Charleston, WV HVAC Technical Schools

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In 2016, the economy of West Virginia (WV), which used to have a booming coal and gas industry, hit bottom. Since then, the economy has been slowly rebounding, and growth is expected to continue at a steady rate. Economists are optimistic about the future of West Virginia noting that the state is poised to lead in natural gas, construction, and manufacturing industries. Forbes magazine also reports that the financial services, telecommunications, and energy industries are growing in the state’s capital, Charleston.

Charleston is West Virginia’s most populous city, with more than 217,000 residents in the Charleston metropolitan. The area is known for its hot summers and cold winters. Precipitation is typically high, with snow in the winter and rain during the summer. According to WeatherSpark, average temperatures range from highs reaching above 77 degrees to lows below 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer days are often muggy and uncomfortable.

For this reason, businesses and homeowners alike require heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC), and thanks to the construction of new homes and buildings, there is considerably more demand for the installation of climate control and refrigeration (HVAC/R) systems. Some facilities even require specialized systems and controls.

The Contractors Association of West Virginia (CAWV) is based in Charleston and focuses on creating the infrastructure and meeting the needs of the construction industry within the state. The CAWV represents more than 450 businesses and 20,000 employees in the building, highway, industrial and utility contracting industries. Other complementary industry organizations support workers and the companies that employ them, including:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association (PHCCA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA)

These organizations work with professionals and experts in the industry as well as with government organizations to establish educational and licensing standards for the HVAC and HVAC/R industries.

What Does an HVAC or HVAC/R Technician Do?

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians perform a variety of duties relating to climate control and refrigeration systems. These systems maintain temperature, humidity, as well as the quality and flow of air. Systems can be small, such as those in residences or offices, or large, such as those in stores, warehouses, factories, schools, or hospitals. All jobs can involve travel to work sites.

Installers must be able to follow blueprints and design specifications and connect the systems to fuel and water lines, electrical wiring, air ducts, and other components needed to make the systems operable. HVAC and HVAC/R technicians install, calibrate, test, and adjust the controls and are responsible for maintaining, servicing, and repairing systems. They must be able to use various kinds of testing tools, as well as basic tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches.

Excellent troubleshooting skills are essential. Technicians must understand how all the components of a system, such as water pumps, belts, fans, and compressors, function correctly. Once a malfunctioning part is located, they either repair or replace it. Some repairs require them to weld or braze parts.

Outside of the more technical work, technicians must also have excellent communication skills and be able to offer customers advice on how to conserve energy and reduce pollution. Technicians are also responsible working in compliance with established safety practices and for keeping their certifications current.

Occupational Demand for HVAC/R Technicians in Charleston

Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians is growing nationwide. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2018), jobs in this field are expected to increase by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster growth than average 7 percent for all occupations in the U.S. That being said, West Virginia is lagging behind other states. Projections Central predicted a 0.4 percent statewide decrease for the decade ending in 2024. Separate figures for Charleston are not available.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC and HVAC/R industry. The primary factor is the increasing sophistication of climate control systems and the need to replace, retrofit, or upgrade older systems. A second consideration is the contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution despite the increasing need for critical levels of humidity and temperature across industries such as internet technology and telecommunications. And finally, with the construction of new buildings and residences comes a demand for the installation of HVAC/R systems.

Technicians who are computer and electronics literate, and those with excellent troubleshooting skills, will have the best job prospects. Technicians who specialize in new installation may experience seasonal unemployment if construction declines, while maintenance and repair work can be more stable, as business owners and homeowners depend on their climate-control or refrigeration systems year round and must keep them in good working order, regardless of economic conditions.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers held 332,900 jobs nationwide in 2016, according to the BLS. As of 2018, contractors were the largest employers of HVAC and HVAC/R technicians—about nine percent were self-employed. The remaining technicians worked for schools and retail companies. Technicians work full-time, with overtime during adverse weather conditions.

HVAC and HVAC/R Salaries in Charleston, West Virginia

The BLS reports that HVAC and HVAC/R mechanics and installers nationally receive a median salary of $47,080 annually, while Charleston technicians receive an annual median salary of $45,130. Data compiled by Missouri Economic Research and Information Center indicates a cost of living index for West Virginia of 95.9 in 2017, which means that residents of West Virginia pay $95.90 for what costs residents of other states $100.00. Separate statistics for Charleston are not available.

