Salem, OR HVAC Training Schools- Degrees & Certifications

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The Willamette River, as well as numerous smaller streams, flows through the city of Salem, Oregon (OR). The abundance of local resources allowed Native Americans to flourish in the area for thousands of years. The Willamette Valley became an agricultural center with the arrival of European settlers in the 1800s. Today, Salem is the capital of Oregon, the Marion county seat, and the state’s second-largest city. Agriculture remains a substantial part of the economy, due to diversified crops and an expansion into a major food processing center.

Government services contribute significantly to the local economy, but the city has diversified into industries that include education, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, professional services, and transportation. The valley is gaining a reputation as a wine-producing area, and the manufacturing industry is expanding into high-tech products.

Salem enjoys a temperate climate with highs that seldom exceed the mid-80s F and lows that rarely drop below freezing. July and August are the hottest months, with average daytime temperatures of 82 degrees. Nighttimes average about 30 degrees cooler. September and October usher in cooler autumn temperatures, accompanied by increasing amounts of rainfall.

Temperatures continue to drop in November, and the cold weather remains through March. The rainfall in November increases to more than six inches, and nearly seven inches drenches December. Precipitation starts leveling off to four to five inches monthly for the remainder of the winter. December through February usually experience light snowfall. Temperatures begin their warming climb in April, as the rainfall dwindles.

Although the mild weather allows Salem residents to enjoy the outdoors often, they must rely on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort in their homes and workplaces. The addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) is essential for many businesses, particularly those in the agriculture and food processing industries.

Specialized climate-control equipment and systems are frequently required by hospitality venues, museums and historic sites, and educational and healthcare research facilities. Businesses that rely on high-tech also require specialty climate control to keep their electronics operating correctly.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020), 390 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in Salem for the period ending May 2019. The technicians and their employers benefit from resources and support from industry groups such as the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Home Builders Association of Marion & Polk Counties
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Salem
  • Oregon Air Conditioning Contractors Association
  • Oregon State Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (ORPHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA)
  • UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 290

Groups such as these work with other industry associations and with government agencies 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 Salem, OR

The BLS (May 2019) data continues to show an increasing demand for trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians. They predict a 4 percent increase in new employment opportunities for technicians nationwide between 2019 and 2029, the same as the average growth projected for all US occupations during the same decade.

The demand for technicians in Oregon is even more favorable, as Projections Central (2020) anticipates 18.5 percent growth in new positions for technicians statewide between 2018 and 2028.

The primary factor in the growth of the HVAC industry is the construction of new commercial and residential structures. Existing buildings in long-established cities such as Salem are often renovated or remodeled, which necessitates repairing, replacing, or updating aging climate-control equipment and systems.

On occasion, changing regulations or environmental standards, new industries, or technological advances make replacement of HVAC systems in recently built structures necessary. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction is another factor driving industry growth.

Whether renovated or new, modern “smart” buildings incorporate sophisticated climate-control systems that require trained technicians to install, maintain, and service. Technicians who are skilled troubleshooters, understand electronics and high-tech, and are proficient with computers will have the best job opportunities.

Technicians who specialize in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines. The expanding and diverse economy of Salem makes a decline in construction unlikely in the foreseeable future. Technicians who maintain, service, and repair equipment and systems can expect full-time employment regardless of the economy, as businesses and homeowners depend on year-round climate control.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Salem, OR

According to the BLS (May 2019), HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730. Technicians in Salem received an annual median salary of $46,910, as per the BLS data. The wages are not quite comparable, as the cost of living in Oregon is higher than in most American states.

National, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals, as per the BLS (May 2019) are as follows:

United States Oregon Salem, OR
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 3,260 390
Average annual salary $51,420 $52,010 $48,450
10th percentile $30,610 $31,940 $32,300
25th percentile $37,660 $37,090 $37,500
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $49,720 $46,910
75th percentile $62,070 $62,540 $58,260
90th percentile $77,920 $77,400 $69,440

HVAC Apprenticeships in Salem, OR

HVAC technicians traditionally began their careers as helpers and learned the trade through on-the-job training. Although doing so is still possible, it has become increasingly difficult for untrained workers to find employment. Most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Formal training and apprenticeships open up more employment opportunities. Trained workers also start at higher wages and earn more throughout their career.

The average apprenticeship encompasses specified hours of on-the-job training, usually 2,000, combined with classroom work, usually 144 hours, annually for three to five years.

