and installers in Iowa with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $53,280. The BLS also stated that there were 1,120 HVAC mechanics and installers in Des Moines with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $57,340.

The table below is a comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

The BLS (May 2020) reported the following salary figures in Des Moines, IA:

United States Iowa Des Moines, IA
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 344,020 4,010 1,120
Annual Mean Wage $53,410 $53,280 $57,340
10th Percentile $31,910 $34,370 $36,530
25th Percentile $39,320 $41,480 $44,450
50th Percentile (Median) $50,590 $53,060 $58,160
75th Percentile $64,350 $64,400 $70,210
90th Percentile $80,820 $75,970 $79,530

The national figures were a bit different according to another source of data, Payscale (May 2021), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the United States:

  • 10th percentile: $32,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,649
  • 90th percentile: $77,000

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 IA had the 12th lowest cost of living in the United States for 2020. Aspiring HVAC workers in Iowa are encouraged to keep this in mind.

HVAC Apprenticeships in Des Moines, IA

In years past, workers could seek employment as helpers and gain their technical skills through on-the-job training. Few opportunities exist for doing so today. Workers need to obtain training by participating in an apprenticeship program or by attending formal classes. Appropriate training not only gives workers more employment opportunities but also potentially allows them to start at higher wages and earn more throughout their careers.

Apprenticeship programs often differ in the details, 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. Iowa Workforce Development has resources and information on registered apprenticeships for workers seeking training.

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Iowa offers a four-year HVAC apprenticeship in Des Moines. Apprentices receive 144 hours of face-to-face and online classroom instruction. They also receive 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. The Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 33 offers apprenticeships that include HVAC at the Des Moines training center. The five-year program includes 246 hours of classroom training and 1,700 to 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa sponsors a four-year HVAC apprenticeship that includes a total of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 576 hours of classroom instruction.

Service Legends, a Des Moines contractor, sponsors service/maintenance technician and HVAC installation technician apprenticeship programs. Several levels of formal instruction and on-the-job training are available.

Workers in Des Moines may obtain training from industry associations if they are unable to attend local programs. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc (ABC)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details of their programs, schedules, and fees are available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Des Moines, IA

Workers choosing to learn their skills through classroom training rather than participating in an apprenticeship should ensure that they attend a school that is accredited. To become accredited, the institution undergoes an evaluation of its curriculum and instructors by an independent agency.

HVAC programs are accredited by two industry organizations. HVAC Excellence has awarded accreditation to Scott Community College, Bettendorf, IA. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has not accredited an Iowa school. Although the commute to Scott Community College is too long to be practical for most Des Moines students, the college is included in the profiles below due to its accreditation.

Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC)

DMACC offers an HVAC/R technology diploma program and an HVAC/R degree program. Both programs include classroom lectures and hands-on practice in a lab. The program provides students with the theory, skills, and knowledge of HVAC/R equipment for systems in light commercial and residential structures.

Students in the diploma program complete 41 credits during three terms of attendance. The curriculum includes HVAC trade skills, refrigeration, electricity, trade math, residential HVAC, controls and circuits, sheet metal fabrication, communication skills, composition, and an internship.

Students seeking a degree complete the above curriculum and add two more terms of coursework. The additional curriculum includes advanced HVAC, air distribution, blueprint reading, technical physics, commercial HVAC/R, load calculations, environmental controls, interpersonal communication, and a psychology/sociology elective. They complete a total of 73 credits to earn their degree.

Students learn to install, service, and repair HVAC/R systems, install ductwork and related parts, ensure the smooth working of systems, and connect compressors and motors to control panels. Graduates mostly go on to become service and installation technicians, while some might go into sales or start their businesses.

  • Location: Ankeny, IA
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Format: On-campus
  • Expected Time to Completion: Diploma (12 months); degree (24 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: $174 per credit

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (Scott Community College)

The colleges offer an HVAC diploma program at the Scott campus. This diploma provides students with the necessary knowledge and skills needed for gaining entry-level employment as HVAC technicians. Students will receive high-quality hands-on training in installing, repairing, and maintaining a wide range of HVAC/R systems. Combining hands-on skills with laboratory experiences and classroom lectures, the program also provides students with the opportunity to complete several competency exams.

