HVAC Training Schools in Houston, Texas

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With hot summers and a booming construction industry, it’s no surprise that the demand for HVAC installers, mechanics, and technicians is reaching a fever pitch in Texas’s largest city. Consequently, it’s no surprise that Houston is touted as “the most air-conditioned city in the world” (San Jacinto College). Not only is there a high-growth employment outlook in Houston’s HVAC industry, but there’s a wealth of professional associations and resources for these invaluable professionals as well. For example, the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association (TACCA) offers a two-day test preparation course for the Texas ACR/HVAC-R contractors exam with lessons in mechanical code, refrigeration, and more. Since only 35 percent of people pass this exam, the TACCA classes and workbooks can serve as an important resource for qualified HVAC professionals seeking this mandatory credential from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR).

HVAC mechanics and installers in Houston take on varied responsibilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec. 2015) reports that these professionals must understand the basic refrigeration cycle; test and repair various system components (e.g., humidifiers, hermetic compressors, heat pumps, ductless splits, water pumps, economizers, motors, intake valves, air ducts, electrical wiring); perform heat load calculations; use blueprints and mechanical drawings; make recommendations to clients for energy efficiency; comply with local and federal legislation; keep detailed customer service records; and maintain active credentialing through the TDLR. To qualify as an HVAC technician in Houston, candidates typically must be at least 18 years of age, have attended a training or certification program, have a decent driving record, and pass a drug screening. While there are generalist HVAC professionals, others choose to specialize in a type of equipment (e.g., geothermal systems, solar panels) or working environment (e.g., residences, commercial structures).

This guide examines how to become an HVAC or air conditioning worker in Houston, including the employment outlook, salary information, and licensing requirements, as well as a detailed look at the array of accredited HVAC schools in the city.

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Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Houston

For HVAC professionals in Houston and nationwide, there’s expected to be an explosion in opportunities in coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015), there’s a projected 14 percent increase in openings in this field between 2014 and 2024; notably, this figure is double the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that time (7 percent). Furthermore, the employment climate in Texas may be even more favorable in this line fo work. By illustration, Texas employs 21,810 HVAC technicians and installers, the second-highest number among all US states (BLS May 2015). Additionally, the Houston-Woodlands-Sugar Land region boasts the fifth highest number of HVAC workers among all American metropolitan areas (5,440 employed).

While some of these skilled professionals work usual business hours, other HVAC workers in Houston may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, or holidays, particularly during the high summer season. Also, it’s important to note that HVAC workers incur a higher than average rate of illness and injury than other US occupations (BLS Dec. 2015). This is due to the relatively physical nature of the work, which may expose people to burns, muscle strains, and other maladies. That said, with the proper training and safety equipment, these problems can generally be kept to a minimum.

While employment prerequisites vary, many HVAC job postings in the Houston area call for the following:

  • Associate degree or certificate in HVAC technology or a related field
  • At least two years of experience
  • EPA Section 608 and/or NATE, ICE, or other certifications (discussed in section below)
  • Valid driver’s license
  • HVAC technician registration or a contractor’s license through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR)

There’s no shortage of opportunities for qualified HVAC professionals in Houston. As proof of point, Indeed (Oct. 2016) had 369 relevant job postings in the Houston area, including openings at Cottonwood Residential, Knightvest Management, R&R Systems Inc., NRG Home Services, Innovative Automation and Controls, Comfort Systems USA, J&S Air, and Direct Energy, to name a few. Monster (Oct. 2016) also had 55 postings at places such as One Hour A/C & Heating, New Hope Housing Inc., Universal Home Experts, and John Moore Services. In sum, there’s expected to be a high demand in this field in Houston in years to come.

Houston HVAC Technician Salary Data

There’s excellent news for HVAC workers in Houston and beyond. Although this profession generally requires one-to-two years of postsecondary schooling, it is relatively lucrative. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2015) the 274,680 HVAC workers around the country enjoyed and annual average salary of $47,380 with the following detailed wage percentiles:

United States (274,680 HVAC workers): $47,380 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $27,790
  • 25th percentile: $34,920
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,110
  • 75th percentile: $58,070
  • 90th percentile: $71,690

And in hourly terms, these figures equated to:

US: $22.78/hr. average

  • 10th percentile: $13.36/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.79/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.69/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.92/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $34.47/hr.

Although the salaries in Texas were somewhat lower, it’s important to note that a dollar goes a lot further in the Lone Star State than in most other states. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2016) found that Texas was the ninth most affordable state in the country, boasting particular savings in housing and groceries compared to the rest of the country. Aspiring HVAC workers in Houston are encouraged to keep this in mind while evaluating the following figures.

