HVAC Schools in Wisconsin: Training & Certification

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In the Badger State, the frigid winters and humid summers provide a host of job opportunities for those interested in the field of heating, air conditioning, and ventilation (HVAC). In fact, U.S. Climate Data found that the winter months bring average low temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, while in July the temperature can exceed 80 degrees. Living in these varied conditions requires indoor climate-control systems, which are typically installed and maintained by skilled HVAC workers.

To illustrate the strength and importance of the HVAC industry, a number of national organizations and unions operate throughout Wisconsin. For example, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Wisconsin Association (PHCC) and Master Plumbers/Heating Cooling Association of Wisconsin (MP/HC) is one such institution. The group has been in existence for over 120 years and offers a wide array of benefits to members, such as discounts on various educational programs, a quarterly newsletter, legislative and regulatory representation, networking opportunities, and much more.

HVAC workers in Wisconsin may also choose to seek membership with the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 434, a local union that represents over 1,200 pipe trades workers in Central and Western Wisconsin. These skilled professionals lay the groundwork for many HVAC systems. Benefits available to members include access to a healthcare fund, a retirement plan, and a pension fund, as well as networking opportunities, and training in the form of an apprenticeship program, explored at length below.

Aspiring HVAC workers in Wisconsin should have a thorough understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of these professionals. In general, these workers:

  • Verify compliance with necessary laws
  • Perform calculations regarding heat load and loss
  • Test equipment to ensure it is working properly
  • Calibrate controls of HVAC systems
  • Maintain service records
  • Educate customers on system use and energy conservation
  • Examine and interpret blueprints
  • Travel to different worksites
  • Maintain credentials and licensure

Furthermore, anyone working with refrigerants in Wisconsin must maintain active EPA Section 608 Certification, as it is required under the law.

This guide offers salary statistics, job prospects, and information about various HVAC schools in Wisconsin that offer training, as well as a detailed breakdown of the credentialing required to work in the state.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Wisconsin

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reported that there were 342,040 HVAC professionals currently working across the nation, earning an annual average wage of $51,420. The future for HVAC mechanics and installers looks bright, as well; by illustration, the BLS (May 2019) anticipated that the industry would grow 4 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is as fast as the average for all occupations.

A number of factors are driving this growth. For one, existing HVAC systems must generally be replaced every 10 to 15 years, a process that requires the skill and expertise of a trained technician. Also, nearly all new buildings in Wisconsin are constructed with some form of climate-control system. And finally, HVAC laws and regulations are undergoing constant change; as a result, equipment routinely needs to be updated to stay in compliance with local ordinances.

It is important to note that adverse weather conditions don’t stop the need for HVAC maintenance or repairs. HVAC workers experience a relatively high rate of injury, suffering electrical shocks and injuries, as they have to move heavy equipment. With proper training in safety, however, these risks can generally be kept to a minimum.

Also, technicians who are electronics/computer-literate and those with good troubleshooting skills are likely to have the best job prospects.

For some, the easiest way to conceptualize the demand for HVAC workers is by viewing available jobs. For example, a job search on Monster (Oct. 2020) for “HVAC jobs in Wisconsin” yielded over 500 results with companies like Apollo Professional Solutions, Penske, Strategic Resources, and Johnson Controls. A related search on Indeed (Oct. 2020) returned more than 700 results with organizations such as Johnson Controls, Aurora Health Care, and Transformco.

Wisconsin HVAC Technician Salary Data

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019), HVAC professionals earn relatively competitive salaries, particularly for positions that may require just two years of post-secondary training. BLS (May 2019) states, the annual mean wage for HVAC workers nationwide was $51,420 per year, while the annual mean wage for HVAC technicians in WI was even higher at $54,880 per year. In more detail, here were the salary percentiles of HVAC professionals across the US and in Wisconsin specifically:

United States Wisconsin
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 4,660
Annual mean wage $51,420 $54,880
10th Percentile $30,610 $33,940
25th Percentile $37,660 $42,470
50th Percentile (Median) $48,730 $52,760
75th Percentile $62,070 $65,440
90th Percentile $77,920 $80,130

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

  • 10th percentile: $30,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $47,723
  • 90th percentile: $75,000

As noted above, the average salary for HVAC workers in Wisconsin is higher than the nation’s average salary. As with any salary projections, taking into account the cost of living is also important. As such, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that WI had the 24th lowest cost of living in the United States. Aspiring HVAC workers in Wisconsin are encouraged to keep this in mind.