The curriculum includes computer literacy, HVAC trade skills, fundamentals of refrigeration, electricity, domestic heating, controls and circuits, interpersonal communication, advanced domestic HVAC, and industrial safety. Students complete a total of 39 credits and are qualified to take industry competency exams in residential and light commercial HVAC.

  • Location: Bettendorf, IA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Higher Learning Commission
  • Format: On-campus
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($175 per credit); online and nearby counties ($195 per credit); out-of-state ($242 per credit)

Hawkeye Community College

Hawkeye Community College offers an HVAC diploma program preparing students for employment as HVAC technicians in this industry. Students in this program learn about the basics of installing, repairing, and maintaining residential and commercial HVAC/R systems. They will work in HVAC labs on equipment such as heat pumps, air conditioners, furnaces, furnaces, boilers, and more.

The program consists of 44 credits including courses such as boiler fundamentals, introduction to HVAC/R, operation strategies, hydronic heating systems, controls for HVAC/R, residential forced-air heating systems, and applied electricity for HVAC/R, among others.

Graduates of the program will have a variety of career options such as working for commercial businesses, dealers, and distributors as service technicians and installers.

  • Location: Waterloo, Iowa
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission
  • Format: On-campus
  • Expected Time to Completion: Ten months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($202 per credit); non-resident ($221 per credit)

North Iowa Area Community College

North Iowa Area Community College offers a diploma and an AAS degree program in HVAC preparing students for employment in the industrial, commercial, and residential HVAC industry as entry-level technicians.

The diploma comprises 30 credits including courses in residential heating systems, skills & safety in the industry, troubleshooting heating systems, residential air-conditioning systems, applied math A, B, and C, communications, troubleshooting air-conditioning systems, maintenance shop operations, Ag & industrial welding, and college essentials.

All courses from the diploma are included in the associate in applied science degree which is made of 60 credits. Additional courses in this program include an introduction to entrepreneurship, commercial heating systems, workplace professionalism, commercial air-conditioning systems, control systems for HVAC, sheet metal fabrication, systems design, technical graphics, and network essentials.

The program opens up several opportunities for graduates. They can take up roles such as HVAC lab technician, commercial HVAC controls technician, HVAC sales manager, commercial HVAC service technician, and HVAC parts manager.

  • Location: Mason City, IA
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: Diploma (12 months); AAS (24 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Iowa residents ($165.75 per credit); non-residents ($248.63 per credit)

Des Moines workers who are unable to attend one of the above colleges may find that online HVAC training at an accredited online school will meet their needs.

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Des Moines, IA

Technicians who work with refrigerants are required by Federal law to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. The four levels of certifications are:

  • Type 1: small appliances
  • Type II: high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III: low-pressure refrigerants
  • Universal HVAC certification: for technicians who will work on all types of equipment

Practice exams are available on the EPA website.

Section 608 testing and certification is available from industry organizations such as Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and HVAC Excellence. These and similar organizations also offer additional training and certification programs. Further information is available on the HVAC certifications page.

The State of Iowa Department of Public Health requires anyone working in the mechanical trades (which includes HVAC) or contracting for services in the mechanical trades to obtain a license. Apprentices are also required to be licensed. Apprentices must be in a registered program. Journey-level technicians must submit proof of education and experience, and pass a trade exam.

Contractors must submit proof of general liability insurance, a surety bond, workers compensation insurance, and be a master of record. The license fees vary. Licenses are valid for up to three years. Contractors are additionally required to register with the Iowa Workforce Development Division of Labor.

A service technician HVAC specialty license is available as a sublicense under an HVAC/R or mechanical license that “allows licensees to perform work from the appliance shutoff valve to the appliance and any part or component of the appliance, including the disconnection and reconnection of the existing appliance to the gas piping and the installation of a shutoff valve not more than three feet away from the appliance.” Applicants must submit proof of certification from North American Technician Excellence (NATE) or other board-approved organizations.

The City of Des Moines does not require business licenses for contractors or HVAC technicians.

As licensing agencies can change their guidelines at any time, HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they comply 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.