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Iowa HVAC License: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Iowa

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Table of Contents
  1. Licensing Requirements

  2. Types of Licenses

  3. Steps to Get an HVAC License

  4. Benefits of Getting a License

  5. What Is the Mean Salary for an HVAC Professional?

  6. How Much Does It Cost?

  7. How to Get an HVAC License in Iowa

  8. How Long Does it Take to Get a License?

  9. Training programs and schools

  10. Licensing Exam Details

  11. Who Issues HVAC Contractor Licenses?

  12. Does My License Work in Any Other State?

  13. HVAC Specific Requirements: EPA

  14. Core Exam

  15. National HVAC Certifications

  16. Continuing Education/Renewal

  17. Other Requirements Unique to Iowa

Learning a trade requires hard work and determination. You can’t rush the process, but the time you put into learning how to be an HVACR contractor can lead to a career that is long-lasting, lucrative, and fulfilling. There are over 376,800 heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Iowa employs 4,010 of them. Employment is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029 throughout the country, adding more than 15,000 of these skilled workers to the ranks. In Iowa, that growth rate is expected to be much higher— projected at 19%, according to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website.

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Contractors are struggling to find skilled tradesmen like plumbers, electricians and HVACR or mechanical professionals. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 60% of firms in the U.S., and 79% of firms in Iowa had unfilled hourly craft positions on June 30, 2020. So, if you get the training you need you should have a variety of jobs to choose from when you’re ready.

A large part of what HVAC contractors and technicians do is replace and repair existing systems. As more emphasis is placed on energy efficiency and reducing pollution, systems need to be retrofitted, upgraded or replaced entirely to remain compliant with these new standards. Licensing requirements for HVAC contractors vary from state to state and, in some cases, from locality to locality. Iowa licensure is uniform statewide, beginning at the apprentice level.

Licensing Requirements for HVAC Contractors in Iowa

Is a license required to work as an HVAC/Mechanical Contractor in Iowa? Yes, and it is mandated from the very beginning.

In the state of Iowa, to legally perform heating, air conditioning and refrigeration work of any kind you must be licensed. The state licenses every level of this workforce, including apprentices, service technicians, journeymen, masters and contractors. The Iowa Department of Public Health, Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board (PMSB) is responsible for the licensing and regulation of plumbers, mechanical professionals, and contractors, and issues all licenses.

Types of HVAC/Mechanical Licenses in Iowa

What are the different types of HVAC/Mechanical licenses in Iowa?

There are four main HVAC/Mechanical licenses in Iowa and a sublicense for HVAC Service Technicians.

  • Apprentice

  • Journey Level

  • Master Level

  • Contractor

  • Service Technician HVAC Specialty

Each license has specific requirements for licensure.

LICENSE REQUIREMENTS:

Apprentice

  • Must be at least 18 years old and a high school graduate or GED equivalent.

  • Must be both licensed with the board and enrolled in a recognized United States Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship program.

  • May only perform work under the supervision of a licensed master or journeyperson. An apprentice must not knowingly perform work for an unlicensed contractor. 

  • Must provide documentation of criminal convictions related to the practice of the profession, including a full explanation.

  • Must file an application and submit appropriate fees.

  • The apprentice license covers all plumbing and mechanical systems trades. Only one apprentice license is needed to practice any of the trade disciplines. 

Journey Level

  • Must be at least 18 years old.

  • Must work under the supervision of a master licensed in the discipline of the work being performed in the design, installation, and repair of plumbing, mechanical, HVAC-refrigeration, or hydronic systems.  A journeyperson must not knowingly perform work for an unlicensed contractor. 

  • A journeyperson who supervises one or more apprentices may do so only in the discipline(s) in which the journeyperson is licensed and only while performing work for the same licensed contractor.  A journeyperson must not knowingly supervise unlicensed persons.

  • Must provide documentation of any criminal convictions. Applicants with a felony conviction will be subject to review by the board to determine eligibility for licensure.

  • Must file an application and submit appropriate fees.

  • Must provide the board with evidence of having completed at least four years of practical experience as an apprentice AND proof of successfully passing the Iowa journeyperson examination for each trade discipline requested. Beginning January 1, 2010, the four years of practical experience required must be from an apprenticeship training program registered by the United States Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship; OR

  • Provide evidence that the applicant possesses a master level license in the same discipline from another jurisdiction.

  • You must first submit an Exam Approval Application, schedule and pass the test, then submit a Post-Examination Licensure Application.

Master Level

  • Must be at least 18 years old.

  • A master who supervises the design, installation, or repair of plumbing, mechanical, HVAC-refrigeration, or hydronic systems must be available to supervise journeypersons or apprentices as needed and only in the discipline(s) in which the master is licensed.  A master must not knowingly supervise unlicensed persons or work for an unlicensed contractor.

