HVAC Schools in Seattle, WA: Degrees & Certification

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The home of the first Starbucks Coffee is blessed with relatively moderate weather. The average low temperature in Seattle during January is 36 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average high in July is 75 and as any Seattleite knows, freezing conditions and snowfall are rare, but rainfall is frequent. In fact, the Emerald City receives around 37 inches of rain a year and as a result, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) companies flourish, as do those providing refrigeration service (HVAC/R).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), 3,930 Seattleites were employed as HVAC installation, mechanical, and maintenance workers. To support these professionals, there’s an array of organizations offering training and support in the area, including the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington.

Additionally, there are local chapters of renowned national associations, including the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA); the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC); the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES); and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

These organizations work with people in the industry and government organizations to establish educational and licensing standards. Furthermore, they serve all aspects of the HVAC and refrigeration industries by offering continuing education, professional advocacy, apprenticeship programs, networking opportunities, discounts on services, and other benefits.

HVAC professionals in Seattle have a variety of responsibilities. They travel between job sites installing, servicing, maintaining, and repairing commercial and residential equipment. Their typical responsibilities include:

  • Installing wiring, ducting, and piping
  • Reading and following blueprints
  • Ensuring that equipment complies with local and federal regulations
  • Testing circuitry and components of equipment
  • Calibrating controls
  • Performing heat load and loss calculations
  • Educating customers on energy conservation
  • Maintaining complete service records
  • Soldering or brazing parts

This guide details the bright employment outlook for HVAC professionals in Seattle, WA, including discussions of salary prospects, educational programs, and local licensing information.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Workers in Seattle, WA

The demand for HVAC technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the BLS (2020), the number of openings for HVAC professionals is expected to swell 4 percent between 2019 and 2029, as fast as the average for all occupations during that time period.

It’s worth noting that Washington state is expected to have even more robust growth in industry. In fact, Projections Central (2020)—a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 15.5 percent increase in HVAC positions across Washington between 2018 and 2028. With the predicted addition of 1,280 fresh HVAC positions in WA and 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession in WA and across the country.

HVAC growth is fueled by several factors, including the economy. Every new office or residence requires climate control. Existing buildings need to have obsolete equipment replaced or retrofitted. The emphasis on energy conservation and pollution reduction means that systems have to be regularly serviced and maintained. HVAC professionals work indoors and outdoors, sometimes in adverse weather conditions. They may also have to work in cramped areas that force them into awkward positions. It’s worth noting that technicians may experience a higher rate of injury than workers in other trades. Injuries can include electrical shocks or muscle strains from moving heavy equipment.

The BLS (2020) reported that approximately 7 percent of HVAC/R technicians are self-employed. The remaining technicians are employed by contractors, schools, or retail and wholesale companies. Technicians usually work full time, although many put in overtime hours in evenings or on weekends during seasons of peak demand.

To best illustrate the thriving demand for HVAC workers in Seattle, turn to an online job site. For example, Indeed (2020) listed 147 local openings for HVAC/R technicians. These included listings from companies such as Innovative Refrigeration Systems, Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Bainbridge Heating and Air, and AAA Heating & Air Conditioning, among others. The Seattle-based listings on Monster (2020) found 550 jobs at companies like CyberCoders, Bassett Home Heating, EMCOR Group, and American Homes 4 Rent.

HVAC Worker Salary in Seattle, WA

HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730 according to a May 2019 BLS report. Technicians in Seattle, WA received an annual median salary of $62,710. As with any salary projections, taking into account the cost of living is also important.

It’s worth noting that while HVAC workers in Washington had higher salaries than the national figures, the state also has a slightly higher cost of living, as well. To be sure, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) asserts that Washington is the fourteenth most expensive state in the country. That is certainly an important consideration.

