Vancouver, WA HVAC Schools & Programs

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Vancouver, Washington (WA), sits on the north side of the Columbia River in the southwest corner of the state. The region was long home to Native Americans. Fur traders established the city in the early 1800s. The fur and lumber trades gave way to agriculture, which in turn, yielded to industrial growth generated by companies like Alcoa, Boise Cascade, and Nautilus. The economy continues to grow and diversify. The Port of Vancouver serves ocean-going ships as well as river barges that carry products as far inland as Idaho.

Portland, Oregon, occupies the area south of the Columbia River, and the region comprises the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metropolitan area. Although Vancouver is the fourth-largest city in Washington and the county seat of Clark County, it is commonly considered a suburb of Portland. There are strong ties between the communities, but Vancouver maintains its own identity and economy. A diversity of big and small businesses keep the economy strong and stable. Education, financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing all contribute substantially to the economic base. Other significant industries include hospitality, retail trade, and technical services.

The Koppen climate classification system officially designates the area as the warm Mediterranean climate type. But Vancouver’s exposed location doesn’t protect it from cold east winds surging through the Columbia River Gorge. Summers are warm and dry, but the winds generate cold and wet winters. Snowfall is typically minimal, with less than three inches annually, and may occur during December, January, and February. Although Vancouver is cold from November through March, the average temperatures generally stay above freezing, dropping to minus degrees only in record years. The winter months receive abundant rain, with December averaging more than six inches. November and January typically receive more than five inches of rainfall monthly. The weather starts warming up in April, and rainfall decreases. August is the hottest month, with average highs staying in the low 80s F. Record-setting highs can exceed 100 degrees from June through September in some years.

Local weather conditions mean that Vancouverites depend on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort in their homes and workplaces. The educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and hospitality venues typically add refrigeration (HVAC/R) to their systems. Retail businesses often need additional climate control systems for the comfort of their customers. The manufacturing and port facilities frequently need expanded installations to protect their products. As technology-based industries continue to grow and more businesses utilize high-tech, the demand for the specialized climate-control systems and equipment required to keep the electronics functioning correctly is increasing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) data, 2,380 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro area. The technicians and their employers are supported by national, state, and regional industry organizations that include the following:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Building Industry Association of Clark County (BIA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Oregon Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ORACCA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA)
  • UA Plumbers Steamfitters HVAC/R Marine Fitters Local 290

These and similar organizations collaborate with others in the industry and government agencies to facilitate promotion, advancement, education, and training to establish educational and licensing standards for the safety of technicians, the public, and the environment.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Vancouver, WA

The HVAC industry continues to grow nationally, and trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can expect increasing employment opportunities. The BLS (2023) anticipates an average of 23,000 new job openings between 2022 and 2032. That’s a growth rate of 6 percent in the demand for trained installers and mechanics—much faster than the average anticipated growth among all occupations (3 percent).

The expansion of job opportunities for technicians is due primarily to the construction of new commercial and residential structures. HVAC industry growth is also attributable to repairing or replacing aging or obsolete systems and equipment in existing structures. Evolving efficiency, regulatory, and safety standards create additional demand for new or replacement installations. Regulatory emphasis on pollution reduction for all systems also makes new installations necessary, further increasing employment opportunities for trained technicians.

Whether building a new structure or renovating/remodeling an existing one, homeowners and businesses want “smart” buildings that incorporate high-tech. That includes their HVAC systems. The increasing complexity of modern climate-control equipment and systems requires trained technicians for installation, service, and maintenance. Technicians need superior troubleshooting abilities and comprehensive computer and electronics skills if they want the best job opportunities.

Technicians specializing in new installations may experience unemployment if construction declines. That appears unlikely in the foreseeable future in Vancouver. The city is “experiencing rapid growth,” according to a recent report from the mayor. She anticipates a doubling of the population in the next 20 years. Additionally, numerous development projects are underway or recently completed. These include office buildings, storage facilities, and clinics, among others.

