HVAC Training Programs in North Carolina (NC) – Schools, Degrees & Certification

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Working as a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (i.e., HVAC-R or HVAC) professional in North Carolina (NC) can mean steady employment and opportunities for growth. The demand for these skilled workers is expected to increase around the country and all signs point to those expectations applying in NC as well.

Not only are the salary prospects bright for HVAC technicians in NC, but there is also a wealth of professional associations and resources for these climate-control gurus. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) found that HVAC workers and mechanics nationwide made an annual average salary of $53,410. This figure is almost on par with the mean annual wage of all occupations at $56,310 (BLS May 2020) and is relatively generous compensation in a profession that does not require a four-year postsecondary degree.

In the Old North State, there is also an abundance of HVAC and contracting trade associations to provide mentoring, continuing education (CE) opportunities, job posting boards, and legal advocacy in this occupation. For example, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of North Carolina (PHCCA of NC) is staunchly committed to the advancement of the technologies and methodologies in HVAC and the promotion of rigorous safety standards for all workers. This chapter of the PHCCA organizes events, provides training and serves as a voice for members of this industry.

The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) also has thriving NC chapters and associations. Chapters are local branches, whereas associations are groups of chapters that typically share geographic boundaries.

So, what is it that HVAC mechanics and installers do? And what type of education and licensure is necessary for NC? According to the BLS, these specialists perform a variety of functions to ensure temperature and air quality control within commercial and residential structures, including installing HVAC systems; maintaining all components and client records; testing equipment to determine required repairs (e.g., air ducts, electrical wiring, heating units); keeping up with evolving legislation and technologies; ensuring that systems are energy efficient; complying with annual renewal requirements of NC HVAC license; and educating homeowners and commercial property operators about the systems.

Technicians in NC may specialize in an aspect of HVAC (e.g., solar panels, commercial refrigeration, radiant heating) or may have more general knowledge of a range of HVAC systems and needs.

Anyone entering the field should know that there is one mandatory certification for all HVAC professionals in the U.S. who work with the recovery and reuse of refrigerants: the EPA Section 608 credential. This certification ensures that an HVAC worker utilizes the proper methods in moving, replacing, or recycling materials that have been shown to adversely affect the earth’s climate.

Read on to discover the opportunities for HVAC technicians and mechanics in NC, as well as the salary prospects, educational programs, and requirements for local licensure and certification.

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North Carolina HVAC Occupational Demand

It’s no surprise that the demand and consequent growth in opportunities for qualified HVAC technicians in North Carolina and across the country are relatively high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) projected that there will be a 5 percent increase in job openings for HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide between 2020 and 2030, which is slightly slower than the average growth estimate for all occupations (8 percent).

With the expected addition of 19,000 fresh positions for HVAC professionals in the US, there are expected to be ample employment choices in this industry in years to come.

Not only is there a continued demand for new residential and commercial HVAC systems as the construction of new structures grows, but climate-control systems generally must be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Furthermore, the maintenance and repair of existing systems coupled with improving technologies for energy efficiency necessitate the availability of qualified HVAC technicians in North Carolina and beyond.

It is important to note that there is a relatively high rate of injury for HVAC technicians and installers due to the physical nature of the occupation. Some common injuries include burns, electrical shocks, and muscular strains or tears. It is up to the technicians to ensure that they have the proper training and safety equipment and follow procedures to prevent these occurrences.

Finally, the BLS (May 2020) estimated that 9 percent of HVAC technicians nationwide were self-employed and can dictate their schedules. The majority, however, work for manufacturing and contracting organizations. Some work typical business hours while others—especially in the busy winter and summer seasons—may have to work weekends, holidays, or evenings to serve client needs.

HVAC Technician Salary in North Carolina

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), there were 344,020 HVAC workers across the country with an average annual salary(mean wage) of $53,410. While the mean salary in this profession in North Carolina is somewhat lower at $46,300.

It’s important to note that the cost of living in NC is also substantially lower than in many states. By illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021) reported that NC had the 24th lowest cost of living in the United States for 2021, boasting savings in housing and transportation relative to the rest of the country. Please keep this fact in mind while considering the following data.

The BLS (May 2020) found the following percentiles among all HVAC technicians and installers around the country:

United States North Carolina
Number of HVAC professionals employed 344,020 13,240
Annual mean wage $53,410 $46,300
10th percentile $31,910 $28,420
25th percentile $39,320 $36,400
50th percentile (median) $50,590 $45,640
75th percentile $64,350 $54,820
90th percentile $80,820 $65,630

Not surprisingly, the wages for HVAC workers tended to vary by region within the state as well. In NC, HVAC workers in Greensboro-High Point were rewarded with the highest average salary (mean wage) at $52,550, while workers in New Bern, NC had the lowest average salary at $36,380.