The table below compares national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

United States Washington Seattle, WA
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 342,040 6,750 3,930
Average Mean Wage $51,420 $61,300 $67,750
10th Percentile $30,610 $35,350 $41,590
25th Percentile $37,660 $44,050 $48,050
50th Percentile (Median) $48,730 $56,480 $62,710
75th Percentile $62,070 $73,680 $81,900
90th Percentile $77,920 $97,660 $104,620

 

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, Payscale (Sept. 2020), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $31,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,775
  • 90th percentile: $75,000

Accredited HVAC Schools in Seattle, WA

 

Although inexperienced workers can obtain positions as trainees, there are significantly more opportunities for those who have completed an apprenticeship program. These offer the benefit of paying students as they learn. Apprenticeships typically include at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom work annually. Apprentices are paid for the hours worked, and many programs do not charge tuition for the classroom work.

Apprentices must register with and be approved by the Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council (WSATC). Any workers who are not registered apprentices are regarded as journey-level workers and must be paid the prevailing journey-level wage. Registered apprentices are paid prevailing wages for apprentices, which are based on the number of accumulated hours. After registration, apprentices can then enter the program of their choice.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries offers several programs statewide for HVAC/R applicants. These programs are designed to teach a particular skill, either through coursework or hands-on experience. The time to completion varies by program.

An increasing number of aspiring HVAC workers are enrolling in accredited programs. Accreditation ensures that what is taught meets industry standards. HVAC accreditation can be granted by:

  • HVAC Excellence, which has not accredited a Washington state program as of now.
  • Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), which has accredited Bates Technical College, a public post-secondary school located in Tacoma. Bates is included in the profiles below due to its accreditation status. Furthermore, there are other programs within Seattle and surrounding areas which boast other reputable forms of accreditation.

Bates Technical College

There is one training program in WA accredited by PAHRA at Bates Technical College in Tacoma. The college offers an HVAC/R associate of applied science degree program and a certificate of competency in HVAC/R. Both programs require passing grades in the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) exams to graduate. Graduates are qualified to take other industry exams that increase their employability. They also receive 1,100 hours of credit for applying toward the Washington State O6A electrical certificate.

The certificate program requires 99 credit-hours, which include HVAC/R fundamentals, science, and troubleshooting. Students also learn about specialized tools and equipment, electrical systems and components, soldering and brazing, heat pumps, drafting and blueprints, chilled water systems, hydronic heating systems, cooling towers, thermal storage, commercial refrigeration, industry math, and welding and ducting.

The AAS degree program offers two concentrations: sheet metal or welding. Coursework in these programs covers the same areas as the certificate program, with additional courses in the chosen option. It also includes additional electives such as independent projects and practical applications. The AAS degree program requires 103 credit-hours to complete.

  • Location: Tacoma, WA
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (60 weeks); degree (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($131.42 per credit-hour); non-resident ($309.66 per credit-hour)

HVAC Business & Technical Institute

The HVAC Business & Technical Institute of nearby Kent, WA provides a wealth of technical classes in various areas. The HBTI boasts an innovative technical training lab, exceptional instructors, and employment-ready certification courses. For example, it offers a comprehensive electrical circuits and controls course for $595; gas and electrical furnaces for $595; heat-pump, A/C and refrigeration for $695; duct design and airflow troubleshooting for $495; and NATE certification courses for $425 (including relevant tests), among other hands-on instruction.

Notably, the school has recognition from NATE, the ACCA, and the EPA for excellence in training.

  • Location: Kent, WA
  • Accreditation: NA; Recognized by NATE, the ACCA, and the EPA for excellence in training
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies (some courses take four hours, while some might even take three to four days)
  • Estimated Tuition: $295 to $695

Perry Technical Institute

The HVAC/R technology program offered by the Perry Technical Institute provides students with a solid foundation and prepares them for HVAC entry-level employment. The program covers all aspects of the HVAC/R field (ranging from direct digital controls to industrial heating and cooling).

Notably, the program has been approved by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries as a 06A HVAC/R Specialty Electrical Training program. Students in this program are also prepared for several industry certifications such as the EPA 608, R-410A Safety, OSHA Safety, Green Mechanical Systems, EPA 609 Refrigerant, and North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certifications. Coursework includes hands-on training in lab-related instruction and classroom lectures.

The program consists of 169 credit-hours. It includes courses such as refrigeration and electric forced air heating, refrigeration fundamentals, resident and light commercial HVAC, industrial heating and cooling systems, and commercial refrigeration, among others.

