HVAC Technical Schools in Portland, OR

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Located near the Pacific Ocean and at the confluence of two rivers, Portland, Oregon (OR) boasts an ideal location for economic development with its international airport and intercontinental railroads. The City of Roses is home to dozens of local, national, and international businesses. A sampling includes Adidas, Daimler Trucks, Hi-Tech Sports, Precision Castparts, and Nike in nearby Beaverton.

Forbes ranks Portland among the top five cities for business based on the potential for business growth and an expanding population of young and highly-educated millennials. The city is known for its microbreweries, micro-distilleries, and coffee shops. It is also home to six colleges and universities, museums, and numerous attractions.

Portland summers are warm and dry. Daytime temps hover around the high 70s and low 80s. Winters are cold but temperatures rarely drop to freezing. Rain is constant during the winter months, and snow is occasional. Although Portlanders do not experience severe weather, they still rely on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) to keep their homes and workplaces comfortable. Many of the industries require the addition of commercial-scale refrigeration (HVAC/R) services as well.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 1,550 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro (Oregon-Washington) area. State and local chapters of industry organizations that provide training and support to the technicians include:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc, Pacific Northwest Chapter (ABC PNW)
  • Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland (HBA)
  • Oregon Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ORACCA)
  • Oregon State Association of Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors (ORPHCC)
  • Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association (PMCA)
  • UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290

Additional support and resources for workers and their employers are available from national industry associations. These organizations coordinate with others in the industry and with government organizations to establish educational and licensing standards. They serve all aspects of the HVAC industry, including safety, performance, and promotion.

Explore HVAC training programs in Portland, OR, as well as the career outlook and how to become credentialed.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Portland, OR

Demand for HVAC technicians is growing nationwide. According to the BLS (2018), job openings for technicians are expected to increase 15 percent nationwide between 2016 and 2026. That is much faster than the average of 7 percent projected for all occupations in the U.S. The market for technicians in Oregon is growing faster than the national average. Projections Central predicted a 20 percent statewide increase for the same decade.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC industry. The primary consideration is the increasing sophistication of climate control systems and the need to replace, retrofit, or upgrade older systems. Industries that depend on technology frequently require specialized systems to keep electronic equipment in operation. The academic institutions, small and large businesses, and many tourist attractions in Portland rely on climate control.

Portland also has a reputation as an environmentally friendly green city. The residents’ emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution means a higher rate of new equipment and systems installations.

Technicians who are computer and electronics literate with excellent troubleshooting skills typically have the best job prospects. Technicians who specialize in new installations may experience seasonal unemployment if construction declines, although that is not anticipated to happen in Portland in the foreseeable future.

Maintenance and repair work tends to be stable, as businesses and homeowners depend on their climate control systems year round. They need to keep their equipment in good working order regardless of economic conditions.

HVAC Salaries in Portland, OR

The BLS (2018) reports that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally receive a median annual salary of $47,080. Technicians in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA area received an annual median wage of $40,100.

Here is a breakdown of national, statewide, and regional salaries for HVAC professionals:

United States Oregon Portland – Vancouver – Hillsboro, Oregon-Washington
Number of HVAC workers 307,060 2,640 1,550
Average annual salary $49,530 $50,440 $51,690
10th percentile $29,120 $28,860 $28,020
25th percentile $36,150 $34,520 $32,580
50th percentile (median) $47,080 $45,470 $40,100
75th percentile $60,270 $59,360 $61,120
90th percentile $75,330 $74,730 $81,240

Accredited HVAC Schools in Portland

HVAC technicians, installers, and mechanics traditionally began their careers as helpers and learned the trade through on-the-job training. A majority of workers now attend classes or participate in apprenticeship programs.

The Oregon State Apprenticeship and Training Division provides apprenticeship information, including HVAC opportunities. Apprentices must complete 144 to 192 hours of classroom instruction annually and approximately 8,000 total hours of on-the-job training. Apprentices usually receive 45 to 60 percent of journey-level rate when they begin and a wage increase as they gain experience. Oregon Apprentice maintains state-wide listings of apprenticeship locations and opportunities.

Additionally, the Sheet Metal Institute sponsors a five-year HVAC apprenticeship program in Portland, and the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 has a five-year apprenticeship program for HVAC/R service technicians at their Tualatin, Oregon campus. The programs are presented through joint apprenticeship training centers. Also, the Associated Builders and Contractors Pacific Northwest Chapter sponsors a four-year HVAC technician apprenticeship with the Northwest College of Construction in Portland.

Additionally, workers seeking HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs can find several available through national industry associations such as:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details are available on their websites.

Other aspiring HVAC professionals in Portland may opt for formal, accredited degree and certificate programs. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of an educational institution’s program. Two organizations accredit HVAC programs: the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) and HVAC Excellence.