Below are the hourly and annual salary comparisons as calculated by the BLS (May 2017):

United States (307,060 HVAC workers): $49,530 average

  • 10th percentile: $29,120
  • 25th percentile: $36,150
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,080
  • 75th percentile: $60,270
  • 90th percentile: $75,330

Average hourly salary: $23.81

  • 10th percentile: $14.00/hr
  • 25th percentile: $17.38/hr
  • 50th percentile (median): $22.64/hr
  • 75th percentile: $28.98/hr
  • 90th percentile: $36.22/hr

West Virginia (1,520 HVAC workers): $40,520 average

  • 10th percentile: $26,680
  • 25th percentile: $30,410
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,920
  • 75th percentile: $48,370
  • 90th percentile: $60,900

Average hourly salary: $19.48

  • 10th percentile: $12.83/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $14.62/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $18.23/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $23.26/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $29.38/hr.

Charleston (230 HVAC workers): $45,760 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $29,860
  • 25th percentile: $36,460
  • 50th percentile (median): $45,130
  • 75th percentile: $54,880
  • 90th percentile: $63,510

Average hourly salary: $22.00

  • 10th percentile: $14,35/hr.
  • 25th percentile: $17.53/hr.
  • 50th percentile (median): $21.70/hr.
  • 75th percentile: $26.38/hr.
  • 90th percentile: $30.54/hr.

Accredited HVAC and HVAC/R Schools in Charleston

HVAC technicians can begin their careers as helpers and learn the trade through hands-on training, but doing so is becoming increasingly difficult. Most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Coursework and apprenticeships open up more employment opportunities. Workers also start at higher wages and earn more throughout their career.

West Virginia University has designed a facilities management apprenticeship where individuals receive the training needed to maintain and improve the campus’ facilities. The program takes four years to complete. Apprentices must complete 1,600 hours of on-the-job training plus 145 hours of classroom and technical education each year. All apprentices are full-time WVU employees, receive competitive salary and benefits, and get paid time off for off-site classroom and technical training, workshops, and seminars.

Aspiring HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can also find apprenticeship programs through local chapters of larger industry associations. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and by which organization. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the program, which includes both the curriculum and the instructors.

State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) establish national standards for postsecondary distance-learning programs so that they can make it easier for students to take online courses from out-of-state institutions, thereby giving them more access to educational programs. Participating states are listed on their website. Two organizations evaluate and accredited HVAC programs. HVAC Excellence has not yet accredited a West Virginia school. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has currently accredited two West Virginia HVAC schools, which are profiled below.

Ben Franklin Career Center

This school offers an undergraduate certificate program for HVAC technicians, which is taught in the evenings on-campus. The coursework and laboratory practice are designed to provide the knowledge and skills for HVAC/R installation, maintenance, and service. Students learn how to check and troubleshoot residential, commercial, and industrial systems. Graduates qualify for entry-level jobs that include servicing and replacing HVAC/R system components. They also qualify to apply for EPA 608, NATE, OSHA 10, and CPR certificates.

  • Location: Dunbar, West Virginia
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Format: On campus
  • Tuition: $5,308 for the full program
  • Program length: 11 months

Cabell County Career Technology Center

There are two HVAC programs offered at this school. The basic HVAC program includes classes on basic electrical systems, the fundamentals of HVAC/R, duct systems, tubing, piping, and fabrication. Graduates are qualified for entry-level jobs involving residential systems. The advanced HVAC program is for students who have completed the first program. It focuses on commercial HVAC/R systems. Coursework includes reach-in and walk-in refrigeration systems, defrost systems, ice machines, controls, and multi-compressor and evaporator systems. All coursework is on-campus. Students may choose daytime classes or evening classes.

  • Location: Huntington, West Virginia
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education
  • Format: On campus
  • Tuition: $4,200 for the basic program with a $700 lab fee and $422 for books; $2,940 for the advanced program with $600 lab fee
  • Program length: One to two years for the basic program; eight to ten months for advanced program

Carver Career and Technical Education Center

This undergraduate certificate program in HVAC technology is offered on-campus through evening classes so that students can keep their jobs while studying. Outside of classes, students also receive hands-on experience. They will learn how to operate, manage, install, and service HVAC/R systems. Graduates are qualified to apply for the West Virginia HVAC license and entry-level jobs as HVAC/R technicians.