Students also have the option of graduating with an associate of applied science degree from Yakima Valley College (YVC) and certificate from Perry Technical Institute (PTI), once they earn an additional 32 credit hours from YVC.

  • Location: Yakima, WA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $38,160

Clover Park Technical College

Clover Park Technical College offers an associate of applied technology degree in HVAC/R, a basic HVAC/R service technician certificate, and a refrigeration specialist certificate. Students in these programs are prepared for beginner roles such as building maintenance technicians, service technicians, start-up light commercial and residential installers, and equipment assemblers.

The refrigeration specialist certificate is made up of 42 credit-hours. It includes courses such as basic electricity, electrical circuits, advanced controls and troubleshooting, electric motors and their applications, electric motors and troubleshooting, EPA refrigerant certification, and basic refrigeration (along with lab) I and II.

The basic HVAC/R service technician certificate consists of 87 credit-hours. It includes all courses from the refrigeration specialist certificate with additional coursework in refrigeration controls, advanced motor theory, heating (along with lab) I and II, public speaking, general psychology, college success for all, and any 100-level math class.

The AAT degree in HVAC/R has been approved as an HVAC/Refrigeration (06A) Specialty Electrical Training program by the Washington State Department of Labour and Industries. It comprises 112 credit-hours and includes all courses from the certificates mentioned above with additional courses such as commercial refrigeration, job readiness, and computer literacy requirement.

Graduates of the AAT program will be well-equipped to find solutions to HVAC/R equipment related problems, they will be able to skillfully use HVAC/R diagnostic equipment and tools, and will be able to successfully troubleshoot commercial, residential, and industrial HVAC/R systems.

  • Location: Lakewood, WA
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Expected Time to Completion: Associate of applied technology degree (four quarters); Basic HVAC/R service technician certificate (three quarters); refrigeration specialist certificate (two quarters)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($111.92 per credit-hour); non-resident ($290.16 per credit-hour)

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Seattle, WA

Federal law requires all HVAC technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. Certifications are defined as follows:

  • Type I – technicians may work on small appliances
  • Type II – technicians may service high-pressure and very high-pressure appliances
  • Type III – technicians may service low-pressure appliances
  • Universal – technicians may service all types of equipment

Testing is provided by various industry organizations. The state of Washington does not require technicians to obtain an HVAC license. However, technicians are required to have a trainee or journey-level electrical license.

Additionally, the City of Seattle may require refrigeration and gas piping licenses, as well as an electrical license. Technicians start with a trainee license. Applicants are not required to have experience or coursework to receive the license. Trainees must renew their license every two years until they pass the tests to achieve journey-level electrical licenses. They are required to have 24 hours of continuing education a year.

The next step is to obtain an 06b electrical license, which is a restricted journeyman license. It requires 2,000 hours of supervised work with a certified electrician and passing a test. Licensees are then able to work without supervision on 240v 120a single-phase systems.

Technicians performing commercial work must obtain an 06a journey-level electrical license. These applicants must have 4,000 hours of documented work and pass a test. Once licensed, they are not restricted to systems on which they may work. Both licenses require specified continuing education hours of coursework and renewal.

Seattle also has three levels of refrigeration licensing:

  • Journey refrigeration mechanic – technicians are allowed to install, repair, or alter refrigeration or air conditioner equipment
  • Refrigeration operating engineer – technicians are limited to working on systems in specific buildings that are owned or operated by their employer
  • Refrigeration and air conditioning contractor’s license – contractors may install, repair, or alter refrigeration or air conditioning equipment

Some Seattle HVAC technicians must also obtain gas piping licenses. All licenses require testing, fees, and must be renewed annually. Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) – courses are taught by certified instructors and are available online; technicians can study basic and advanced HVAC and HVAC/R principles
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE) – training and certification in HVAC and HVAC/R knowledge areas
  • HVAC Excellence – dedicated to improving HVAC technician competence through training and certification

Requirements and fees for the various certifications vary. To learn in-depth about national certifications, please visit the main HVAC credentialing page.

Farheen Gani

Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).