HVAC Apprenticeships in North Carolina

To become an HVAC technician, mechanic, or installer in North Carolina, a person must have the proper training and certification. Historically, taking on an apprenticeship was one way to prepare for this career. HVAC apprenticeships typically last from three to five years and involve advanced, hands-on training under the guidance of a qualified professional. They generally include at least 144 hours of technical education and 2,000 hours of practice hours repairing, maintaining, and testing HVAC equipment.

Examples of associations offering apprentice programs include, but are not limited to:

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

Details of what each association offers and corresponding fees are available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in North Carolina

In recent decades, it has become increasingly common for HVAC technicians and installers in North Carolina to attend a six-month to a two-year training program at a community college, technical school, or trade school. Students are advised to seek out certificate, diploma, or associate degree programs that are accredited. When choosing a program, it is essential to determine if it is accredited, and if so, through which agency.

Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the curriculum and the instructors. In HVAC technology, the two common accreditation entities are HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

Please visit the websites to learn more about the process of accreditation, or check out the HVACClasses homepage.

Guilford Technical Community College

Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro offers various HVAC programs for NC students. The programs offered are as follows:

  • Associate of applied science (AAS) in air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology (67 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration diploma (46 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology certificate – basic air conditioning (17 credits)

Courses in the basic air conditioning certificate include an introduction to refrigeration, HVAC/R electricity, comfort cooling, heat pump technology, and refrigerant certification.

Courses in the diploma include all the above-mentioned courses with the addition of heating technology, HVAC/R building code, writing and inquiry, HVAC/R electronics, HVAC/R customer relations, residential system design, HVAC controls, advanced comfort systems, and introduction to computers.

The curriculum of the AAS program includes all courses from the certificate and the diploma program. In addition, students also have to complete coursework in indoor air quality, hydronic heating, commercial system design, and refrigeration design.

All programs prepare students for the EPA certification examinations and train them to perform preventive maintenance on HVAC/R systems, repair electrical controls and components in HVAC systems, apply the refrigeration practices and principles to HVAC/R systems, and demonstrate knowledge of basic hydronic heating principles.

  • Location: Jamestown, NC
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (two semesters); diploma (three semesters); AAS (five semesters)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($76 per credit); out-of-state ($268 per credit)

Pitt Community College

Pitt Community College in Winterville provides the sole PAHRA-accredited program in NC. The school offers an AAS degree in HVAC/R technology, an HVAC/R services diploma, two HVAC/R pathways, and a service certificate in HVAC. All programs provide basic courses in HVAC technologies, with the AAS and diploma programs offering more in terms of general education and hands-on experience.

The AAS degree is made up of 68 credits, while the services diploma comprises 36 credits. Pathway I and II require 16 and 18 credits respectively with the certificate comprising 16 credits.

The curriculum includes coursework in an introduction to refrigeration, heating technology, heat pump technology, advanced comfort systems, HVAC/R building code, commercial HVAC controls, schematics & diagrams, HVAC/R Electricity, construction safety, and residential system design.

Students can expect to receive training in the service and repair of HVAC systems, troubleshoot and diagram electrical systems, and also learn about sheet metal fabrication, energy audits, and conservation. Graduates of the program can pursue roles such as air conditioning technician, refrigeration technician, HVAC/R control technician, and many more.

  • Location: Winterville, NC
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (24 months); diploma (12 months); Certificate (Less than a year)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($76 per credit); non-resident ($268 per credit)

Wake Tech Community College

Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh offers several degrees and certificate programs in HVAC technology. The programs are as follows:

  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology AAS degree building automation track (70 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology AAS degree commercial A/C track (69 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology AAS degree commercial refrigeration track (70 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology diploma (40 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology basic certificate (15 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology building automation certificate (15 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology commercial A/C certificate (17 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology commercial refrigeration certificate (14 credits)
  • Air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technology residential advanced certificate (15 credits)

Courses include an introduction to refrigeration, HVAC/R electricity, heating technology, HVAC/R building code, interpersonal psychology, comfort cooling, heat pump technology, refrigeration systems, residential system design, commercial HVAC controls, building automation systems, HVAC/R customer relations, advanced comfort systems, commercial system design, and HVAC system diagnostics.

At the end of these programs, students will be well-equipped to design and install HVAC equipment, in residential complexes as well as some commercial areas too.

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (24 months); Diploma and certificates (less than 18 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($76 per credit); non-resident ($268 per credit)

Central Piedmont Community College

Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) offers the following AAS degree programs:

  • AAS degree in HVAC/R technology (67 credits)
  • AAS degree in HVAC/R technology – HVAC/R controls track (67 credits)

It offers the following certificates as well:

  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in refrigeration systems (17 credit hours)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in apartment/rental maintenance (14 credits)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in HVAC/R industry introduction (18 credits)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in residential service (15 credits)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in indoor air quality and comfort (16 credits)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in energy management and building automation (16 credits)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in advanced HVAC/R controls (16 credits)
  • HVAC/R technology certificate specialization in HVAC installation (18 credits)

Both the AAS degrees and most certificates prepare students for EPA 608 certification. Some of the courses in the curriculum include an introduction to refrigeration, heating technology, comfort cooling, heat pump technology, refrigeration systems, residential system design, advanced comfort systems, HVAC/R building code, refrigeration design, introduction to electricity, refrigerant certification, commercial HVAC controls, and indoor air quality.

