Minneapolis-St. Paul HVAC Trade Schools

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The Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (MN) metropolitan area, also known as the Twin Cities, is hot and humid in the summer and cold and snowy in the winter. As winter segues into spring, the residents of the Twin Cities dress against frequent rain and thunderstorms. The average high temperature in January is 24 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 60 degrees cooler than the average July high of 84 degrees.

Although once a timber hub, the Twin Cities area is now a business center, relying on the biomedical industry, financial services, retail businesses, and technology for economic growth. The local climate and thriving local economy require heating, venting, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R) services to keep residents comfortable in their homes and at work. Virtually all new construction requires the installation of climate control systems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) 1,990 HVAC installers, mechanical, and maintenance workers were employed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington area.

Training and support are provided by local industry associations that include:

  • The Minnesota Building Performance Association (MBPA), St. Paul
  • The Minnesota Heating & Cooling Association (MHCA), Brooklyn Center
  • The Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association (MMCA) St. Paul
  • The Minnesota Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (MNPFCC) Minneapolis
  • Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455, St. Paul

The organizations negotiate labor contracts, set industry standards, and promote HVAC and HVAC/R services.

Additionally, the following nationwide organizations, among others, provide training and support to HVAC and refrigeration (HVAC/R) technicians:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Air Conditioning Trade Association (ACTA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA)

These organizations work with the industry and government agencies to establish educational and licensing standards. They serve all aspects of the HVAC and refrigeration industries, including performance and promotion.

This guide explores accredited HVAC training programs in the Twin Cities area, including the expected coursework, tuition, and local credentialing information.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in the Twin Cities

The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the BLS (2018), the number of openings in this field is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. That’s much faster growth than average for all occupations (7 percent). Statistics are not available for the Twin Cities, specifically; however, the booming economies and new construction usually increase the demand for qualified workers. Several factors are contributing to the growth of the HVAC and HVAC/R industry:

  • The construction of new commercial buildings and residences
  • Increasing sophistication of climate control systems
  • Emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution
  • Replacing, retrofitting, or upgrading older systems

Technicians who are computer and electronics literate, and those with good troubleshooting skills, are likely to enjoy the best job prospects.

HVAC and HVAC/R mechanics and installers held 307,060 jobs nationwide in 2017, according to the BLS. Contractors are the largest employers of technicians, and 9 percent are self-employed. The remaining technicians work for schools and retail or wholesale companies. Most work full-time, with overtime hours when service demands are high.

It’s important to note that technicians may be required to work on outdoor equipment even in adverse weather conditions. Also, technicians have a relatively high rate of injuries due to electrical shocks, burns, or muscle strains from moving heavy equipment. They also sometimes work in small spaces or in cramped positions.

HVAC Worker Salary in the Twin Cities

The BLS (2017) reported that HVAC/R mechanics and installers nationwide received a median salary of $47,080 annually. Minnesota HVAC/R mechanics and installers received a median salary of $51,230 annually in May 2016. Technicians in Minneapolis-St.Paul-Bloomington received a median salary of $53,050 annually.

Finally, here were the numbers of HVAC technicians and installers employed and salary data for Minnesota and the Twin Cities (BLS 2017)

State of Minnesota (3,440 HVAC workers): $55,160 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $32,710
  • 25th percentile: $40,280
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,850
  • 75th percentile: $66,870
  • 90th percentile: $83,070

Minneapolis-St.Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI (1,990 HVAC workers): $57,500 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,220
  • 25th percentile: $40,330
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,390
  • 75th percentile: $73,250
  • 90th percentile: $89,830

Accredited HVAC Schools in the Twin Cities

In the past, many HVAC and HVAC/R technicians learned the trade through hands-on experience. That’s still possible, but other types of training programs are becoming more common. Aspiring technicians today can either serve an apprenticeship or acquire formal classroom training. Those who do have more job opportunities, start at higher pay levels, and earn more throughout their career.

The Minnesota Department of Labor has an apprenticeship registration program. The program “allows employers to design their own apprenticeship program that provides apprentices with specific skills, training and job-related instruction tailored to the company’s needs.” They maintain a list of apprenticeship sponsors in the construction trades, including HVAC. The sponsors have details on their websites.

Also, the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee of Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455 in St. Paul offers a comprehensive apprenticeship for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians. Classes are conducted at St. Paul College in St. Paul. The 2018 tuition is approximately $173.27-$273.27 per credit-hour. Experienced applicants may enter the program directly, and those without experience must complete a six-month probation. Apprentices complete a five-year program and start at 50 percent of journey-level wages. Wages increase 10 percent each year of apprenticeship, and those who complete their apprenticeship receive journey-level status.

Other industry associations that are a source of local apprenticeship programs include:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

Details are available on their websites.

When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited by a reputable agency. Accreditation is a process by which an independent organization evaluates the quality of the curriculum and the instructors. Certain standards must be met before accreditation is granted. Various agencies determine whether schools have met the applicable guidelines. In this field, HVAC Excellence and Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) are the gold standard of program-based accreditation. The guidelines are available on their websites, as are lists of qualifying programs.

HVAC Excellence has awarded accreditation to the following Minnesota HVAC programs:

  • Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis
  • Hennepin Technical College, Brooklyn Park
  • Hennepin Technical College, Eden Prairie Campus
  • Minneapolis Community & Technical College, Minneapolis

All of these are profiled below. Also, as of May 2018, PAHRA has not accredited a Minnesota-based HVAC program.

