HVAC Programs in Grand Rapids, MI – Degrees & Licensing

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People have lived in the area now known as Grand Rapids, MI, for thousands of years. Several Native American tribes hunted, fished, and farmed in the region. The French were the first European settlers, followed by Jesuit missionaries. The year 1806 saw the first fur-trading posts in what is now the city of Grand Rapids. The village was incorporated in 1850. The city is now the county seat of Kent County, part of the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, and second in size only to Detroit.

The early lumber industry evolved into an economy based on furniture manufacturing. Grand Rapids is now home to leading office furniture manufacturing companies. Although manufacturing remains significant, the economy has diversified into industries that include automotive, aviation, health care, retail trade, and technology. Food processing, agriculture, and tourism are also mainstays of the economy. Businesses such as Amway, Bissell, Farmers Insurance, GE Aviation, and Wolverine call Grand Rapids home. The economy is “consistently ranked as one of the best and fastest growing in the country.”

Grand Rapids is hot and muggy in the summer, and the winters are cold and snowy. The highs in June, July, and August average in the 80s F. Temperatures average about 20 degrees cooler during the summer nights. An average of four inches of rain falls each month from April through October, bringing the annual total to just under 40 inches. It starts snowing in November and doesn’t stop until March. Between six and seven feet of snow falls each year. High temperatures during those months hover in the low 40s and low-to-mid 30s.

It doesn’t get above freezing during the days in January. The winter lows never get above freezing and can dip into the teens. Relative humidity rarely drops below 70 percent all year. The Grand River flows through the center of the city, leaving the residents vulnerable to flooding in years of excessive precipitation.

The humidity, summer heat, and cold and snowy winters make heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) essential. Residents rely on HVAC for comfort in their homes and workplaces. Adding refrigeration (HVAC/R) is essential for manufacturing facilities, food processing centers, educational institutions, and healthcare complexes. Retail businesses and the hospitality industry also add refrigeration for the comfort of their customers and visitors. The expanding information technology businesses and using high-tech in other industries require specialized climate-control systems and equipment to keep their electronics operating correctly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) reports that 1,940 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming area as of May 2021. Numerous industry associations provide resources and support to technicians and their employers. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
  • Michigan Air Conditioning Contractors Association (MICCA)
  • Michigan Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Association (MPMCA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • West Michigan Mechanical Contractors Association (WMMCA)
  • UA Local 174 West Michigan Plumbers, Fitters and Service Trades
  • UA Local 190 Plumbers, Pipefitters, Service Technicians and Gas Distribution

Organizations such as these cooperate with others in the HVAC 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 Grand Rapids, MI

The BLS (2022) job outlook for the decade 2021 through 2031 shows that trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect a 5 percent increase in new job openings. That’s a projected average of 40,100 new positions each year.

Sustained growth in the HVAC industry is primarily the result of the construction of new commercial and residential structures. The HVAC industry continues to show sustained growth, primarily due to the construction of new commercial and residential structures. Renovating or remodeling older buildings in historic cities like Grand Rapids contributes significantly to industry growth. Obsolete and aging climate control systems and equipment in those existing buildings must be repaired, replaced, or retrofitted to meet changing business requirements.

Sometimes, climate control systems in newer structures are replaced due to evolving regulations, technological advances, and the requirements of new businesses. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction is yet another factor contributing to industry growth.

New and older structures are frequently “smart.” Homes and workplaces now incorporate sophisticated climate-control equipment and systems. The complexity of modern climate control requires trained HVAC technicians. Technicians must be skilled troubleshooters, proficient with computers, and understand electronics and high-tech to install or service the systems. Training gives technicians the expertise needed to obtain the best jobs.

Technicians specializing in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if new developments decline. A slowdown doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future in Grand Rapids. Industry diversification has kept the economy strong despite supply chain issues and inflation, and business leaders remain optimistic. Many construction projects are planned or already underway, and the population continues to increase. “Now the area has a new economic goal: To become the Midwest’s leading technology cluster by 2031.”