The curriculum will prepare students to work with residential and light commercial equipment. They can take up jobs in startups, services, repairs, preventive maintenance, and the installation of HVAC systems. They will become proficient in efficiently and safely diagnosing and repairing HVAC systems.

  • Location: Charlotte, NC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (24 months); certificates (durations vary)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($76 per credit); non-resident ($268 per credit)

Johnston Community College

Johnston Community College offers another HVAC Excellence accredited program in HVAC/R technology. The college offers the following HVAC/R programs:

  • HVAC/R AAS degree (70 credits)
  • HVAC/R diploma (37 credits)
  • All year systems certificate (12 credits)
  • Comfort cooling certificate (13 credits)
  • Commercial building automation certificate (13 credits)
  • Controls certificate (13 credits)
  • Heat pumps certificate (13 credits)
  • Servicing certificate (17 credits)

As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as an introduction to refrigeration, comfort cooling, introduction to electricity, heat pump technology, refrigerant certification, HVAC controls, residential system design, advanced comfort systems, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning diagnostics, among others.

At the end of the program, students should be able to assist in the startup, service, preventive maintenance, repair, and installation of light commercial and residential systems. They should be able to demonstrate an understanding of advanced systems and system selection and balance. Graduates will be ready to take on opportunities at heating and air conditioning service companies, governmental agencies, industries, educational institutions, or health care facilities.

  • Location: Smithfield, NC
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (24 months); diploma (12 months); certificate (duration varies)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($76 per credit); non-resident ($268 per credit)

Alamance Community College

Alamance Community College’s HVAC/R technology program was created to prepare skilled graduates to work in both light commercial and residential sites. Students will be trained in the Advanced Applied Technology Center, which offers cutting-edge technology and expansive training space, allowing students to apply their learning in the classroom through hands-on practice. The college offers an AAS degree, a diploma, and a certificate in HVAC/R technology.

The AAS degree is made up of 58 to 61 credits, while the diploma comprises 34 credits. Students will have to complete 13 credits to earn the certificate. The curriculum explores topics such as introduction to refrigeration, HVAC/R electricity, heating technology, comfort cooling, heat pump technology, residential system design, and chiller systems.

  • Location: Graham, NC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (24 months); diploma and certificate (within 12 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($76 per credit); non-resident ($268 per credit)

Please note that there are various distance-based education options for aspiring HVAC technicians in NC as well. These typically involve the completion of online coursework in addition to hands-on training under the guidance of approved HVAC professionals who are located in a student’s area. Online programs may be ideal for people who live in more rural regions of NC or those with heavy professional or familial time commitments.

Please check out the online HVAC programs page to learn more about the web-based courses and degree programs.

HVAC Certification and Licensing in North Carolina

In North Carolina, HVAC technicians, mechanics, and installers must pursue state licensure before securing employment for most types of work. At a minimum, all professionals nationally who work with refrigerants must have the EPA Section 608 certification. There are four types: type I (small appliances), II (high-pressure refrigerants); III (low-pressure refrigerants), and IV (universal). As part of all NC degree programs listed above, students get prepared for the EPA certification exam.

There are also various national certifications and knowledge certificates provided by a range of organizations including North American Technician Excellence (NATE), HVAC Excellence, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI), the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA), and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES).

Please check out the main HVAC certification page to learn in-depth about the credential offerings from each of these organizations.

The predominant body which regulates HVAC mechanics and installers in NC is the North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors. This entity issues several types of licenses to HVAC professionals:

  • Heating Group 1 (water-based climate control systems)
  • Heating Group 2 (forced air heating and cooling system with capacity over 15 tons)
  • Heating Group 3 (forced air heating and cooling system with a capacity less than 15 tons)

To qualify for contractor-level licensure, applicants must have two years (4,000 hours) of full-time experience in the category of license sought. Up to 2,000 of these hours can come from technical or academic training. To qualify for technician-level licensure, applicants must have 18 months (3,000 hours) of full-time experience in the category of license sought. Up to 1,500 of these hours can come from technical or academic training. Please note that military experience may also qualify a person for an NC HVAC license.

All licenses expire annually on the last day of December. Although HVAC contractors and technicians in NC must renew their licenses, no continuing education (CE) is required.

Finally, two other regional authorities issue specific licenses for HVAC workers. For anyone contracting to provide construction services (including complex HVAC installation) above $30,000, they must seek licensure from the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors.

Additionally, the North Carolina State Board of Refrigeration Contractors regulates all people and firms in the NC refrigeration trade. To secure a refrigeration contractor license, a person must have at least 4,000 hours of commercial refrigeration experience and pass an examination. This license must be renewed annually.

To learn more about the various NC regulations and licenses available, please contact the appropriate credentialing agencies.

Jocelyn Blore

Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.