  • Location: Charleston, West Virginia
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education, PAHRA
  • Format: On campus
  • Tuition: $5,746 for the full program with an additional $2,942 for books and supplies:
  • Program length: 11 months

Putnam Career & Technical Center

This on-campus HVAC technician program incorporates a curriculum certified by the National Center for Construction Education Research (NCCER). The curriculum includes construction drawings, material handling, refrigerants, electrical, air properties, systems, and measurements. Hands-on work includes troubleshooting equipment. Students will learn the fundamentals required to install, maintain, diagnose, and service HVAC/R equipment, as well as trade math, safety procedures, and how to use tools.

  • Location: Charleston, West Virginia
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education, PAHRA
  • Format: On campus
  • Tuition: $3,605 for the full program with an additional $108 for books and supplies:
  • Program length: 11 months

Valley College

Valley College offers HVAC training that qualifies for up to 900 hours of the 8,000 hours required to take the West Virginia HVAC technician exam. Students will complete classes but spend more time gaining hands-on experience in the on-site workshops. They will learn to read blueprints and plans, and the basics of air conditioning, heating and boilers, and safety regulations. Graduates can accept entry-level positions.

  • Location: Beckley, West Virginia
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education
  • Format: On campus
  • Tuition: $15,575 for the full program with an additional $1,440 for books and supplies:
  • Program length: Nine months

Excelsior College

This program allows students to complete an associate degree in science and technology with an electronic and instrumentation technologies focus. As a SARA participant, the school offers a fully online program so that graduates can be prepared for the electronics involved in HVAC/R systems. The curriculum includes classes in AC, DC, and digital circuits, microprocessors, power systems, programmable controllers, and computer programming. Students must complete 61 credit hours to earn their degree.

  • Location: Albany, New York
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Format: Online
  • Tuition: $510 per credit hour
  • Program length: Self-paced

Ferris State University

This school offers a distance-learning bachelor’s degree in HVAC/R engineering technology and energy management. While most of the coursework can be completed online, students are required to attend one week-long on-campus lab. Applicants must already have an associate’s degree in HVAC/R technology or equivalent, and they need to have taken algebra, English, and lab science, and have maintained a GPA of 2.5 in their undergraduate classes. The summer start day is in May, and coursework is designed to prepare students to advance beyond servicing equipment to designing, retrofitting, and balancing systems. Students learn how to evaluate the efficiency of different types of HVAC/R systems and adjust computerized control systems. Upon completion, students may be qualified to seek employment as project engineers, in-plant engineer, systems control, and similar occupations. Please note that Ferris offers an Employer Tuition Reimbursement option for qualifying students and is veteran-friendly.

  • Location: Big Rapids, Michigan
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)
  • Format: Online with on-campus requirements
  • Tuition: $564 per on-campus credit hour and $574 per online credit-hour
  • Program length: Two years

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Charleston

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain EPA Section 608 Certification, which includes passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants (practice exams are available online). There are four types of certifications according to the systems on which technicians work:

  • For servicing small appliances (Type I)
  • For servicing or disposing of high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and motor vehicle ACs (Type II)
  • For servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances (Type III)
  • For servicing all types of equipment (Universal)

Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations, which also offer Section 608 testing and certification. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES): Their mission is to provide opportunities for enhanced technical competence by offering comprehensive, cutting-edge education and certification to the HVAC/R industry.
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE): Their certification tests represent real world working knowledge of HVAC/R systems.
  • HVAC Excellence: Their exams and certifications are intended to validate that an individual has retained knowledge in a specific area of the HVAC/R industry.

The West Virginia Division of Labor requires all HVAC employees to have an HVAC technician certification and employers must have a contractor’s license that covers HVAC work. A self-employed technician is considered a contractor and must have a contractor’s license. Employees must pass a written HVAC exam and pay a fee. Contractors must take written exams covering HVAC, as well as business and law exam. All contractors, including HVAC, must register with the City of Charleston.

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.