Anoka Technical College, just outside of the Twin Cities, offers a course in residential and commercial HVAC systems. Students meet two nights a week to learn HVAC fundamentals, trade math, maintenance and service, and troubleshooting. The focus is on equipment operation and workplace safety. The course is presented as part of the college’s professional and workforce training program and Minnesota State.

  • Location: Anoka, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,900

Century College offers a selection of HVAC programs, including a 30-credit cooling certificate, a 30-credit heating certificate, a 48-credit HVAC technician diploma, and a 60-credit HVAC technology associate of applied science (AAS) degree.

Graduates of the cooling certificate program are prepared to install and service residential and light commercial HVAC/R equipment. Students learn the basics of workplace safety, electricity, brazing, and refrigeration. They are also taught computer literacy.

The heating certificate program teaches how to install and service residential and light commercial gas, oil, and hydronic systems, as well as the basics of workplace safety, electricity, brazing, heat load calculations, and troubleshooting.

The diploma program prepares students to install and service residential and commercial HVAC/R equipment. The coursework builds on the basics with advanced refrigeration courses and training with heat pumps, gas heaters, chillers, and steam boilers.

Finally, graduates of the associate program continue to build their HVAC/R and workplace skills with advanced coursework. They also learn the basics of welding and trade math. Students must also meet certain humanities requirements such as coursework in human diversity, global perspectives, and ethics.

  • Location: White Bear Lake, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: One or two years depending on program selected
  • Estimated Tuition (2018): $180.59 per credit-hour

The Dunwoody College of Technology offers two HVAC/R associate degrees: HVAC installation and residential service and HVAC/R systems servicing. All courses are available on-campus during the daytime. The programs combine lectures with hands-on training in the campus labs. Students learn how to: read blueprints, design residential systems, interpret and apply regulatory codes, install and service residential systems, fabricate ducts and fittings, use trade math and calculate heat loads, build system operations control systems, weld, and troubleshoot and repair residential and commercial systems.

Graduates may continue their studies and earn a bachelor’s in construction management. The college also offers a 36-week certificate program in HVAC installation.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, American Council for Construction Education (ACCE), HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: One year for certificate, two years for degree
  • Estimated Tuition (2018): $17,970 for certificate; $22,170 per year for degree

Hennepin Technical College offers two diploma programs and one associate’s program in HVAC and HVAC/R at its two campuses. The classes are conducted in the days and evenings.

Students can earn a diploma in residential HVAC (35 credit-hours) or a diploma in commercial HVAC/R (36 credit-hours). The residential coursework includes instruction in workplace safety, motors and controls, sheet metal and fabrication, basic refrigeration, heating and cooling systems, electrical circuits and diagrams, and trade math. The commercial coursework includes intensive refrigeration training in ice machines, walk-in coolers, display cases, and other supermarket refrigeration equipment. Students also work on rooftop heating/cooling equipment, chillers, and building systems, learning how control systems and energy management systems work. Please note that students must complete the residential course before they are accepted into the commercial course.

The HVAC/R associate degree requires 72 credit-hours to complete. Coursework expands on the basics of residential HVAC and commercial HVAC/R fundamentals. Students also learn troubleshooting skills, boilers, energy management system controls, and communication skills. Graduates have the ability to install, retrofit, and service air handling systems and equipment.

  • Location: Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: One year for diploma; two years for degree
  • Estimated Tuition (2018): $156.68 per credit hour

Minneapolis Community & Technical College has both a diploma (51 credit-hours) and a degree (72 credit-hours) HVAC/R program. The diploma coursework emphasizes residential HVAC systems. Students learn how to troubleshoot and diagnose problems. They also learn how to install, service, and repair systems. Training includes work with piping, fabricating sheet metal, electrical controls, and using testing instruments.

The AAS degree in HVAC/R adds training in commercial systems to residential coursework. Among other courses, students also learn about advanced electrical controls, air cleaning devices, air measurement and testing equipment and tools, and thermal solar energy.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: One and one/half years for diploma; two years for degree
  • Estimated Tuition (2018): $155.25 per credit-hour

HVAC Certification & Licensing in the Twin Cities

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 1: small appliances
  • Type II: high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III: low-pressure refrigerants
  • Technicians who will be working on all types of equipment are required to obtain Universal HVAC certification

Various organizations offer classes and administer the exam. Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. These include, but aren’t limited to:

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

Details of certifications available, qualifications, and fees are available on their websites.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industries does not require HVAC and HVAC/R technicians and contractors to be licensed. Contractors, however, must file a $25,000 bond before accepting work. A self-employed technician is considered a contractor.

The City of Minneapolis requires HVAC and HVAC/R contractors to obtain a license and submit proof of liability insurance. Some contractors may have to post an additional bond. The 2018 license fee is $271. Additionally, the City of St. Paul requires contractors working with HVAC or HVAC/R to submit a business license, proof of liability insurance and proof of workers compensation insurance, a current certificate of competency, and other documents. The annual fee is $168.

Overall, HVAC technicians and installers are encouraged to contact local government offices to ensure they have all necessary credentialing prior to taking on any work.