As of January 2019, these organizations have not begun evaluating Oregon’s schools, but all of the following training program is regionally accredited through a reputable entity.

Portland Community College

PCC offers a pre-apprenticeship program for trade professions. The programs begin with introductory information relevant to all trades. Students receive an overview of the apprenticeship, placement testing, counseling, and registration assistance; then, they complete a pre-trade career pathway certificate program.

The program is designed to prepare students to apply to an Oregon state registered apprenticeship. Coursework includes trade calculations using analog and digital tools and instruments, construction trade safety, terminology, hazardous materials, power tools, scaffolding and rigging with fall protection, and electricity for non-electricians.

Students complete 14 credits to earn their certificate. The course is recognized as a state-approved pre-apprenticeship program by the Apprenticeship and Training Division.

PCC does not offer apprenticeship programs; instead, the school partners with trade joint apprenticeship training centers to provide this opportunity to its students.

Also, PCC offers an HVAC/R certificate program as part of the facilities management program. The curriculum is designed to prepare students for entry-level positions as technicians. Training teaches students about tubing, natural gas piping, sheet metal, duct sizing, work practices, customer relations, combustion air, controls, equipment and systems set up, ergonomics, HVAC/R accessories, mechanical code, refrigerants, and venting.

Students complete 14 credits to earn their certificate and are prepared to take the exams for CFC and brazing certifications as required by Oregon law. Students may continue to obtain a certificate or degree in facilities management.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $111 per credit
  • Program length: Nine months

Students willing to commute will find HVAC and HVAC/R training in other Oregon cities. Those who find attending an on-campus program difficult can find a selection of online HVAC schools and other HVAC training programs in Oregon.

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Portland, OR

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. There are four types of certifications according to the systems on which technicians work:

  • Type I – For servicing small appliances
  • Type II – For servicing or disposing of high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and motor vehicle air conditioning
  • Type III – For servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances
  • Universal or Type IV – For servicing all types of equipment

Practice exams are available online.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations, which also offer Section 608 testing and certification. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES): Their mission is to provide opportunities for enhanced technical competence by offering comprehensive, cutting-edge education and certification to the HVAC/R industry
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE): Their certification tests represent real-world working knowledge of HVAC/R systems
  • HVAC Excellence: Their exams and certifications are intended to validate that an individual has retained knowledge in a specific area of the HVAC/R industry

Details are available on their websites.

The Oregon Construction Contractors Board requires all those who work in construction and property improvement—including HVAC contractors—to obtain a contractors license. They must also obtain a business license. Self-employed HVAC technicians are usually classified as contractors. Contractors choose “endorsements” to define the type of license required. The basic endorsements are:

  • Residential – For residential and small commercial projects, which is defined as 10,000 square feet (or less) or any size if the total project cost is less than $250,000
  • Commercial – For commercial projects of any size
  • Residential and commercial – Must have both endorsements and carry a bond for each

Endorsements are further divided into categories that include general contractor, specialty contractor, and limited contractor. The categories are based on the number of trades performed on each project and the size of the project. Bonds and liability insurance requirements vary according to the endorsements.

The limited contractor category applies to part-time contractors who only perform maintenance services. A residential limited HVAC specialty contractor may not take on individual projects that exceed $5,000 or perform work exceeding $40,000 in gross volume per year.

Full-time HVAC and HVAC/R contractors who do more than maintenance are classified as residential or commercial specialty contractors. A level I commercial specialty contractor must have eight years of construction experience and a level II commercial specialty contractor must have four years of construction experience. Those who wish to reduce experience requirements can complete an apprenticeship, a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field, a bachelor’s or master’s degree (in business, finance, or economics), or an associate’s degree in construction or building management.

Applicants for licensing must complete a 16-hour training course on law and business practices or have passed the NASCLA Accredited Examination for Commercial General Building Contractors. All applicants must pass the Oregon exam covering laws, rules, and business practices.

They must then complete an application form and pay a $375 fee. Also, they must submit documents outlining their surety bonds, general liability insurance, and workers compensation insurance. This license must be renewed every two years, and continuing education is required for renewal with the number of credits varying according to the type of license.

Please note that the City of Portland does not require additional licensing for the mechanical trades, which includes HVAC and HVAC/R.

All HVAC professionals are encouraged to check with local government offices to ensure they have all necessary credentialing before performing any work.

Barry Franklin

Before co-founding Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, Barry Franklin was a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. He is an investor and advisor for DataSimply and Impellia. Barry believes that education and lifelong learning are paramount. Barry met his wife at Carnegie Mellon University and they have two beautiful daughters. He also volunteers for various committees at his kids’ high school.