As businesses and homeowners need year-round climate control, technicians specializing in maintaining, servicing, and repairing equipment can expect continuous employment regardless of the economy.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Vancouver, WA

According to wage data compiled by the BLS (May 2022), the annual median salary for HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide is $51,390. The median salary for technicians in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro area is $62,730 yearly. The wage difference is less significant than it appears, as the cost of living in both Washington and Oregon is higher than in most American states.

Details of wage data nationally, in Washington state, and in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro region are as follows:

United States Washington Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 374,770 7,390 2,380
Average annual salary $57,460 $65,340 $64,100
10th Percentile $36,170 $44,030 $44,220
25th Percentile $44,100 $48,120 $48,010
50th Percentile $51,390 $61,520 $62,730
75th Percentile $65,630 $76,690 $74,900
90th Percentile $82,630 $94,240 $91,750

HVAC Apprenticeships in Vancouver, WA

Workers traditionally acquired their job skills through employment as helpers and receiving hands-on training. Few opportunities for doing so are available in today’s job market. Workers now usually attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships typically include specified hours of on-the-job training, usually 2,000 hours, and classroom work, usually 144 hours, annually for three to five years. Coursework and apprenticeships open up more employment opportunities, and technicians potentially start at higher wages and earn more throughout their careers.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries provides information and resources for apprentices. They maintain a database of all registered apprenticeship programs in the state. This article was reviewed in September 2023, and as of that date, the database includes apprenticeship programs in Clark County for HVAC/R mechanics, HVAC controls technicians, HVAC service techs, and HVAC test, adjust, and balance techs. The programs are available through union JATC centers.

The Construction Industry Training Council of Washington (CITC) sponsors a four-year HVAC apprenticeship program. It requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 800 hours of classroom training. Graduates receive journey-level status. UA Local 290 offers a five-year HVAC apprenticeship program that requires the completion of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 1,080 hours of classroom instruction. The Northwest College of Construction offers a four-year HVAC apprenticeship program that includes 8,000 hours of on-the-job training combined with 144 hours of classroom instruction each year.

Aspiring HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can also find apprenticeship programs through industry associations such as the following:

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

Each organization provides details of schedules and fees on its website.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in Vancouver, WA

Workers who obtain their training by attending school should select an accredited institution. Accreditation is a process by which a school undergoes an evaluation of its program’s curriculum and instructors by an independent agency.

HVAC programs are accredited by HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). To date, HVAC Excellence has not accredited a Washington program. PAHRA has awarded accreditation to Bates Technical College. Although it is too far away for Vancouver students to attend unless they relocate, it is included in the profiles below due to its accreditation. Reputable agencies have accredited other schools in the profiles below.

Washington Community and Technical Colleges has 34 campuses throughout the state, including Clark College in Vancouver. Although several of the campuses offer an HVAC program, Clark College currently does not. The closest campus is Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, WA. Attending would require a two-hour commute for Vancouver students.

Bates Technical College

Bates offers an HVAC/R support technician certificate and an HVAC/R technician degree program. Both programs include classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab. Both programs prepare students to take the Air Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) competency exams. Passing the exams is a condition of graduation. Students are also prepared to take the EPA 608 exam and other industry certifications, and 1,100 hours of credit can be applied toward the Washington State O6A specialty electrician certificate. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level employment in a variety of HVAC positions.

The curriculum for the certificate program includes introduction to tools and fasteners, OSHA 30-hour training, first aid and CPR, electricity, magnetism, electrical motors and applications, motor controls and troubleshooting, theory of heat, automatic controls and troubleshooting, indoor air quality, advanced controls, electric and oil heat, gas and hydronic heat, refrigeration, oil chemistry, EPA universal, tubing piping and brazing, system charging, refrigeration system components, load calculations, duct design, air balance, operating conditions, introduction to drafting, special refrigeration systems, heat pump systems, air and geothermal, domestic appliances, commercial refrigeration systems and troubleshooting, comfort, psychometrics, energy auditing, troubleshooting, and chilled water systems.

In addition to the technical coursework, students complete general education requirements, including professional writing, English composition, math, and an elective from humanities/social sciences/natural sciences. Students complete 101 credit hours to earn their certificate.

Students seeking a degree complete all of the above coursework. They also complete additional technical curriculum that includes basic metal working, layout and patterns, fabrication practices, and welding basics. They add technical writing to the general education requirements. Their degree is awarded at the completion of 109 credits.