HVAC Apprenticeships in Wisconsin

In order to begin working in this field, aspiring HVAC workers must complete some type of training or formal education. There are both degree programs and apprenticeships available in Wisconsin.

As mentioned above, the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 434 offers a competitive apprenticeship program for aspiring HVAC workers in the state, which includes training to become a steamfitter—the professionals who lay the foundations for many HVAC systems. The apprenticeship lasts five years, during which participants must complete 8,124 work hours, as well as 624 hours of day school and 260 hours of night school. At the outset, apprentices in this program earn a salary between 40 and 65 percent of the wage earned by the journey-level professionals and increases over time.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Wisconsin

It is becoming increasingly common for aspiring HVAC workers to obtain training in six-month or two-year programs that have received accreditation.

Currently, two main organizations offer accreditation for local HVAC programs: the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) and HVAC Excellence. Details about the accreditation process for either organization are available on their respective websites. Anyone interested in enrolling in an HVAC program in Wisconsin should research these organizations to learn more about the benefits offered by graduating from an accredited school. There are currently four PAHRA-accredited programs in WI:

As of October 2020, there were no HVAC Excellence-accredited programs in the state.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

Aspiring workers who simply wish to complete a degree without committing to the rigors of an apprenticeship program may instead pursue a technology associate degree in HVAC offered by Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. The college also offers an HVAC/R technician technical diploma. These programs prepare students for the EPA Refrigerant Handling Exam and help them earn certifications such as OSHA 10, CPR, and AED.

For entry to the programs, students need to submit a completed application, High school transcript or equivalent, high school algebra or equivalent, and a prior cumulative high school or college grade point average of 2.6 or higher.

The diploma program is made up of 53 credit-hours. It includes courses such as HVAC/R electrical fundamentals, HVAC/R refrigeration fund, HVAC/R control circuits, HVAC/R heating fundamentals, HVAC/R heating systems, HVAC/R systems service, and HVAC/R design applications among others. All credits from this technical diploma may be applied toward the associate degree in HVAC/R.

The 62 credit-hour associate degree in HVAC/R includes all courses from the diploma with additional coursework in oral/interpersonal communication, English composition, an introduction to diversity studies, and an introduction to psychology.

Students through these programs will be able to develop, start, service, repair, troubleshoot HVAC/R systems and control circuits, perform performance tests, design HVAC/R piping systems, determine cooling and heating demand requirements, evaluate airflow systems, and communicate and document detailed service reports.

Graduates of these programs can take up roles such as mechanical contractor HVAC/R technician, wholesale service representative, facilities maintenance HVAC/R technician, commercial HVAC/R systems technician, residential HVAC/R systems technician, and industrial HVAC/R systems technician.

  • Location: Green Bay, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commision
  • Expected Time to Completion: Associate degree (four semesters); diploma (four semesters)
  • Estimated Tuition: $138.90 per credit-hour

Northwood Technical College

Those looking for formal education may consider a technical diploma in HVAC/R available through Northwood Technical College located in Shell Lake. As an HVAC/R student, graduates can earn various important credentials through the program. They can either earn a 14-credit refrigeration essentials technical diploma, or can continue their education and earn the 27-credit HVAC installation technician technical diploma, or continue further and earn the 55-credit HVAC/R technical diploma.

The curriculum of the program includes courses on alternative energy, principles of AC/DC, air conditioning fundamentals, refrigeration applications, applied information resources, and electronic energy management, among others.

Graduates of the HVAC/R program will be able to install, service, and troubleshoot HVAC/R systems and evaluate designs for HVAC/R systems. They can take up roles such as residential HVAC/R technician, commercial HVAC/R technician, mechanical contractor HVAC/R technician, industrial HVAC/R technician, facilities HVAC/R technician, and wholesale service representative.

