Rhode Island HVAC Training Schools

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Residents of Rhode Island (RI) can depend on variable weather conditions. The Ocean State is often humid and subject to tropical storms and powerful hurricanes. Winters are cold and snowy, while summers are hot but short. Not surprisingly, Rhode Island’s residents and workers generally depend on indoor climate control, especially during seasonal weather extremes. This is fueling the rapid growth of the heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) and commercial refrigeration (HVAC/R) industries across the state.

One factor leading to a robust demand for HVAC services is the booming construction industry. After a prolonged slump, Rhode Island’s economy is now booming according to the New York Times (March 2017). Large businesses that have recently set up shop in Rhode Island include:

Agota (Priceline), GE Digital Division, Johnson & Johnson, and United Natural Foods, Inc. Several other Fortune 500 companies have expanded their facilities to include Rhode Island or have committed to do so. At least 19 real estate companies are currently building apartments, offices, and shopping malls—all of which depend on the skills of HVAC professionals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016), 650 Rhode Islanders were employed as HVAC installers, mechanical, and maintenance workers. HVAC and HVAC/R contractors and technicians in the state are served by several professional organizations, including the New England Mechanical Contractors Association (NEMCA), as well as regional chapters of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the Air Conditioning Trade Association (ACTA), the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA), the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). The associations set work-related standards and guidelines, as well as provide education, networking opportunities, and other local resources.

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians in RI perform a variety of jobs. Their job description includes installing, servicing, and repairing systems that control air quality and air flow in buildings. They travel from one work site to another, sometimes daily. Work sites include residences, offices, warehouses, factories, hospitals, and stores. Each job has specific requirements. The technicians must be able to read blueprints and have familiarity with building codes. They install electrical and water lines for new equipment. They connect systems to supply lines, air ducts, controls, and other components. They then test and calibrate all equipment. When equipment needs repair, technicians troubleshoot and test components to find the problem. They may have to remove and replace defective parts. Repairs can require knowing how to weld or braze parts. Workers use a variety of tools in their jobs. Some are basic hand tools, such as wrenches or pipe cutters. Other jobs require specialized tools, such as monoxide testers, voltmeters, or combustion analyzers. They must be proficient in trade math in order to do calculations such as heat loads and losses. Rhode Island’s skilled technicians also have a role in educating consumers as to how to conserve energy and reduce pollution. Each customer is provided with a complete written record of all work performed and suggested recommendations. Furthermore, all technicians are responsible for keeping their licenses and certifications in good standing.

This guide explores the growing industry and abundance of HVAC training programs in Rhode Island.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Rhode Island

The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the BLS (October 2017), the number of HVAC positions is expected to grow 15 percent across the country between 2016 and 2026. That’s much faster growth than the national average for all occupations (seven percent). The demand for technicians in Rhode Island is only slightly slower, but still stronger than the national average. Projections Central (2017) predicted a 11.9 percent statewide increase in RI-based HVAC openings for the decade ending in 2024.

Commercial and residential construction is expected to drive employment growth, especially in the boom that Rhode Island is currently experiencing. The growing number of sophisticated climate control systems is also expected to increase demand for qualified HVAC and HVAC/R technicians. Many of the older systems will need to be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded. Technicians who understand computers and electronics, and those with good troubleshooting skills, are expected to enjoy the best job prospects.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers held 332,900 jobs nationwide in 2016, according to the BLS. Contractors were the largest employers of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers, and nine percent of technicians were self-employed. The remaining technicians worked for schools and retail or wholesale companies.

It’s important to note that Rhode Island technicians may have to work on outdoor equipment in adverse weather conditions. Working inside isn’t a guarantee of comfort, as buildings may be excessively hot or cold when climate control systems malfunction. Technicians may also be required to work in awkward positions or in cramped spaces. Technicians usually work full time, with overtime hours during peak seasons. HVAC and HVAC/R technicians have a higher-than-average rate of injuries and illnesses. They may suffer electrical shock, burns, or muscle strains and injuries from handling heavy equipment. They also are exposed to toxic chemicals. Safety procedures are an integral part of all training.

To illustrate the thriving demand for HVAC workers in the state, one need not look further than online job boards. Indeed (Jan. 2018), for example, included 167 listings for experienced HVAC and HVAC/R mechanics in Rhode Island. Brown University in Providence wanted a technician who is able to work independently on their systems. South County Hospital in Wakefield wanted to hire someone to be responsible for repairing and maintaining all the HVAC equipment. A company in Johnston is looking for technicians experienced with residential and commercial HVAC systems and are willing to pay up to $30.00 an hour for the right person. Another company in Bristol offered to pay a signing bonus for an experienced HVAC service technician.

Monster (Jan. 2018) also had 196 listings for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians in RI. A Cranston company wanted a journey-level technician. An HVAC controls technician was needed for a controls company in Providence. Another company in Lincoln wanted to hire a refrigeration service technician, and a Middletown company needed a maintenance technician. Finally, Ingersoll Rand in Riverside needs a controls technician.

