HVAC Trade Schools in Billings, Montana (MT)

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Billings, Montana (MT) is the county seat of Yellowstone County and the largest city in the state. It’s grown rapidly since its early days as a railroad city and now boasts a diverse and expanding economy. Agriculture continues to play a role, as does the energy industry and oil refineries. Billings has become a transportation hub and a center for healthcare, manufacturing, professional services, and retail and wholesale trade. According to a recent economic report, “Billings has had good construction activity, a healthy real estate sector and financial institutions that are doing well.” Economic stability is expected to continue.

Winters in Billings are frigid, with December and January lows in the teens. The other winter months are slightly warmer, but the lows are still below freezing. Springtime warmth starts in April and slowly increases to summer heat in July and August. Those two months see highs in the 80s F and lows averaging in the upper 50s. Summers give way to autumn chill by October. The climate is primarily dry, with about 13 inches of rain annually. May and June experience the most rainfall, at slightly more than two inches each month. Snow starts falling in September and increases monthly to an average of more than ten inches during March. Just under five feet of snow falls annually but often melts off quickly.

The brief summer heat followed by the freezing cold winters keeps Billings residents indoors. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is needed to maintain comfort in their homes and workplaces. The industrial, manufacturing, and commercial facilities often require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R). Research facilities and businesses that rely on high-tech rely on specialized climate-control systems and equipment to keep their electronic components operating correctly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) reports that 180 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in Billings. Industry associations such as the following provide support and resources to the technicians and their employers:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Home Builders Association of Billings, Inc (HBA)
  • Montana Building Industry Association
  • Montana Contractors Association
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union 103
  • UA Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 30

These and similar industry organizations work with regulatory agencies and businesses to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards for the safety of technicians, the public, and the environment.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Billings, MT

The demand for trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians is expected to increase by 4 percent nationwide between 2019 and 2029 according to the BLS (2019). Montana technicians can expect significantly more opportunities, as Projections Central (2020) anticipates an increase of 18.5 percent in new positions between 2018 and 2028.

The construction of new commercial structures and residences drives the growth of the HVAC industry. Updating existing structures to meet changing needs also drives growth. Aging equipment and systems are typically repaired or replaced as part of the remodeling and renovation process. Climate control systems in newer structures are sometimes replaced or upgraded due to changing regulations, technological advances, and new industries. Reducing pollution and increasing energy efficiency is another factor in the growth of the HVAC industry.

Businesses and homeowners often want “smart” buildings that incorporate sophisticated climate-control systems. Trained technicians are needed to install, maintain, and service those systems as well as a variety of other systems and equipment. They must be skilled troubleshooters, understand electronics and high-tech, and proficient in the use of computers. Those who specialize in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines.

A decline in construction is not anticipated in the foreseeable future. Technicians who maintain, service, and repair equipment and systems can expect continuous employment regardless of the economy, as businesses and homeowners depend on climate control year-round.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Billings, MT

The BLS (May 2019) data show that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730. Technicians in Billings received an annual median salary of $51,630, as per the BLS data. Their wages are more favorable than they appear, as the cost of living in Montana is slightly lower than in other American states.

The table below shows the BLS (May 2019) data reported for national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals as follows:

United States Montana Billings, MT
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 1,090 180
Average annual salary $51,420 $47,630 $50,760
10th Percentile $30,610 $29,810 $34,010
25th Percentile $37,660 $35,500 $39,430
50th Percentile $48,730 $44,340 $51,630
75th Percentile $62,070 $56,820 $60,840
90th Percentile $77,920 $70,100 $69,700

HVAC Apprenticeships in Billings, MT

HVAC technicians typically obtain training before seeking employment, as few opportunities exist for untrained workers. Training is achieved by participating in an apprenticeship program or by attending classes. Trained workers have more employment opportunities, start at higher wages, and potentially earn more throughout their career.

The average apprenticeship requires a three- to five-year commitment, during which time apprentices complete specified hours of on-the-job training, usually 2,000, combined with classroom work, usually 144 hours, each year.