On successful completion of the 55 credit-hour program, students can expect to earn a technical diploma in refrigeration essentials, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, and credentials to work as an HVAC installation technician.

  • Location: Shell Lake, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Refrigeration Essentials (Less than 1 year); HVAC installation technician (one year); HVAC/R (two years)
  • Estimated Tuition: Refrigeration essentials ($2,312); HVAC installation technician ($4,438); HVAC/R ($9,140)

Blackhawk Technical College

Blackhawk Technical College offers a technical diploma in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration technology with convenient and flexible learning options. Students are prepared for employment in a variety of areas and learn to service, install, maintain, and sell HVAC systems for residential and commercial applications. Instruction involves the most modern equipment, computers, and test instruments.

Consisting of 55 credit-hours, the program includes beginner to advanced level courses in air conditioning fundamentals for HVAC/R, electrical fundamentals for HVAC/R, refrigeration fundamentals, computerized HVAC/R design, print reading and code, heating systems, HVAC installation, and hydronic systems, among others. In addition to this regular curriculum, the program also features the 26 credit-hour ‘residential HVAC embedded technical diploma’ which can be earned while taking courses within the main program.

After completing the program, graduates will be able to perform HVAC/R repair and service operations, diagnose problems, efficiently complete tasks, service, repair or replace defective components, and promote customer satisfaction. They can take up roles such as HVAC/R service technician, HVAC/R sales representatives, HVAC/R service installation technician, and HVAC/R maintenance technician.

  • Location: Janesville, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: HVAC/R diploma (two years); residential HVAC diploma (one year)
  • Estimated Tuition: HVAC/R diploma ($8,688); residential HVAC diploma ($4,111)

Western Technical College

Western Technical College offers an associate of applied science degree in HVAC/R for professionals with mechanical skills and an inclination towards technology. Technicians will participate in various areas of HVAC-related work, including sales, design, installation, service, and maintenance of commercial HVAC/R equipment.

Comprising 64 credit-hours, the program includes courses such as HVAC/R electric motors and controls, HVAC/R refrigeration, HVAC/R air conditioning, HVAC/R commercial refrigeration, HVAC/R intro to installation, HVAC/R energy, HVAC/R hydronic and steam systems, HVAC/R commercial systems, and HVAC/R system design, among others.

Graduates of the program will be able to install, service, troubleshoot, analyze, evaluate, and design HVAC/R systems, repair HVAC/R equipment, and choose the best cooling and heating system for different environments.

They can take up roles such as facilities specialist HVAC engineer, HVAC/refrigeration specialist, HVAC estimator, HVAC service technician, maintenance or service technician, and HVAC repair or installation technician.

  • Location: La Crosse, WI
  • Accreditation: PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: four semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $12,700

Wisconsin HVAC Certification & Licensing

As mentioned in the introduction, all workers who handle refrigerants in Wisconsin must maintain the EPA Section 608 Certification. There are four types of this certification available: type 1 (small appliances), type 2 (high-pressure appliances), type 3 (low-pressure appliances), and type 4 (universal). Most HVAC educational programs will include section 608 certification as part of the training program since it is so critical.

There are other skill-based, employment-ready national certifications for HVAC workers to pursue, which are available through HVAC Excellence (e.g., Heating, Electrical, Air Conditioning Technology Plus); North American Technician Excellence (e.g., Industry Competency Exams or ICE); the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (e.g., entry-level Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator); and other organizations. For a detailed breakdown of the national credentials, please check out the HVAC certifications page.

As a final note, all aspiring HVAC workers should understand that a license is required in order to perform work of a certain scope. The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services requires HVAC workers to register with the state, submitting a completed application along with an application fee. At the county or municipal level, governments can require HVAC workers to obtain additional local licensure as set forth in their regulations.

It’s worth noting that the state government allows HVAC workers to become certified as HVAC qualifiers, allowing them to perform work anywhere throughout the state. In order to obtain this title, the worker must complete an application and successfully pass an exam, as well.

Above all, anyone intent on working in HVAC in WI is advised to research all state and local regulations to ensure they remain within the law.

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.