HVAC License California: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in California
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The demand for climate control systems continues to climb. Residential, commercial, and industrial systems are also all becoming more complex, so now more than ever we need skilled HVAC professionals.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that there are over 391,400 Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers nationwide and 32,640 work in California, ranking highest of every state in the U.S. The national number is expected to grow 5% from 2021 to 2031 — adding more than 20,000 of these skilled workers to the ranks. In California that growth rate is expected to be almost triple that. The U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, CareerOneStop, projects the growth rate in California to be 14% for HVAC mechanics and installers, and the Associated General Contractors of America, says contractors are hiring. In the 2022 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 93% of firms in the U.S. and 85% of firms in California had unfilled hourly craft positions.
Heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems wear out and break down, so there is always a need for tradespeople who know how to fix them or install new systems. Also, as the push for energy efficiency and reducing pollution grows stronger, there’s a need for mechanical systems to be retrofitted, upgraded or replaced entirely to remain compliant.
Licensing requirements for HVAC professionals vary from state to state and in some cases from locality to locality, but the need for proper training is universal.
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Licensing Requirements for HVAC Contractors in California
Is a California Contractors License required in HVAC? Yes, but not right away.
To legally perform heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration work valuing more than $500 in labor and materials in the state of California, you must be a licensed contractor or be working under a licensed contractor.
The California Contractors State License Board issues the licenses.
Types of HVAC Licenses in California
What are the different types of HVAC licenses in California?
An HVAC License is a classification of an Original Contractors License in California. It is a Class C Specialty Contractor License, specifically C-20 – Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Contractor.
Steps to Get an HVAC License in California
You must be at least 18 years of age.
You must have either a Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number.
There is no educational requirement for HVAC technicians in California.
Get work experience under the supervision of a licensed contractor or four years documented journeyman experience on jobs valuing $500 or less.
Apply for Original Contractors License C-20 specialty.
Provide documentation of four years journeyman-level experience or equivalent college or vocational training program.
Take and pass all parts of the licensing exam.
Pay all fees.
Get EPA Section 608 Certification by passing the federally mandated exam.
Pass criminal background check, including fingerprinting.
File evidence of workers' compensation insurance or an exemption from the requirements.
Secure contractor’s surety bond.
Benefits of Getting an HVAC License in California
There are many benefits to getting your California HVAC Contractor license:
Most important, it is required by law in California to be licensed through the state to legally perform A/C and Refrigeration work.
An HVAC trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
Only licensed HVAC contractors can: operate a business and advertise services, obtain commercial liability insurance, pull building permits and pass inspections, bid on public and government projects.
Having a license protects your company and customers.
A license gives you a competitive advantage in the job market.
It also increases your earning potential.
What Is the Mean Wage for an HVAC Technician in California?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean salary for HVAC mechanics and installers nationally as $54,690 and in California as $61,670. The salary for an HVAC Technician in California increases—as you might expect—as you acquire more experience, according to indeed.com.
HVAC Installer: The average wage for an HVAC installer is $29.13 per hour in California and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Technician: The average wage for an HVAC Technician is $29.04 per hour in California and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Mechanic: The average wage for an HVAC Mechanic is $28.97 per hour in California.
HVAC Supervisor: The average base salary for an HVAC Supervisor is $100,021 per year in California.
Salaries can vary widely depending on the city and many other important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession.
What Business Owners Need to Know
Getting the most out of an HVAC technician, no matter where they are in their licensing journey, takes work. ServiceTitan’s cloud-based, all-in-one HVAC software gives technicians and business owners the technology they need to do the work efficiently, and the data they need to do it smartly.
SMS communications that keep customers informed about the technician’s visit.
Location-specific service history, including recorded calls, accessible from the mobile app.
Required forms that ensure every job is done right, driving consistency.
The ability to build multi-option proposals with photos, on-site, in minutes.
Sales presentations that make conversations with customers easier and drive average ticket.
Mobile payment acceptance, eliminating lost checks and increasing cash flow.
To learn more, schedule a demo with a product expert today.
How Much Does It Cost to Get an HVAC License in California?
The application fee for an Original California Contractors License is $330. Once you have passed the exam, you will need to pay an additional $200 for the Initial License Fee. In addition, there is a cost for the fingerprinting scan. Those fees vary by site. To renew a license on or before the expiration date is $450. For a list of all fees, click here.
