HVAC Technical Schools & Certifications in Portland, OR

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Located near the Pacific Ocean and at the confluence of two rivers, Portland, OR, boasts an ideal location for economic development. An international airport and intercontinental railroads have helped make the City of Roses home to dozens of national and international businesses. A sampling includes Adidas, Daimler Trucks, Hi-Tech Sports, Precision Castparts, and Nike.

Forbes ranked Portland among the top five places for business. They base their ranking 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, a zoo, and numerous attractions.

Portland summers are warm and dry. Daytime temperatures hover around the high 70s and low 80s. Winters are cold but temperatures rarely drop to freezing. Rain frequently falls during the winter months, and there’s occasional light snow. Although Portlanders don’t experience severe weather, they still rely on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) to keep their homes and workplaces comfortable. Many industries require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R), especially those that depend on technology.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) reports that 2,000 HVAC and HVAC/R mechanics and installers were employed in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 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 (ABCPNW)
  • 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 that include:

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

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 and HVAC/R industries, including safety, performance, and promotion.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Portland, OR

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), the demand for HVAC mechanics, installers, and technicians is expected to increase by 5 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030. The demand for technicians in Oregon is growing much faster than the national average. Projections Central (2021) predicted an 18.5 percent statewide increase in HVAC positions between 2018 and 2028.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC and HVAC/R industry. The primary factor 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 historical and tourist attractions such as those in Portland rely on climate control. Portland has a reputation as an environmentally friendly green city. The resident’s emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution means a higher rate of new equipment and systems installations.

Technicians who are computer and electronics literate, and those with excellent troubleshooting skills, will 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.

Nationwide, approximately 9 percent of HVAC and HVAC/R technicians are self-employed. The remainder work for contractors, institutions, and retail/wholesale facilities.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Portland, OR

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020), there were 344,020 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $53,410 and 3,280 HVAC mechanics and installers in Oregon with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $54,080. It also stated that there were 2,000 HVAC mechanics and installers in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA area with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $58,450. Following are the more detailed salary percentiles:

United States Oregon Portland, OR
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 344,020 3,280 2,000
Annual mean wage $53,410 $54,080 $58,450
10th percentile $31,910 $31,860 $33,350
25th percentile $39,320 $38,920 $42,050
50th percentile (median) $50,590 $52,320 $56,930
75th percentile $64,350 $65,030 $71,390
90th percentile $80,820 $80,410 $84,620

Salary figures do vary slightly by the source of data. PayScale—an aggregator of self-reported salaries—found the following percentiles among its HVAC respondents nationwide in October 2021:

  • 10th percentile: $33,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,605
  • 90th percentile: $78,000

As noted above, the average salary for HVAC workers in Oregon is slightly higher than that of the rest of the nation. As with any salary projections, taking into account the cost of living is also important. As such, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021) found that Oregon was the sixth most expensive state in terms of affordability. For HVAC technicians, this means relatively high salaries may still not go as far as lower salaries in other states, so that is something to keep in mind.

HVAC and HVAC/R Apprenticeships in Portland, OR

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians traditionally began their careers as helpers and learned the trade through on-the-job training. It is still possible to do so, but that has become increasingly difficult. Most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Formal training and apprenticeships open up more employment opportunities. Workers also start at higher wages and earn more throughout their careers.

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

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

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.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in Portland, OR

While apprenticeships are one option, other workers choose to complete an accredited training program at a school. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of an educational institution’s program. It includes both the curriculum and the instructors. When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and which organization has granted the accreditation.

Two industry organizations evaluate and accredit HVAC programs: the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) and HVAC Excellence. Neither of these organizations has awarded accreditation to an Oregon school.

Portland Community College

Portland Community College offers a 90-credit associate of applied science degree in facilities maintenance technology with a focus on HVAC-R equipment, a 44-credit one-year certificate, and a 14-credit HVAC-R installer career pathway certificate, as well, which has been approved by the Oregon State Bureau of Labor and Industries (pre-apprenticeship training).

These programs provide students with the knowledge skills for enhancing their careers in facilities maintenance. Students learn the concepts and skills necessary for installing, operating, maintaining, and repairing mechanical systems. They learn problem-solving methods, electrical concepts, and troubleshooting skills.

The AAS program has courses such as electrical motor control; commercial print reading; refrigeration; water treatment & distribution; advanced programmable controllers; introduction to boilers; and more. All courses in the certificates are contained in the AAS Degree.

Effective written, electronic, and verbal communications skills and continuous improvement techniques are stressed across the curriculum. Combining classroom instruction with hands-on training in a lab, the program provides students with a strong foundation in general maintenance skills including HVAC/R. Troubleshooting and print reading skills are emphasized.

Apart from HVAC/R, the program offers in-depth skills training in boiler operation, electrical concepts, adjustable speed drives, communication, preventive maintenance skills, programmable controls, problem-solving methods, water treatment, and troubleshooting skills.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS (two years); certificates (less than one year)
  • Estimated Tuition: $123 per credit

Lane Community College

Lane Community College offers an apprenticeship program along with an AAS degree in construction trades. The apprenticeship involves 144 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.

To be eligible for this apprenticeship, students must have a high school diploma or GED, one year of high school algebra, with a grade ‘C’ or better, and must be at least 18 years old.

The apprenticeship curriculum includes courses in electronics, electrical theory, introduction to advanced technology, electrical wiring for the trades, geometry, trigonometry, and blueprint reading.

The associate of applied science degree program comprises 90 credits including courses such as limited voltage electrical circuits, electrical systems installation methods, electrical theory, HVAC systems, and limited voltage cabling.

  • Location: Eugene, OR
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Apprenticeship (four years); AAS (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: $13,129 for the AAS program

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 programs.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and 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:

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

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 or in this comprehensive guide to HVAC certifications.

The Oregon Construction Contractors Board requires anyone, including HVAC contractors, who works for compensation in any construction activity involving improvements to real property to obtain a contractor’s 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 – residential and small commercial projects. The small commercial is defined as 10,000 square feet or less; or any size if the total cost per project does not exceed $250,000
  • Commercial – 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 contractors, specialty contractors, and limited contractors. 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 category applies to part-time contractors who only perform maintenance services. A residential limited HVAC specialty contractor may not perform work above $5,000 per job per year, 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; a Level II commercial specialty contractor must have four years of construction experience. Experience requirements may be met by employment supervised by a licensed contractor or journey-level foreman. The number of years required can be reduced by three by completing an apprenticeship or obtaining a bachelor degree in a construction-related field; reduced by two years by obtaining a bachelor or master degree in business, finance, or economics; reduced by one year by obtaining an associate 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 obtain surety bonds, general liability insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance in the amounts required for the license for which they are applying.

A completed application form and a fee of $325 for the combined contractor’s license and business license must be submitted with the supporting documents. The license must be renewed every two years. Continuing education is required for renewal. The credits needed vary with the type of license.

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

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.