  • Must provide documentation of any criminal convictions. Applicants with a felony conviction will be subject to review by the board to determine eligibility for licensure.

  • Must file an application and submit appropriate fees.

  • Pass the state of Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board master licensing examination for the applicable discipline. To be eligible to sit for the exam, you must have a journeyperson license with two years of experience;OR

  • You must have a master license in another jurisdiction.

Contractor

  • Must be at least 18 years old.

  • All plumbing and mechanical contractors must be licensed with the board and also registered with the Iowa Division of Labor. 

  • Must provide documentation of criminal convictions related to the practice of the profession, which must include a full explanation.

  • Must file an application and submit appropriate fees.

  • Must provide required bond and information to be issued a Division of Labor Contractor Registration Number.

  • Must provide a valid unemployment insurance number, even if you have no employees.

  • Must provide the board with evidence that the applicant maintains a permanent place of business.

Service Technician HVAC Specialty

  • Sublicense under an HVAC-refrigeration or mechanical license that allows licensees to perform work from the appliance shutoff valve to the appliance and any part and component of the appliance, including the disconnection and reconnection of the existing appliance to the gas piping and the installation of a shutoff valve no more than 3 feet away from the appliance.

  • Must be at least 18 years old.

  • Must provide documentation of criminal convictions related to the practice of the profession and include a full explanation.

  • Submit evidence of valid certification from North American Technician Excellence Inc. (NATE) or an equivalent authority approved by the board;OR

  • Submit evidence that the applicant completed a Service Technician Associate degree or equivalent education or training approved by the board.

  • Must file an application and submit appropriate fees. 

Steps to Get an HVAC License in Iowa

Be at least 18 years of age and a high school graduate or GED equivalent.

  1. Enroll in an apprentice program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship.

  2. Apply for an apprentice license with the Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board (PMSB) meeting all requirements and paying a fee. Receive apprentice license.

  3. Complete four year apprenticeship working under the supervision of a licensed journeyperson or master.

  4. Apply for, take, and pass exam for Journey Level license.

  5. Apply for Journey Level post-examination license meeting all requirements and paying fee. Receive journey license.

  6. Gain two years of work experience as a licensed journeyperson working under the supervision of a licensed master.

  7. Apply for, take, and pass exam for Master Level license.

  8. Apply for Master Level post-examination license meeting all requirements and paying fee. Receive master license.

  9. Work indefinitely for a licensed contractor;OR

  10. If you want to own your own business and become a contractor, you must be both licensed with the board AND also registered with the Iowa Division of Labor. 

  11. Apply for Contractor license meeting all requirements including surety bond, public liability insurance, unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance and paying fee.

  12. Receive contractor license.

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Benefits of Getting an HVAC/Mechanical License in Iowa

There are many benefits to getting your Iowa HVAC/Mechanical license:

  • Most important, it is required by law in Iowa to be licensed through the state to perform heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration work at every level, beginning as an apprentice.

  • A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.

  • Only licensed HVAC contractors can: operate a business and advertise services, obtain commercial 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 Salary for an HVAC Professional in Iowa?

The annual mean salary for HVAC mechanics and installers in Iowa is $53,280, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Indeed.com, those salaries increase with experience and training:

  • HVAC Installer: The average wage for an HVAC installer is $23.62 per hour in Iowa and $6,094 overtime per year.

  • HVAC Mechanic: The average wage for an HVAC Mechanic is $23.48 per hour in Iowa and $8,750 overtime per year.

  • HVAC Technician: The average wage for an HVAC Technician is $22.56 per hour in Iowa and $6,562 overtime per year.

  • HVAC Supervisor: The average salary for an HVAC Supervisor is $71,201 per year in Iowa and $11,250 overtime per year.

Pay can vary widely, depending on the city where you work and other factors such as education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession. 

How Much Does It Cost to Get an HVAC/Mechanical License in Iowa?

The cost to get started as an apprentice in Iowa is fairly low. The fee for the apprentice license application to the board is $50 for a three-year period. The fee is prorated depending upon when during the three year cycle you apply. Apprentice programs have different tuition costs associated with them. All have some fees for books and tools, but much of the cost is absorbed by your employer or the union.

The Iowa Department of Economic Development funds and manages the Iowa Jobs Training Program, which provides $1 million a year to support job-training services to employees who are registered apprentices of eligible businesses. The program provides forgivable loans to Iowa businesses that use the funding to train a specified number of workers.

