HVAC Schools & Certifications in Tacoma, Washington (WA)

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Tacoma, Washington (WA) is bordered by Puget Sound, which includes Commencement Bay, the home of the Port of Tacoma, the state’s largest port and a hub of international trade. Tacoma is the county seat of Pierce County and the third-largest city in Washington. The city boasts an abundance of museums and historical sites which draw tourists.

Traditionally dependent on industrial industries such as paper manufacturing and copper smelting, Tacoma has expanded its economic base to include healthcare and education. Oil refineries, retail trade, government services, and the hospitality industry also contribute significantly to a stable economy. According to a recent report, although the rate of economic growth has slowed, “Income growth in 2020 is forecast to continue.”

Tacomans enjoy a generally mild climate. July and August are the warmest months, with temps in the high 70s F. Those months have the lowest amounts of rain. Summer starts fading in September, and the winter cold arrives in November. December is the coldest month, with highs hovering in the mid-40s. November receives nearly seven inches of rain. The other winter months remain cold and rainy, but the temperatures rarely drop to freezing.

Although residents enjoy being outdoors during the short summers, the cold and rain keep them indoors during the winters. They rely on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to keep their homes and workplaces comfortable. The hospitality venues and industrial facilities typically require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R).

Healthcare and educational institutions frequently need specialized climate-control systems and equipment. As all businesses increase their reliance on technology, systems must be installed that will provide the climate control needed to keep their electronic components operating correctly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) workforce data shows that 3,930 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area as of May 2019. Industry associations such as the following provided support and resources to the technicians and their employers:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Master Builders Association of Pierce County
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers Local Union #66
  • UA Plumbers, Pipefitters & HVAC Refrigeration Mechanics Local 32
  • UA Plumbers & Steamfitters, Local 26
  • Washington State Heating – Ventilation – Air Conditioning Contractors Association

Organizations such as these work with each other and with regulatory 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 Tacoma, WA

According to the BLS (2020), the demand for trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians is expected to increase by 4 percent nationwide between 2019 and 2029. Washington technicians have a much rosier outlook, according to Projections Central (2021), as their data indicates an increase of 15.6 percent in new positions statewide between 2018 and 2028.

The primary factor driving the growth of the HVAC industry is the construction of new commercial and residential structures. Another contributing factor is remodeling and renovating existing buildings. Aging climate-control equipment and systems in the older structures typically must be repaired, replaced, or updated. On occasion, systems in newer buildings must be replaced due to changing regulations or technological advances. Another significant factor driving the HVAC industry growth is the contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction.

The desire of businesses and homeowners for “smart” buildings means that new and modernized structures now frequently incorporate sophisticated climate-control systems. HVAC and HVAC/R systems and equipment require trained technicians to install, maintain, and service. The technicians must understand electronics and high-tech. They are also expected to be skilled troubleshooters and proficient with computers to have the best job opportunities. Technicians who specialize in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines.

As Tacoma has a diversified economy and expects continued expansion, a slowdown in construction isn’t anticipated in the foreseeable future. The technicians who specialize in maintaining, servicing, and repairing equipment and systems can expect continuous employment regardless of the economy, as businesses and homeowners depend on climate control year-round.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Tacoma, WA

HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730, as per the BLS (May 2019). The annual median wage for technicians in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area was $62,710, according to the BLS. The higher wage isn’t as significant as it appears because the cost of living in Washington is higher than in other American states.

BLS data show the following national, state, and regional earnings of HVAC professionals:

United States Washington Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 6,750 3,930
Average annual salary $51,420 $61,300 $67,750
10th Percentile $30,610 $35,350 $41,590
25th Percentile $37,660 $44,050 $48,050
50th Percentile $48,730 $56,480 $62,710
75th Percentile $62,070 $73,680 $81,900
90th Percentile $77,920 $97,660 $104,620

HVAC Apprenticeships in Tacoma, WA

Although HVAC technicians traditionally began their careers as helpers and learned the trade through on-the-job training, few opportunities are currently available for untrained workers. Aspiring technicians now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Doing so increases their employment opportunities, and trained workers also start at higher wages and earn more throughout their careers.

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

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries provides apprenticeship information and resources for apprentices and sponsoring employers. They currently include HVAC apprenticeships available in Pierce County.

The Washington Building Trades organization also provides information and resources for apprentices in the trades, including a commercial plumber, steamfitter/pipefitting/welding and HVAC/R apprenticeship. The Local Employment and Apprenticeship Training Program (LEAP) offers pre-apprenticeship training for Tacoma residents.

UA Plumbers, Pipefitters & HVAC Refrigeration Mechanics Local 32 offers a five-year HVAC/R apprenticeship at the Renton, WA training center. UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 26 also offers an HVAC/R apprenticeship in Lacey, WA. Sheet Metal Workers Local Union #66 provides five-year apprenticeships, including commercial HVAC at Everett and DuPont Training Centers.

HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeships are also provided by industry associations such as the following:

  • 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 Tacoma, WA

Students choosing formal HVAC programs should ensure that the school they select is accredited. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the program, including both the curriculum and the instructors.

HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) accredit HVAC programs.

To date, HVAC Excellence has not accredited a Washington program. PAHRA has awarded accreditation to Bates Technical College. Other schools in the profiles below have received accreditation from other agencies.