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 Grand Rapids, MI

The BLS (May 2021) reports that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,630. For the Grand Rapids-Wyoming area of Michigan, BLS reports an annual median wage of $57,920. The cost of living in Michigan is lower than in other American states, so the difference in wages is more significant than it appears.

The BLS (May 2021) reports national, state, and regional earnings of HVAC professionals as follows:

United States Michigan Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 356,960 9,480 1,940
Average annual salary $54,690 $54,750 $55,590
10th percentile $34,320 $36,780 $36,900
25th percentile $38,450 $39,410 $45,450
50th percentile $48,630 $49,410 $57,920
75th percentile $62,000 $62,160 $62,160
90th percentile $78,210 $77,770 $76,170

HVAC Apprenticeships in Grand Rapids, MI

Few opportunities exist for untrained workers. Aspiring HVAC technicians now seek training by attending classes or participating in apprenticeships. Time spent in classrooms varies according to the expertise sought. Apprenticeships typically include specified hours of on-the-job training, usually 2,000 hours, and classroom work, usually 144 hours, annually for three to five years.

The Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity provides registered apprenticeship information and support to employers and aspiring apprentices. UA Local 333 Plumbers, Pipefitters, HVAC Mechanics offers a five-year plumbers and pipefitters apprenticeship program. Apprentices complete 9,000 hours of on-the-job training and 1,000 hours of classroom instruction. The program is available in Lansing, Jackson, and Battle Creek.

As these all require a commute for Grand Rapids workers, they may find the HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs sponsored by industry associations such as the following will better meet their needs:

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

Details regarding available courses, scheduling, and fees are on each organization’s website.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in Grand Rapids, MI

It’s essential that students choosing to attend school select an accredited institution. Various independent agencies and organizations offer accreditation, which evaluates the quality of the curriculum and the instructors.

Two organizations are recognized as accrediting HVAC and HVAC/R programs. HVAC Excellence has accredited Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, MI. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has awarded accreditation to Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, MI. Due to its accreditation, Washtenaw is included in the schools profiled below, although attending would require Grand Rapids students to commute. The Higher Learning Commission, a reputable regional organization, has accredited all the profiled schools.

Grand Rapids Community College

GRCC offers an HVAC/R technology certificate and an HVAC/R technology degree. Both programs feature classroom lectures and hands-on practice in the lab. Graduates of either program are qualified to seek employment as HVAC/R technicians.

The curriculum for the certificate program includes basic refrigeration, refrigeration applications, metallic and non-metallic joining, HVAC controls, HVAC theory, blueprint reading and design, duct construction and design, HVAC/R electronic controls, mechanical codes, commercial refrigeration, and advanced HVAC/R. They also choose one of the following electives: direct digital controls, boiler operation, or geothermal HVAC systems. They receive their certificate after 38 credits.

Students enrolled in the degree program complete all the technical coursework. They also complete a math elective and select either an HVAC internship or a technical elective. They must also complete 15 hours of general education electives from English, humanities, social science, and natural sciences. They earn their degree after 60 credits. Students planning to obtain a higher degree from another institution must meet additional general education requirements.

  • Location: Grand Rapids, MI
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $118 per credit
  • Program length: Certificate (30 weeks); degree (two years)

Kalamazoo Valley Community College

The college offers an HVAC certificate program that prepares students for entry-level positions as HVAC technicians and installers. The curriculum includes electricity, HVAC controls, refrigeration, EPA recovery/certification, heating concepts and systems, sheet metal layout, oil burners, hydronic heat, hot water boiler, HVAC system design, low-temp commercial refrigeration, heat pumps, chilled water systems, shop fundamentals or duct design, and customer relations. Students complete a minimum of 37 credits to earn their certificate.

  • Location: Kalamazoo, MI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $120 per credit
  • Program length: 20 months

Lansing Community College

LCC students may obtain an HVAC certificate or an HVAC degree, or they may choose an HVAC/R energy management engineering technology degree. Coursework in all programs is presented in classroom lectures, followed by hands-on training in the lab.

Students seeking a certificate complete the following curriculum: HVAC fundamentals, applied electricity, HVAC/R piping, sheet metal fabrication and installation, air conditioning, heating, hydronics, refrigeration, and general industrial safety. They are awarded their certificate after 45 hours.