The Montana Registered Apprenticeship program provides information and support for apprentices and employers. Workers completing an apprenticeship are awarded a nationally recognized certificate of completion.

The Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union 103 offers sheet metal apprenticeships at their training center in Butte, MT. UA Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 30 offers five-year apprenticeship programs and certifications. Details regarding schedules, fees, and locations are available on their website.

HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs are also sponsored by industry associations such as the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

These and other industry organizations have information regarding courses available, schedules, and fees on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Billings, MT

When selecting a school, students should ensure that it is accredited. Accreditation means that an independent agency has evaluated the curriculum and instructors of the institution for quality. HVAC programs are accredited by HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). To date, neither has accredited a Montana program. The schools profiled below have received accreditation from other recognized agencies.

Note: The information in this article was compiled in February 2021 during the “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing” restrictions. The profiled schools may have temporarily suspended classes or are transitioning to online options to comply with the restrictions. Questions as to timing and format should be directed to the school administration.

The profiled schools will require Billings students to relocate to attend them. They are profiled here as local schools do not currently offer HVAC programs. Students are encouraged to stay in contact with nearby schools for updates in their offerings.

Flathead Valley Community College

The college offers an HVAC certificate program based on the North American Technical Excellence (NATE) curriculum. The coursework includes electricity, electric motors and generators, HVAC fundamentals, HVAC electrical, boiler operator certification, HVAC systems, and refrigeration. Students earn their certificates at the completion of 28 credits.

Graduates are qualified to take NATE exams for installation and service, and exams for HVAC Excellence technician service, EPA Section 608 universal certification, and EPA Section 609 MVAC certification. They are qualified to seek employment as HVAC technicians, refrigeration specialists, and facility maintenance technicians.

  • Location: Kalispell, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $1,816 for 14 to 18 credits per semester
  • Program Length: Two years

University of Montana

The university offers an HVAC technician certificate program. The curriculum includes HVAC fundamentals, heating and refrigeration cycles, gas furnaces, refrigerants, meters and components, electricity, wiring, and installation/replacement of HVAC equipment and systems. Students complete 18 credit hours to earn their certificate. They also receive HVAC certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and are qualified to sit for the EPA universal certification exam.

  • Location: Missoula, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $294 per credit
  • Program Length: One year

HVACRedu

HVACRedu offers online-only training programs. The courses of study available include:

  • Four-year apprenticeship program – $1,292 per year
  • NATE technician certification – 256 hours, $2,665
  • NATE ready to work certificate – 43 hours, $474
  • Commercial refrigeration – 78 hours, $1,657
  • Building automation – 87 hours, $2,590
  • Chiller mechanic – 36 hours, $877

The curriculum varies according to the title of the course. Completion of the coursework qualifies students to seek employment as technicians.

  • Location: Heron, MT
  • Accreditation: American National Standards Institute National Accreditation Board (ANSI-CAP Certificate Accreditation Program); Instructors are HVAC Excellence Certified Subject Matter Educators
  • Tuition: Varies as noted above
  • Program Length: Varies as noted above

Billings workers who prefer training from other online institutions will find information about accredited programs at online HVAC training.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Billings, MT

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who handle refrigerants are required by federal law to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. Four certification levels are available, based on the type and size of equipment on which a technician works. Each type requires technicians to pass an exam on refrigerant safety relevant to that level. The types are:

  • 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

Descriptions of each level and knowledge needed for each exam are available on the EPA website.

Technicians can obtain their Section 608 certifications, as well as other certifications that can increase their employability, via industry organizations that provide the necessary training. These include, but are not limited to:

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

Details regarding availability, scheduling, and fees may be found on each website. There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.

The Montana Department of Labor & Industry requires all construction businesses with employees to register as contractors. Contractors must complete an application, submit proof of workers’ compensation insurance, and pay a $70 fee. Registration is renewed every two years. The City of Billings requires anyone doing business within the city limits to obtain a business license. The cost is a basic fee plus an additional amount based on the number of employees.

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.