How to Get an HVAC License in California
WORK EXPERIENCE: California requires anyone applying to take the state HVAC Contractor exam to demonstrate four years of journeyman-level experience in the field prior to the exam date. That experience can be entirely hands-on, or up to three years of it can be in an approved college or vocational training program, but at least one year must be in the field. The CLSB explains:
A journeyman is a person who is a fully qualified, experienced worker (as opposed to a trainee, helper, laborer, assistant, apprentice, etc.) and is able to perform the trade without supervision, or a person who has completed an apprenticeship program.
All experience claims must be verified by a qualified and responsible person, such as an employer, contractor, foreman/supervisor, fellow employee, other journeyman, union representative, building inspector, architect, engineer, or homeowner. The person verifying your claim must have firsthand knowledge of your experience—that is, he or she must have observed the work that you have done—and must complete the experience certification portion of the application.
One way to get the experience you need is through an apprenticeship program. California’s Department of Industrial Relations has resources online to help you find an apprenticeship program near you through a local union or Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JACT).
APPLY FOR LICENSE: Once you’ve fulfilled the work experience requirements, HVAC technicians may apply for a Contractors License. You are essentially applying to sit for the exam. There are currently three ways to complete this form:
Easy-Fill: Fill out the form online, then print and mail it to CSLB with the $330 fee.
PDF: Print a blank form, then fill it out and mail it to CSLB with the $330 fee.
Order: Receive a blank form by mail, then fill it out and mail it to CSLB with the $330 fee.
PAY APPLICATION PROCESSING FEE: The fee for the Original Application (exam for one classification) is $330. You must submit this payment and all required documents along with your application, mailed to CLSB Headquarters in Sacramento. You can find the step-by-step guide here along with the mailing address for where to send all of the forms.
TAKE LICENSING EXAM: The test will consist of both a trade examination as well as a Law & Business examination. After passing the licensing examination, all new applicants must also complete the asbestos open-book examination if it has not been done previously after taking and passing the Trade and Law & Business Exam. The purpose of the guide and the examination is to make contractors aware of the risks of dealing with asbestos and to provide the knowledge base necessary to respond appropriately to construction industry situations where asbestos is or may be present. The booklet contains general information about asbestos abatement standards. The examination and verification form must be completed and submitted to the CSLB prior to licensure.
COMPLETE CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK: All applicants must complete a criminal background check and disclose any criminal pleas or convictions. You must also submit to fingerprinting in accordance with California law. If you have ever been convicted of a crime, including DUI or other Vehicle Code violations, the CSLB will be informed. This does not mean you’ll automatically be denied licensure—the CSLB reviews each application and considers factors such as the nature and severity of the crimes, the amount of time that has passed since the convictions, and any evidence of rehabilitation submitted by the applicant.
PROVIDE PROOF OF INSURANCE: All applicants must file evidence of workers' compensation insurance or exemption from the requirements. The Certificate of Workers' Compensation Insurance is provided by the workers' compensation insurer.
PROVIDE PROOF OF CONTRACTOR BOND: A contractor's bond of $15,000 is required for a license to be issued or renewed. The bond is filed for the benefit of consumers who may have sustained damage as a result of defective construction or other license violations, and for the benefit of employees who have not been paid wages that are due to them. The bond must be written on a form approved by CSLB, by a surety company licensed and authorized to write surety bonds through the California Department of Insurance. Only authorized surety companies may order the approved Contractor's Bond form.
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How Long Does it Take to Get an HVAC Contractors License in California?
It will take a minimum of four years to qualify to take the Original Contractors License Exam in California. However, you will be working and accumulating the necessary journeyman-level experience—and can be earning money—the whole time.
California HVAC Training Programs and Schools
Because HVAC technology is becoming more and more complex, getting some kind of formal training can be very helpful. There are many programs to get the training you need to become an HVAC professional in California, and they are located all over the state. A certificate program can take a matter of months or you can get a two-year or four-year degree. For example, California Community Colleges offer HVAC and Refrigeration Engineering Technician Degrees.
There are also many more options for online training.
Most HVAC technicians hold some kind of post-secondary degree or certificate. There are currently two main organizations that approve HVAC programs and schools nationwide: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).