Union apprenticeships, like the one with Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 125 in Cedar Rapids, are five years long and have a fee structure that ends up costing about $2,000 spread out over the five years. Apprentices are earning as they learn, though. They start at a percentage of the journey-level wage, and it is increased each year. 

Once you have met the work experience requirements, you’ll also pay a fee of $35 per trade examination to the state and an additional examination fee of $109 directly to Kirkwood Community College, which administers the exams.

Each of the other license classes has a different fee for the three-year period as well. For a Journey license, it’s $180; for a Master, it is $240. For a Contractor license, you’ll pay $250 to PMSB and then a registration fee of $150 to the Iowa Workforce Development – Division of Labor. Again, licensure fees are prorated depending upon when during the three-year cycle you apply.

How to Get an HVAC License in Iowa

Becoming an HVAC/Mechanical professional in Iowa isn’t fast, but it’s very straightforward.

APPRENTICESHIP/WORK EXPERIENCE: You will need to be at least 18 years old and have graduated from high school or earned a GED equivalent. The state requires everyone who wants to join this profession to become an apprentice and complete an apprenticeship that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. To get that recognition from the Department of Labor, the apprenticeship must include 2,000 hours of hands-on training and 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. Registered apprenticeship programs range from one year to five years in length, but for HVAC/mechanical apprentices they are usually four to five years long. Once you are enrolled in either a union or non-union apprenticeship, you must apply to the Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board (PMSB) for an apprentice license and pay the application fee. The application can be completed online, or you can submit a paper application to:

Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board

Iowa Dept. of Public Health

321 E. 12th St.

Des Moines, IA 50319

You will be charged an additional $25 if you file a paper application rather than online.

TAKE LICENSING EXAM: At each of the following levels of licensure — Journeyperson or Master — you must submit a state of Iowa Examination Candidate Application and pay a fee of $35 per trade exam to the state. The Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board accepts examination applications for:

  • Master & Journeyperson Plumbing

  • Master & Journeyperson Hydronics

  • Master & Journeyperson HVAC/Refrigeration

  • Master & Journeyperson Mechanical

  • Journeyperson Sheet Metal

Journeyperson exam candidates must have completed a minimum of 42 months in a Department of Labor registered apprenticeship program. Master exam candidates must have two years of work experience as a licensed journeyperson or be a licensed master in another state or local jurisdiction. Once you submit your application to the board office, staff will verify the information and, if complete and eligibility requirements are met, an Exam Approval Letter will be sent to you.  The Exam Approval Letter contains instructions on scheduling your examination through the board's approved examination provider — Kirkwood Community College. You must also pay an examination fee of $109 directly to Kirkwood when you schedule your test. 

APPLY FOR LICENSE: After successfully passing an examination, you will need to apply to the board office for Post-Examination Licensure. A license is NOT automatically issued after you pass the examination.  You can find detailed instruction and a link to online post-examination licensure here at the bottom of the page. Since the fees for different licenses vary and the fees are prorated based on when you apply, you will want to check the chart on the PMSB website.

BACKGROUND CHECK: Every license requires the applicant to provide documentation of criminal convictions related to the practice of the profession and include a full explanation.

CONTRACTOR REQUIREMENTS: If after earning your Master license you choose to apply to be a contractor, you will need to meet several additional requirements. All plumbing and mechanical contractors must be licensed with the board and also registered with the Iowa Division of Labor. The application process now allows contractors to submit a single application for both a license (issued by PMSB) and a contractor registration (issued by the Iowa Division of Labor). Applicants will be required to include the fee for contractor registration in addition to the license fee, proof of workers compensation insurance coverage, proof of unemployment insurance compliance, public liability insurance of at least $500,000, and a surety bond of at least $5,000. An applicant also must provide the board with evidence that the applicant holds an active master license or employs at least one person who holds an active master license. You must obtain an unemployment insurance number before applying for contractor registration with the Division of Labor even if you have no employees. 

How Long Does it Take to Get an HVAC/Mechanical License in Iowa?

It will take a minimum of 42 months to complete a registered apprenticeship and then become licensed at the journey level in Iowa. It will take an additional two years to meet the eligibility requirements to test for a license at the master level. If you choose to become a contractor, the application process will take additional time. The great news is that as an apprentice, you begin earning a wage from the very beginning and that compensation goes up each year as you acquire more training and knowledge until you are fully licensed at the journeyperson level. Then it goes up again when you acquire your master license.

Iowa HVAC Training programs and schools

Since the state of Iowa requires HVAC professionals to begin their career journey in a registered apprenticeship, you most likely will not choose to get a post-secondary degree. However, if you want to build your knowledge base before beginning as an apprentice, there is one school in Iowa that has received accreditation.

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 Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa, which offers a 39-credit Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning diploma program.