  • Location: Tacoma, WA
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Estimated Tuition: $144.12 per credit
  • Estimated Program Length: Six quarters

Clover Park Technical College

The college offers three HVAC programs: refrigeration specialist certificate, basic HVAC/R service technician, and an HVAC/R service degree. Coursework in all three programs is divided between classroom instruction and hands-on practice in the lab.

The refrigeration specialist certificate curriculum includes basic electricity, electrical circuits, advanced controls and troubleshooting, electric motors, basic refrigeration, and preparation for Section 608 exams. To graduate, students must pass one state-recognized certification exam and four nationally recognized certificate exams. Their certificate is awarded at the completion of 42 credit hours and passing the required exams. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level employment as refrigeration service and maintenance technicians.

Students in the basic HVAC/R service technician certificate program complete the curriculum included in the refrigeration specialist program. They add the following coursework: refrigeration controls, advanced motor theory, and heating. They also complete general education coursework, including English composition or public speaking, math, psychology or sociology, and college success. They must also pass six nationally recognized exams. They receive their certificate at the completion of 87 credit hours. Graduates are qualified to seek entry-level employment as HVAC service and maintenance technicians.

Degree-seeking students complete all the coursework required in the certificate programs. They additionally complete the following: commercial refrigeration, advanced refrigeration, job readiness, and computer literacy, as well as pass seven nationally-recognized certification exams. They earn their degree at the completion of 112 credits. Graduates are qualified for employment as entry-level HVAC/R technicians. They may apply 960 credit hours toward the Washington State O6A specialty electrician certificate.

  • Location: Lakewood, WA
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Estimated Tuition: Lower divisions courses $123.58 per credit; upper-division courses $240.10 per credit
  • Estimated Program Length: Refrigeration specialist certificate (two quarters); basic HVAC/R service technician (three quarters); HVAC technology degree (four quarters)

Portland Community College

PCC offers an HVAC/R installation certificate program as part of the facilities maintenance technician (FMT) certificate and degree programs. The certificate program is a stand-alone program that prepares graduates for entry-level employment. Graduates may also transfer their credits to the FMT certificate or degree program.

Coursework for the HVAC/R installation certificate includes refrigeration I, II, and III, refrigeration electrical I, II, and III, and HVAC/R installation and techniques, which is an intensive two-week, hands-on practicum. Students complete 14 credit hours, and graduates are qualified to sit for industry exams. The college offers one-on-one support to help students access resources, services, and employment.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Estimated Tuition: $128 per credit. The Oregon residents fee schedule applies to students from states, such as Washington, that share a border with Oregon.
  • Estimated Program Length: Nine weeks for coursework, plus two weeks for the practicum

Vancouver students who cannot attend any of the above schools 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 Vancouver, WA

All HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who handle refrigerants are required by federal law to obtain Section 608 certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Technicians must pass tests to ensure they know how to work with refrigerants safely. Four levels of certification are available depending on the size and type of systems 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

Further information is available on the EPA website.

Industry organizations provide testing and certifications, including Section 608, that potentially increase a technician’s employability. These include the following:

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

Each organization includes details of availability, scheduling, and fees on its website. There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries requires contractors to register. HVAC contractors, including self-employed technicians, are regarded as specialty contractors. To register, an applicant must submit a notarized application, proof of insurance and bond, a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID, and pay a fee. Registration must be renewed every two years.

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who work with electrical wiring or equipment must be supervised by a specialty electrician certified to do the kind of work being done or by a journal-level electrician. They must be supervised for a minimum of 75% of the time and meet specific experience and instruction requirements. They must also be enrolled in an electrician apprenticeship program. Some HVAC and HVAC/R contractors must also have a plumbing certification.

The City of Vancouver requires all individuals and companies doing business within the city to be licensed. Applicants must obtain a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) from the Washington Department of Revenue, which is linked to the city business license. The city license fee is based on a combination of gross income and number of employees. It must be renewed annually.

As licensing and regulatory agencies may change their guidelines, HVAC professionals, including those with a home-based business, are encouraged to confirm that they comply with current state and local requirements 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.