Note: The information in this article was compiled in February 2021 during the “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing” restrictions. The profiled schools have either 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.

Bates Technical College

Students at Bates may choose to earn an HVAC/R support technician certificate of competency or an HVAC/R technician degree. The curriculum for both programs includes classroom lectures combined with hands-on training in the lab.

The programs require students to pass the Air Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) industry competency exams as a condition of graduation. Graduates are also qualified to take other industry exams that increase their employability, including EPA Section 608 certification, OSHA 30, and employment-ready certifications. They receive 1,100 hours of credit toward the Washington State O6A electrical certificate.

The curriculum for the certificate programs includes HVAC fundamentals, job safety, tools and equipment, HVAC/R science, refrigeration systems, electrical systems, components, and troubleshooting, soldering and brazing, residential HVAC systems, light commercial HVAC systems, heat pumps, drafting and blueprint reading, commercial environmental systems, chilled water systems, hydronic systems, cooling towers, thermal storage, commercial refrigeration, installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting, and general education electives that include math, communication, and humanities. Students earn their certificates at the completion of 99 credits.

Students in the degree program complete the same technical coursework as those in the certificate program. The degree program, however, has two concentration options, and students complete additional coursework in the chosen option. Option A is welding, and Option B is sheet metal. They also complete general education electives as recommended by their advisor. Students are awarded their degrees at the completion of 103 credits.

  • Location: Tacoma, WA
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $131.42 per credit
  • Program Length: Six quarters

Clover Park Technical College

Clover Park offers three programs: refrigeration specialist certificate, basic HVAC/R service technician certificate, and an HVAC technology degree. The curriculum for the programs includes classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab.

Students in the refrigeration specialist certificate program complete the following coursework: basic electricity, electrical circuits, advanced controls and troubleshooting, electric motors, basic refrigeration, and preparation for Section 608 certification exams. Students must pass one state-recognized certification exam and four nationally recognized certificate exams to graduate. They earn their certificate at the completion of 42 credits.

The coursework in the refrigeration specialist program is a prerequisite for students enrolling in the basic HVAC/R service technician program. Additional curriculum includes refrigeration controls, advanced motor theory, and heating. Students also complete general education coursework that includes English composition or public speaking, math, psychology, and college success. They must pass six nationally recognized certification exams as part of their coursework. Their certificate is awarded at the completion of 87 credits.

Students in the degree program complete all the technical coursework in the certificate programs and add commercial refrigeration, advanced refrigeration, and computer literacy to their curriculum. In addition, they must complete the general education electives for a total of 112 credits and pass seven nationally recognized certification exams to receive their degree.

  • Location: Lakewood, WA
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: Lower divisions courses $111.92 per credit; upper-division courses $219.39 per credit
  • Program Length: Refrigeration specialist certificate (two quarters); basic HVAC/R service technician (three quarters); HVAC technology degree (four quarters)

Renton Technical College

The college offers a certificate and a degree program in commercial refrigeration technology. The curriculum for the certificate program includes industrial electricity, diagnostic techniques and test equipment, electric motors, refrigeration principles, refrigerants, brazing, commercial refrigeration, HVAC and controls, commercial ice machines, commercial refrigerator service, industrial math, safety, tool, and equipment certification, trades math, communication for trades, human relations for trades, and college success. Students complete 61 credits to earn their certificate.

Students who are seeking a degree complete all the coursework in the certificate program. They add the following courses: advanced refrigeration, advanced HVAC systems and controls, financial math or financial algebra or math and society, or statistics, introduction to communication, composition, and psychology. They are awarded their degree at the completion of 91 credits.

Graduates of both programs understand safety standards for the installation of all major appliances and are able to diagnose and repair major appliances, home, and commercial refrigeration products.

  • Location: Renton, WA
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $130.04 per credit
  • Program Length: Certificate (three quarters); degree (five quarters)

Tacoma students who are unable to attend a local or nearby school on-campus may find that an online institution will better meet their needs. More information on accredited programs is available at online HVAC training.

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Tacoma, WA

Federal law requires HVAC and HVAC/R technicians to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification to ensure that they know how to handle refrigerants safely. Four levels of certification are available based on the size and type of equipment on which a technician works as follows:

  • 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

The certification criteria are available on the EPA website.

Technicians may obtain various certifications, including their Section 608 certification, that can increase their employability from industry organizations that include:

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

Each organization provides details as to the availability, scheduling, and fees on their websites. More resources may be found on the HVAC certifications page.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries requires contractors to be licensed, insured, and bonded. An HVAC or HVAC/R technician who is self-employed is considered a specialty contractor. Applicants for contractor licensing must submit a notarized application, proof of insurance and bonding, and a fee. Licenses must be renewed every two years.

A technician whose work includes electrical wiring or equipment must also be a supervised electrical trainee or certified electrician. Applicants must pay a fee for a two-year license. Renewing the license requires proof of education and work experience and payment of a fee. Effective July 2023, trainees must be enrolled in an electrical apprenticeship program. Some HVAC and HVAC/R contractors must also obtain plumbing certification.

The City of Tacoma requires all businesses operating within city limits to obtain a business license if their annual gross income exceeds $2,000. The fee is based on gross receipts of the business, and licenses must be renewed annually.

Licensing guidelines are always subject to change. Accordingly, HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they are in compliance with current regulations 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.