Students enrolled in the HVAC degree program complete all the technical coursework included in the certificate program. They add the following technical curriculum: mechanical code, heat pumps, direct digital controls, and two electives from the following: introduction to the build environment, drafting/intro to CAD, National Electric Code, electric motor maintenance, residential energy, and combination welding. They must also complete general education electives in English, humanities, fine arts, mathematics, and natural sciences. They are awarded their degree after 87 hours.

The HVAC/R energy management engineering degree is designed as a transfer degree to another school for a bachelor’s degree. Institutions to which students plan to transfer may require additional coursework. To earn their Lansing degree, they must complete 78 hours. The curriculum includes the same technical coursework as the HVAC degree program, including precalculus, physics, public speaking, composition, technical writing, world regional geography, and mythology. They must also complete the same general education courses as students in the HVAC program to earn their degree.

  • Location: Lansing, MI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $114 per hour
  • Program length: Certificates (vary); degree (two years)

Washtenaw Community College

Washtenaw offers students two HVAC/R certificate programs and three HVAC/R degree programs.

The HVAC/R – Residential certificate program includes the following coursework: HVAC, sheet metal fabrication, residential and light commercial heating systems, residential and light commercial air conditioning systems, residential HVAC competency exams and codes, and soldering and brazing. They complete 25 credits to earn their certificate.

The HVAC/R – Commercial Trade advanced certificate is designed as a capstone to the HVAC/R residential certificate. The curriculum includes refrigeration systems, hydronic systems, commercial industry standards with competency exams, energy audits, and air system design and layout. The program requires 17 credits to complete.

Students enrolled in the HVAC/R degree program complete all the coursework in both certificate programs. They also complete electives in math, writing, arts, humanities, natural science, social science, and speech for 60 credits to receive their degree.

The HVAC/R/EMU Technology degree program meets the requirements for transfer to the Eastern Michigan bachelor’s degree program. Students complete a maximum 90 credits of technical and general education coursework at Washtenaw, then finish with a minimum of 30 credits at Eastern Michigan. The articulation agreements between the schools guide the coursework details at each institution. Prospective students should consult with an academic advisor before enrolling.

The HVAC/R/WSU Electromec or Mechanical Engineer Tech degree program is designed for transfer to the Wayne State University bachelor’s degree program. Students complete a maximum of 76 credits of technical and general education coursework at Washtenaw, then transfer to Wayne State and finish earning their degree with a minimum of 48 credits there. The articulation agreements between the schools determine the details of coursework required at each. Prospective students should consult with an academic advisor before enrolling.

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $95 per credit
  • Program length: Certificates (vary); degree (two years)

Grand Rapids students who cannot attend one 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 Certification and Licensing in Grand Rapids, MI

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who handle refrigerants are required by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to have Section 608 certification. The regulations specify four certification types, and technicians must pass an exam for each type. The exams are based on the kind and size of equipment on which the technician works, as follows:

  • 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

Technicians can find details of criteria for each certificate and topics covered by the exams on the EPA website.

Certifications such as Section 608 increase a technician’s employability. Industry organizations offer study materials and the 608 exams. They also provide resources and exams for other certifications that improve a technician’s employability. These include:

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

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

HVAC contractors in Michigan must obtain a mechanical contractor’s license by the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). Licenses are granted based on the specific work to be performed. Applicants must submit proof of three years of experience in each classification and pass an exam in the classification for which licensing is sought. Classifications include:

  • Hydronic heating and cooling
  • HVAC equipment
  • Ductwork
  • Refrigeration
  • Limited heating service
  • Unlimited heating service
  • Limited refrigeration and air conditioning service
  • Unlimited refrigeration and air conditioning service
  • Solar heating and cooling specialty license

The license fee is $300, and the license must be renewed annually. Exam fees are separate and paid directly to the testing agency.

The City of Grand Rapids requires contractors to register and provide a copy of the state license. The County of Kent also requires most contracting businesses to register.

As licensing requirements are subject to change, HVAC professionals must ensure they have all necessary licenses before beginning any projects.

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.