The Oregon State Apprenticeship and Training Division provides apprenticeship information and resources to workers and employers. The HVAC/R apprenticeship is taught at the Columbia Gorge JATC facility in Salem. Oregon Apprenticeship maintains state-wide listings of apprenticeship locations and opportunities.

The Sheet Metal Institute sponsors sheet metal and HVAC apprenticeship programs in Portland and Springfield. The Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 has a five-year apprenticeship program for HVAC/R service technicians at their Tualatin, OR campus. The Associated Builders and Contractors Pacific Northwest Chapter sponsors a four-year HVAC technician apprenticeship with the Northwest College of Construction in Portland, OR. Chemeketa Community College in Salem offers HVAC/R and sheet metal apprenticeships.

Industry associations such as the following also provide HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs:

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

Consult each organization’s website for details regarding available programs, schedules, and fees.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Salem, OR

When selecting a school, students should ensure that it is accredited. Accreditation means that the institution has undergone a process by which an independent agency evaluated its curriculum and instructors. HVAC programs are accredited by HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). To date, neither has accredited an Oregon program. The school profiled below has received accreditation from another agency.

Note: The information in this article was compiled in November 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic with social distancing restrictions. As have other institutions, the profiled school has temporarily suspended classes or is transitioning to online options to comply with the restrictions. Questions as to timing and format should be directed to the school administration.

Portland Community College

PCC offers a “Career Pathway” HVAC/R installer certificate. The curriculum includes coursework in refrigeration, electricity, and basic HVAC/R installation. An HVAC/R installation certificate program is available that prepares students for entry-level employment. The curriculum includes work practices, cleanup, ACR tubing, natural gas piping, sheet metal, combustion air, controls, duct sizing, equipment setup, ergonomics, HVAC/R accessories, mechanical code, refrigerant handling, systems startup, venting, and customer relations. At the end of the classroom lectures, students complete a two-week practicum of hands-on experience.

Both programs take 14 credit-hours to complete.

Students may also earn a facilities maintenance certificate. The curriculum includes computer skills, OSHA 30 training, print reading, programmable logic controllers, introduction to facilities maintenance systems, refrigeration, electricity, water treatment and distribution, boilers, natural gas equipment, chillers, direct digital controls, and general education electives. Students complete 44 credit-hours to earn their certificate.

The facilities maintenance technology degree program includes all the certificate coursework, with the addition of electrical motor controls, adjustable speed drives, pneumatic controls, force, motion, and energy, and general education electives. Students complete 90 credit-hours, which includes eight credit hours of cooperative work experience, to earn their degree.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Tuition: $123 per credit-hour
  • Program Length: Certificates vary; degree two years

Salem workers who cannot attend on-campus or a nearby school may find that online institutions can better meet their needs. More information on accredited programs is available at online HVAC training.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Salem, OR

Federal law mandates that all HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who handle refrigerants obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. Four levels of certification are available based on the type and size of equipment on which a technician works. The levels 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

Details of the criteria for each certification are available on the EPA website.

Various industry organizations provide training and certifications that increase a technician’s employability. These include, but are not limited to:

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

Technicians may also obtain their Section 608 certification through these organizations. Further information as to the availability, scheduling, and fees may be found on each website. There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.

Anyone, including HVAC contractors, who is compensated for construction activity that involves improvements to real property, is required by the Oregon Construction Contractors Board to obtain a contractor’s license. Self-employed technicians are typically classified as contractors. The kind of license required is defined by “endorsements” selected by the contractor. The endorsements are:

  • Residential – single-family residences, multi-family structures no more than four stories high, individual units in a high rise structure
  • Small commercial – nonresidential structures 10,000 square feet or less and not more than 20 feet high, leasehold or rental units up to 12,000 square feet in a larger structure, structures of any size if the total work is not more than $250,000
  • Large commercial – any structure that is not residential or small commercial

The endorsements are also divided as to general contractor, specialty contractor, and limited contractor, with restrictions governing the scope of the work for each category, the size of projects, and the number of trades working on each project. Bonds and liability insurance requirements vary based on the endorsement.

Commercial contractors must meet specified experience and education requirements and pass an exam. Licenses must be renewed every two years. Renewal requires a specified number of continuing education units as determined by the type of license.

The State Building Codes Division additionally requires a business license. The City of Salem does not require HVAC technicians to obtain additional licensing.

As licensing regulations are always subject to change, HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they are in compliance with current guidelines before starting a project.

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.