As mentioned above, the BLS (May 2015) found that there were 21,810 HVAC workers employed in Texas—the second most of any state in the country—with an annual average salary of $42,830. In more detailed terms, here were the wage percentiles among Texas HVAC workers:

Texas (21,810 HVAC workers): $42,830 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $26,840
  • 25th percentile: $33,110
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,610
  • 75th percentile: $51,080
  • 90th percentile: $61,460

And in hourly figures, these salaries equated to:

Texas:  $20.59/hour

  • 10th percentile: $12.90/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.92/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.52/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $24.56/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.55/hr.

Not surprisingly, these figures tended to vary by region within Texas as well. Not only did the Houston region boast the fifth highest number of HVAC workers among all metropolitan regions in the country, but the city also enjoyed a higher average salary ($45,980 annually) than the surrounding areas within the state. By illustration, here were the numbers of HVAC workers, the average salaries, and wage percentiles among eight BLS-designated regions close to Houston (BLS May 2015):

Austin-Round Rock, TX (2,060 HVAC workers): $40,160 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $25,210
  • 25th percentile: $33,260
  • 50th percentile (median): $38,780
  • 75th percentile: $47,190
  • 90th percentile: $56,560

Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX (220 employed): $42,280 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,280
  • 25th percentile: $34,230
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,870
  • 75th percentile: $49,720
  • 90th percentile: $57,930

College Station-Bryan, TX (110 employed): $43,570 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,640
  • 25th percentile: $35,050
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,270
  • 75th percentile: $53,130
  • 90th percentile: $60,400

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (5,440 employed): $45,980 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $28,030
  • 25th percentile: $34,680
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,910
  • 75th percentile: $56,870
  • 90th percentile: $65,160

Victoria, TX (80 employed): $45,440 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $27,130
  • 25th percentile: $32,750
  • 50th percentile (median): $38,060
  • 75th percentile: $49,020
  • 90th percentile: $87,260

Big Thicket Region of Texas Nonmetropolitan Area (220 employed): $38,190 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $29,240
  • 25th percentile: $33,510
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,930
  • 75th percentile: $43,910
  • 90th percentile: $48,550

Border Region of Texas Nonmetropolitan Area (100 employed): $32,310 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $22,670
  • 25th percentile: $26,260
  • 50th percentile (median): $30,130
  • 75th percentile: $36,970
  • 90th percentile: $46,490

Coastal Plains Region of Texas Nonmetropolitan Area (250 employed): $39,230 avg.

  • 10th percentile: $26,290
  • 25th percentile: $32,220
  • 50th percentile (median): $40,160
  • 75th percentile: $46,750
  • 90th percentile: $51,000

In hourly figures, these regional salaries equated to:

Austin-Round Rock, TX (2,060 HVAC workers): $19.31/hour average

  • 10th percentile: $12.12/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.99/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.64/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $22.69/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $27.19/hr.

Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX (220 employed): $20.33/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $13.60/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.46/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $20.61/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.90/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $27.85/hr.

College Station-Bryan, TX (110 employed): $20.95/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $13.77/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.85/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $20.80/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $25.54/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.04/hr.

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (5,440 employed): $22.10/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $13.47/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.68/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.59/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $27.34/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $31.33/hr.

Victoria, TX (80 employed): $21.85/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $13.04/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.75/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.30/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.57/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $41.95/hr.

Big Thicket Region of Texas Nonmetropolitan Area (220 employed): $18.36/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $14.15/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $16.11/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.24/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $21.11/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $23.34/hr.

Border Region of Texas Nonmetropolitan Area (100 employed): $15.53/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $10.90/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $12.63/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $14.49/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $17.77/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $22.35/hr.

Coastal Plains Region of Texas Nonmetropolitan Area (250 employed): $18.86/hour avg.

  • 10th percentile: $12.64/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $15.49/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $19.31/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $22.48/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $24.52/hr.

HVAC Schools in Houston

Traditionally, the two main accreditation agencies for HVAC training schools are HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). While HVAC Excellence has accredited programs in Laredo and Grand Prairie and there’s one PAHRA-accredited program in Wichita Falls, there were no programs approved by either of these entities in the Houston area. That said, since graduating from a program accredited by a specific entity is not a prerequisite for state licensure or employment, there’s a wealth of alternative, affordable training options in the Houston area. Additionally, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS COC) provides institutional accreditation. More than 130 community colleges and universities in Texas are SACS COC accredited, and some of these are located in Houston. 