HVAC Excellence has accredited the following programs in California:
Brownson Technical School, Anaheim, CA
Cypress College, Cypress, CA
El Camino College, Torrance, CA
Mount San Antonio Community College, Walnut, CA
North American Training Center, Redlands, CA
PAHRA has accredited one college in California:
Mount San Antonio Community College, Walnut, CA
HVACClasses.org breaks down the credit hour requirements for all of the different programs at each of the above schools.
Here are three great lists of the best HVAC schools in California:
You’ll see that many of the same colleges or programs appear on all these lists.
Tuition: The cost of tuition depends on the program you choose but can range from $1,200 to $15,000 at a technical school or an associate’s degree at a community college.
Program Prerequisites: You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED.
On-the-Job Experience: While on the job, you will need to have good customer service skills, be detail-oriented, have some mechanical capability, and be physically fit because the job can include some heavy lifting and hours of walking, standing, and working in tight spaces.
California HVAC Licensing Exam Details
According to the study materials on the CSLB website, you can expect the test for a Class C-20 License to consist of multiple-choice questions and be divided into four major sections:
1. Evaluation, Design, and Estimation (26%) 2. Fabrication, Installation, and Startup (27%) 3. Troubleshooting, Repair, and Maintenance (22%) 4. Safety (25%)
The Law and Business Examination is divided into eight major sections:
1. Business Organization (10%) 2. Business Finances (15%) 3. Employment Requirements (12%) 4. Bonds, Insurance, and Liens (10%) 5. Contract Requirements and Execution (23%) 6. Licensing Requirements (8%) 7. Safety (15%) 8. Public Works (7%)
All applicants for a new license will also need to complete the asbestos open book examination.
Who Issues HVAC Licenses in California?
The Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board issues and renews all HVAC contractor licenses in the state. They offer a free workshop on the first Friday of every month on how to get your contractor license.
Does My California HVAC License Work in Any Other State?
Yes! There are reciprocity agreements with Arizona, Louisiana, and Nevada.
HVAC Specific Requirements: EPA Certification
Everywhere throughout the country, EPA regulations under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act require that technicians who maintain, service, repair, or dispose of equipment that could release refrigerants into the atmosphere must be certified. EPA Section 608 HVAC Certification is required for any professional who conducts refrigerant line-pressure tests or handles or adds refrigerant to existing air conditioning systems.
Most training programs can direct you to how and where to get that certification, or your employer will require you to get it before handling refrigerant. You can also go to EPA.gov and key in 608 Certification in the search bar to find out which institutions in your state offer certification programs.
Take Certification Exam: You must acquire your EPA Certification from an approved organization. A list of these organizations can be found on the EPA’s website. There are four types of EPA Certifications for Refrigerant. They allow for different levels of certification for different scopes of work.
Type I – for servicing small appliances containing five pounds of refrigerant or less.
Type II – for servicing high-pressure units that contain five pounds or more of refrigerant (including most small commercial and residential systems).
Type III – for servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances.
Universal – for servicing all systems and appliances covered under Types I, II, and III. Generally more useful than targeting any one specific certification.
For all certifications, you must pass the “Core Section” of the EPA certification exam. It covers the following topics:
Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol
Section 608 regulations
Substitute refrigerants and oils
The Three R’s (Recover, Recycle, Reclaim)
National HVAC Certifications
Other certifications can help you demonstrate your proficiency to potential employers and clients. North American Technical Excellence (NATE) certification, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers) certification, and other professional certifications are not required but can add to your marketability as a service provider and therefore increase your opportunity to make more money.
Other Requirements Unique to California
To keep your state-issued license current, California requires you to renew it before it expires every two years. The fee for an active timely renewal is $450. There is a $225 additional fee for a late renewal.
Though California does not require continuing education to renew your license, you will want to stay informed about emerging technology in the HVAC industry. There are many ways to keep yourself current in regard to the technology put to use in HVAC and heating systems and appliances. Distributors want you to know about their company’s latest offerings and will often hold training sessions about new and changing equipment and parts.
HVAC manufacturers offer training too, including online. For example, according to HVACSchool.org, Carrier has something they call Carrier University, an elaborate training system that includes classroom and online courses and symposiums and seminars covering all aspects of the HVACR industry and all of the people involved in it.
You can stay up to date on all HVAC industry news in several ways: