HVAC Degree & Certificate Programs in Charleston, SC – Vocational Schools & Certification

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Named after King Charles, Charleston, South Carolina (SC) was founded in the 1600s and has since grown into the state’s largest city. Millions of visitors annually are drawn to its many historical sites and cultural events. Its coastal location also makes it a popular destination site. Charleston Harbor supports a thriving shipping industry.

The automotive and aeronautics industries, led by companies that include Volvo and Boeing, contribute significantly to the economy. Other strong industries include retail services, education, and healthcare. Information technology businesses are on the increase. A recent report indicates that “all signs point to continued economic growth in the Charleston region” and that the “area’s diversified economy . . . will help to insulate the region from national economic shocks.”

The weather in Charleston frequently includes rainfall, especially during the summer months. August typically averages slightly less than seven inches and is flanked by close to six inches each in July and September. Daytime temperatures during June through September are in the 80s and barely cool into the 70s during the evenings. In comparison to summer’s oppressive heat, the winters are cold. December through February bring highs in the upper 50s and lows in the mid-40s. Rainfall during those months drops to less than three inches each month, and snowfall is infrequent. Hurricanes periodically threaten Charleston.

Residents of Charleston depend on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to obtain relief from the heat and humidity during the summer and to warm their homes and workplaces during the winter. The hospitality industry often needs the addition of commercial-scale refrigeration (HVAC/R), as do the manufacturing and industrial facilities. Education and healthcare institutions, as well as the businesses that rely on technology, frequently require specialized climate-control systems to keep their electronic equipment operating correctly. The historical sites also need specialized systems to preserve their artifacts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) workforce data shows that 970 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Charleston-North Charleston area during the period ended May 2019. Industry organizations such as the following provided support to the technicians and their employers:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Carolina Association of General Contractors (CAGC)
  • Charleston Contractors’ Association
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of South Carolina (MCASC)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA)
  • South Carolina Association of Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors (SCAHACC)
  • South Carolina Association of Licensed Trades (SCALT)
  • UA Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 421

These organizations work with others in the industry and with government agencies to establish educational, licensing, and safety standards. They serve all aspects of the HVAC industry, including performance and promotion.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Charleston, SC

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect continued increases in job opportunities. The BLS (2019) projects a 13 percent increase in HVAC jobs nationally—the addition of 46,300 positions—between 2018 and 2028. That is more than double the expected 5 percent growth for all US occupations during the same decade. The outlook for Charleston technicians is even more favorable, as Projections Central anticipates a 17.4 percent growth in the demand for technicians in South Carolina between 2016 and 2026.

The growth of the HVAC industry is primarily due to the construction of new homes and commercial buildings. Remodeling and renovation of existing structures also contribute significantly to industry growth, as aging climate-control systems and equipment must be retrofitted, updated, or replaced to meet current environmental standards. Occasionally, equipment in recently-built structures must be replaced due to technological advances, changing regulations, or new industries that demand high-tech systems. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction also contributes to industry growth.

New structures and modernized older buildings are often “smart” and require the installation of sophisticated climate-control systems. The high-tech systems require trained technicians to install, maintain, and service.

The best job opportunities will go to technicians who are expert troubleshooters, understand electronics, and are skilled in using computers. If they specialize in new installations, they may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines. Economic diversity in Charleston, however, has kept the prosperous city growing.

Expansion, especially in technology-based industries, is expected to continue, and a decline in construction is unlikely in the near future. Technicians who maintain, service, and repair equipment can expect full-time employment, as businesses and homeowners depend on year-round climate control regardless of the economy.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Charleston, SC

The BLS (May 2019) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730. Technicians in the Charleston-North Charleston area received an annual median salary of $46,490. The difference isn’t as significant it may appear, as South Carolina has a low cost of living when compared to other American states.

National, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals from the BLS (May 2019) are compared in the table below:

United States South Carolina Charleston-North Charleston, SC
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 5,530 970
Average annual salary $51,420 $45,160 $47,320
10th percentile $30,610 $29,980 $34,900
25th percentile $37,660 $36,610 $40,970
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $44,770 $46,490
75th percentile $62,070 $52,750 $53,030
90th percentile $77,920 $61,950 $61,740

HVAC Apprenticeships in Charleston, SC

It is possible for an aspiring HVAC and HVAC/R technician to obtain employment as a helper and learn their skills through on-the-job training. Few opportunities currently exist for untrained workers. Workers now obtain the necessary training either by participating in an apprenticeship program or by attending classes. Trained technicians have more employment opportunities, as well as potentially starting at higher wages and earning more throughout their career.

Apprenticeships typically include specified hours of on-the-job training (2,000) and classroom work (144), annually for three to five years.

Apprenticeship Carolina provides mentoring and information on becoming a registered apprentice, as well as resources for workers and employers. The Palmetto Academic and Training Hub, as part of the SC Department of Employment & Workforce, also provides training information and resources.

Trident Technical College in Charleston incorporates several adult apprenticeship programs, including HVAC. UA Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 421 offers five-year apprenticeships throughout the state. The closest site to Columbia is in Concord.

Workers also can attend HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs sponsored by industry associations that include:

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

Details of programs, schedules, and fees are available on each organization’s website.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Charleston, SC

When choosing a school, students should be careful to select an institution that is accredited. Accreditation means that an independent agency has evaluated the quality of the curriculum and the instructors of the institution.

HVAC programs are accredited by two organizations. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has not yet accredited a South Carolina program. HVAC Excellence has awarded accreditation to Central Carolina Technical College, Sumter, and Greenville Technical College, Greenville. Although Sumter would require a lengthy commute for Charleston students and Greenville would potentially require Charleston students to relocate, both schools are included in the profiles below due to their accreditation.

Note: The information in this article was compiled in July 2020 during the “shelter-in-place” and “stay-home” restrictions during the COVID-19 epidemic. The schools have temporarily suspended classes or are transitioning to online options to comply with the restrictions. Questions as to timing and format should be directed to the school administration.

Central Carolina Technical College

CC Tech offers an HVAC/R basic certificate program and an HVAC/R advanced certificate program. Coursework for both programs includes classroom lectures and hands-on practice in the lab. The basic program is available during the daytime and evenings, and is a prerequisite for the advanced program. The advanced program is only available during the daytime.

The basic program curriculum includes electricity, tools and service techniques, HVAC, controls, codes and ordinances, duct fabrication, domestic refrigeration, heat pumps, HVAC special topics, preparation for EPA 608 certification, and computers.

Students earn their certificate at the completion of 39 credit-hours. The advanced certificate includes 22 additional credit-hours of instruction in gas heating, customer relations, advanced electricity, commercial refrigeration, industrial air conditioning, advanced air conditioning, and troubleshooting and maintenance.

  • Location: Sumter, SC
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: Clarendon, Lee, Kershaw, and Sumter county residents ($188 per credit-hour); other South Carolina students ($220 per credit-hour)
  • Program Length: Varies

Greenville Technical College

Greenville Tech offers three HVAC training options: a beginning electricity and refrigeration certificate program (12 credit-hours); an HVAC/R technician certificate program (36 credit-hours); and an air HVAC/R diploma program (45 credit-hours). Coursework for all programs includes classroom lectures and hands-on practice with real-life equipment. Students may attend daytime or evening classes.

The beginning program includes the following coursework: the fundamentals of refrigeration, tools and service techniques, and basic electricity. It is designed to allow graduates to seek employment as residential air conditioning helpers. The technician certificate adds the following coursework: heating fundamentals, basic air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, controls, sheet metal, customer relations, and heat pumps.

The HVAC/R diploma program includes all the above coursework, as well as the following: mathematics, professional communications, and human relations. Students must take the NATE (North American Technician Excellence) Core competency exam prior to graduation. Graduates of the HVAC/R certificate and diploma programs are qualified to sit for the EPA 608 certification exams. Graduates of the diploma program may apply their credit hours to the general technology degree program.

  • Location: Greenville, SC
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: Greenville County students ($277 per credit-hour); other South Carolina students ($294 per credit-hour)
  • Program Length: Varies

Trident Technical College

Trident offers the following certificate programs:

  • HVAC/R mechanics – 24 credit-hours
  • Advanced HVAC/R mechanics – 14 credit-hours
  • Commercial and industrial HVAC/R – 36 credit-hours

Students may choose to obtain a degree in general technology with HVAC/R mechanics as the career path. All of the programs present the coursework via classroom lectures and hands-on training.

Students in the HVAC/R mechanics program complete coursework that includes basic electricity, refrigeration fundamentals, tools and service techniques, gas heating principles, air conditioning, sheet metal, heat pumps, and codes and ordinances. Students in the advanced HVAC/R mechanics program must have completed the first three courses listed above as prerequisites. Their coursework also includes commercial refrigeration, microcomputer spreadsheets, preventive maintenance, and mechanical power applications.

The commercial and industrial certificate program includes basic electricity, refrigeration fundamentals, tools and service techniques, commercial refrigeration, preventive maintenance, and mechanical power applications as part of the curriculum rather than as prerequisites. The remainder of the coursework includes AC DC drives, programmable controllers, pumps, industrial electricity, and piping systems.

The degree program includes all of the above technical coursework. Students also complete coursework in a secondary technical specialty and 15 credit-hours of general education. They earn their degree at the completion of a minimum of 60 credit-hours.

  • Location: Charleston, SC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: Charleston County students ($188.69 per credit-hour); other South Carolina students ($209.34 per credit-hour)
  • Program Length: Certificates (vary); degree (two years)

Charleston residents who are unable to attend on-campus schools may find that online institutions can better meet their needs. More information on accredited programs is available on the online HVAC training page.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Charleston, SC

Technicians who work with refrigerants are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pass an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. There are four types of EPA Section 608 certification based on the systems on which the technicians work. The Universal certification allows technicians to work on all types of equipment.

The EPA has details and additional information available on their website.

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications that will increase their employability from industry organizations that include the following:

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

Section 608 exams are also available from these organizations. Further information is available on the HVAC certifications page.

The South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation requires HVAC and HVAC/R contractors to be licensed. Applicants must first pass an exam in business and law and a technical exam. They must then submit the following:

  • Financial statements
  • Surety bond
  • Proof of two years of work experience within the past five years
  • Verification of lawful presence in the US
  • Copies of social security card and drivers license
  • $350 fee

Licenses are good for two years. South Carolina has licensing reciprocity with several nearby states.

The City of Charleston requires all businesses to be licensed. Licenses must be renewed annually. Fees are based on gross receipts.

As licensing regulations are subject to change, HVAC professionals are encouraged to ensure that they have all necessary state and local licenses before beginning any projects.

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.