For example, Houston Community College provides several one-year certificate programs for aspiring HVAC workers. In its basic air conditioning and refrigeration certificate program, HCC prepares its students for the mandatory EPA Section 608 certification (discussed below) through coursework in electrical calculations; basic electricity for HVAC; air conditioning control principles; and gas & electric heating. HCC also offers an advanced heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration technology certificate, featuring courses in residential air conditioning; refrigeration principles; workforce leadership & critical thinking skills; EPA certification preparation; commercial air conditioning; and heat pumps. Notably, HCC also provides a bilingual air conditioning certificate. Also, 21 credits from any of the certificate programs can be applied toward the school’s associate of applied science (AAS) degree in construction technology.

San Jacinto College also has certificate and degree programs available to prepare HVAC professionals in Houston. In addition to its 16-week HVAC-R certificate program, SJC offers a two-year AAS in air conditioning technology with coursework in gas electrical heating; commercial refrigeration; commercial air conditioning; small business management; advanced electricity; commercial air conditioning systems design; and general education subjects. Notably, this program only costs $50 per credit.

Lone Star College also has a 60-credit AAS program in HVAC technology to prepare people for careers in technical service of residential or light commercial climate control systems. This program has courses such as residential air conditioning systems design; heat pumps; air conditioning troubleshooting; gas & electric heating; EPA recovery certification preparation; and special topics in heating, air conditioning & refrigeration. The average tuition at LSC is $792 per semester.

Lastly, for students residing in more rural regions of Texas or who have commitments which prevent them from attending an on-campus program, there are distance-based HVAC training programs available. In addition to online coursework, students typically receive some hands-on training and testing at various sites close to their homes. To learn more about the web-based training for HVAC workers, check out the online HVAC programs page.

 

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Houston

HVAC training Houston can lead to many different certification options. Eligibility will vary for these certifications, but applicants need to understand that a certification is different from a certificate, which may be given as a result of completing an HVAC program, typically a year or less in length. Certification, on the other hand, attests to proven skills sets or knowledge. Some of the certifications that may be available to HVAC school graduates are listed below.

  • HVAC Excellence, founded in 1994, offers certifications for students, experienced technicians and educators. Its employment-ready certifications may be available to students completing HVAC programs in Houston, but there are also specialty areas, such as in green awareness, that can be pursued.
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE), founded in 1997, has certification levels that include installation, service, and senior technician. These can be sought in specialty areas such as air conditioning, heat pumps, and hydronics oil.
  • EPA 608 certification is necessary for those wanting to work with refrigerants, which are ozone-depleting substances.There are four categories of this credential which vary by equipment: type I (small appliances), type II (high-pressure refrigerants),

Typically, students have to show proof of their skills through a written exam, but a hands-on test of skills may be required in some cases. There are many organizations beyond HVAC schools in Houston that offer specific skills training or practice tests to prepare applicants for certification exams. The Esco Institute is one such organization. To learn in depth about these offerings, please visit the main HVAC certifications page.

 

Also, Texas law requires all HVAC workers to seek registration or licensure through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). The first level credential is TDLR’s Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (ACR) Technician Registration, which is required for anyone who wants to install, repair, or maintain HVAC systems while working under a licensed HVAC contractor. There is also an ACR certification which is optional and requires passing an exam. The application fee to become a Registered ACR Technician is $20, and for Certified ACR Techs it’s $35.

Lastly, for those who seek to advertise their HVAC services in Houston and beyond, an Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractor License is necessary. To qualify for a TDLR contractor license, candidates must pass a comprehensive examination after submitting the following:

  • Proof of 48 months of practical experience under the supervision of a licensed contractor in the previous 72 months
  • $115 application fee

There are various types of HVAC contractor licenses available in Texas which vary by type and size of system. There are licenses available for specialists in Environmental Air Conditioning and Commercial Refrigeration/Process Heating & Cooling, as well as a combined license for people with abilities in both of these areas. Additionally there are Class A and Class B licenses; the former allows the licensee to work with any size unit, and the latter allows the licensee to service cooling systems of 25 tons and under and heating systems of 1.5 million BTUs/hour and under.

Finally, Texas has licensing reciprocity with South Carolina and Georgia, and Texas HVAC contractors may provide service work in those states after seeking a letter of good standing from the TDLR. To learn more about how to obtain these credentials, check out the full details on the TDLR website.