In sum, the demand for HVAC workers is thriving in the Ocean State.

HVAC Worker Salary in Rhode Island

The BLS (May 2016) reported that U.S. HVAC/R mechanics and installers received a median salary of $45,910 annually. Rhode Island-based technicians, by comparison, received a generous median salary $54,370 annually.

In more detail, here were the BLS (May 2016) HVAC salary percentiles and numbers of HVAC workers:

United States (332,900 HVAC workers): $48,320 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,440
  • 25th percentile: $35,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,910
  • 75th percentile: $58,960
  • 90th percentile: $73,350

U.S.: $23.23 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $13.67/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.04/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.07/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $28.35/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $35.26/hr.

By comparison, here were the figures for RI:

State of Rhode Island (650 HVAC workers): $52,640 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $34,900
  • 25th percentile: $43,170
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,370
  • 75th percentile: $61,320
  • 90th percentile: $67,260

$25.31 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $16.78/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $20.76/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $26.14/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.48/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $32.34/hr.

Finally, the BLS also included detailed information about one designated region within the state:

Providence-Warwick, RI-MA (980 HVAC workers): $53,040 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $35,990
  • 25th percentile: $44,080
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,890
  • 75th percentile: $61,330
  • 90th percentile: $70,540

$25.50 average hourly salary

  • 10th percentile: $17.30/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $21.19/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $25.91/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $29.49/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $33.91/hr.

Please note that apprentices can expect to earn about half the wages that experienced workers earn, but generally receive gradual salary increases.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Rhode Island

Although some companies in RI will hire workers who are untrained, job prospects are much higher for workers who have served an apprenticeship or completed a course of study at an accredited institution. Those workers typically start at higher wages and can earn more throughout their career.

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training provides registered apprenticeship programs, include options in refrigeration. Additionally, the Rhode Island Builders Association (RIBA) has an HVAC apprenticeship program. The programs combine on-the-job training with relevant classroom instruction. Local chapters of industry associations are another source of regional apprenticeship programs. These include:

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

The plumbing and pipe fitting industry also sponsors apprenticeship programs.

When choosing a school to attend, it is important to make sure that it has the appropriate accreditation. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Various independent organizations grant accreditation. Two organizations evaluate and accredit HVAC programs are HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

As of January 2017, neither organization has accredited a Rhode Island HVAC program, but there are other training options available. For example, the New England Institute of Technology offers an associate in science (A.S.) degree in refrigeration/air conditioning/heating (RACH) at their East Greenwich campus. The program is a joint effort between the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Department and the Heating Department. It combines related courses from both areas and is designed to give students the training needed to enter the industry as entry-level technicians. Graduates understand domestic and commercial HVAC and HVAC/R systems, as well as the fundamentals of geothermal technology. The curriculum includes the following units:

  • Basic refrigeration
  • Basic refrigeration lab
  • Basic electricity
  • Basic refrigeration electricity
  • Basic refrigeration electricity lab
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Commercial refrigeration lab
  • Air conditioning
  • Air conditioning lab
  • Refrigeration technician certification
  • Basic heating
  • Basic heating lab
  • Heating systems theory
  • Heating systems lab
  • Gas technology
  • Gas technology lab

The curriculum is designed to be completed in four ten-week quarters. Tuition varies, and a tuition freeze was in place (as of Jan. 2018). Tuition for a full-time student in 2017 was $27,000 for most students. Books, supplies, and other fees were extra. Notably, the New England Institute of Technology is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

Rhode Islanders also may apply to schools and programs in surrounding states. For example, the nearby MotoRing Technical Training Institute (MTTI) in Seekonk, MA offers a HVAC/R program that is recognized in Rhode Island. The MTTI intensive program includes 900 hours of instruction that is intended to be completed within seven weeks. Students learn how to install, troubleshoot, repair, and service residential and commercial HVAC and HVAC/R systems. The 2017-2018 tuition, supplies and fees are:

  • $50 Application Fee
  • $100 Textbooks/Supplies
  • $16,350 Tuition

The MotoRing Technical Training Institute is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Please note that students may also take online courses. Look for accreditation by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Rhode Island

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. The four certifications are:

  • Type 1: small appliances
  • Type II: high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III: low-pressure refrigerants
  • Technicians who will be working on all types of equipment are required to obtain Universal HVAC certification (Type IV)

Practice exams are available.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. These include, but aren’t 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 HVACR 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.

As a final note, HVAC apprentices in Rhode Island must be registered. Further information, forms, and fee schedule is available at the state’s Workforce site. Also, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training requires all technicians and contractors to obtain licenses. Licensing requires a test and a fee. Before testing, applicants must complete an approved apprenticeship program. Reciprocity allows applicants licensed in other states to waive the apprenticeship requirement, but applicants must still take the test and pay the fee. Forms and further information is available in the “Mechanical” classification of the state website.