Tuition: Tuition at Scott Community College is assessed based on residency and class load. In-state tuition is figured at $175 per credit hour. Out-of-state tuition is $242.

Apprenticeship: There are all different kinds of apprenticeships that will satisfy the licensing requirement in Iowa. You can apply for a union training program like the ones offered through Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33 out of Des Moines or Local 125 out of Cedar Rapids. Or you could choose a non-union training program through a trade organization like Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association of Iowa. Or you could simply apply for one of the apprentice positions listed on Zip Recruiter or Indeed to see if an employer will sponsor you instead. Just remember that your apprenticeship needs to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor.

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 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.

Iowa HVAC/Mechanical Licensing Exam Details

The examination is administered by Kirkwood Community College with testing locations all over the state. Click this link to learn more about registration, exam fees, testing centers, the reference material for each exam, and rescheduling your appointment. A score of 75% or above is required to pass each exam, and all exams are open book.

The Master HVAC Refrigeration with Gas exam is made up of 100 questions. You are given five hours to complete it. The subjects covered include:

  • HVAC Terms, Principles, Administration

  • HVAC Installation

  • Venting, Duct, Combustion Air

  • Gas Piping

  • HVAC Electrical

  • Protection

  • Refrigeration Term System, Operation

The Journeyperson HVAC/Refrigeration with Gas exam of 75 questions has a time limit of three hours. The subjects covered include:

  • HVAC Principles, Terms, Administration & Safety

  • HVAC Installation Requirements

  • Venting, Combustion, Gas Piping

  • Boilers, Ducts, Electricals

  • Refrigeration, Terms, System Operations

The Master Mechanical with Gas exam has 100 questions and a time limit of four hours. The subjects covered include:

  • General Requirements

  • Appliances & Equipment

  • Exhaust & Vent

  • Duct Systems

  • Combustion Air

  • Chimneys & Vents

  • Fuel Supply System

  • Electrical

  • Water

The Journeyperson Mechanical with Gas exam of 75 questions has a time limit of two hours. The subjects covered include:

  • General Requirements & Plan Reading

  • Appliances & Equipment

  • Exhaust & Ventilation

  • Duct Systems

  • Combustion Air

  • Chimneys & Vents

  • Fuel Supply System

  • Electrical

Who Issues HVAC Contractor Licenses in Iowa?

All HVAC/ Mechanical, Plumbing, Gas Piping and related specialty licenses are issued through the Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board (PMSB).

Does My Iowa HVAC/Mechanical Contractor License Work in Any Other State?

Iowa does not have reciprocity agreements with any other state for HVAC/Mechanical licenses. If you are licensed at a master level in another state and want to practice in Iowa you will need to apply for examination and follow the same application process as any other master candidate. Your master license from another state or local jurisdiction will serve as proof of your eligibility to test and apply for licensure.

HVAC Specific Requirements: EPA Certification

Everywhere throughout the country, including Iowa, federal-level 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. All apprenticeships will include this preparation and testing.

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.

Core Exam

For all certifications, you must pass the “Core Section” of the EPA certification exam. It covers the following topics:

  • Ozone depletion

  • Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol

  • Section 608 regulations

  • Substitute refrigerants and oils

  • Refrigeration

  • The Three R’s (Recover, Recycle, Reclaim)

  • Recovery techniques

  • Dehydration evacuation

  • Safety

  • Shipping

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.

Continuing Education/Renewal

Iowa law requires members of every licensed or regulated profession to obtain continuing education as a condition of license renewal. For each plumbing and mechanical systems board license, the basic requirement is at least eight hours of classroom instruction during each three-year licensing term. For those who hold multiple licenses, there are additional hours required. For a course to be valid, both the instructor and the course must be pre-approved by the board. The board lists some but not all of the approved training on its website. Not all instructors choose to list their courses, so other courses may be available in your area through your closest community college, trade union or association. 

All licenses expire at the end of a three-year cycle. For instance, all licenses issued or renewed after May 1, 2020, will expire on June 30, 2023. You have a one-month grace period (for most licenses until the end of July) to renew your license without paying additional penalties or late fees. To renew a license, applicants must submit an application for renewal (either online or via a paper application), pay the renewal fee, and meet the continuing education requirements for renewal. You can go to the IDPH Regulatory Programs PMSB page for instructions on how to renew through your individual online account.

Other Requirements Unique to Iowa

There are detailed instructions on how to apply for your license or examination at every level on the PMSB website. Here’s a link to the instructions to apply for an Individual Apprentice, Specialty, Journey, or Master License. For the instructions to apply for a Journeyperson or Master Exam follow this link. And, for instructions to apply for a new Contractor License click here.  They all require you to create an account using the State of Iowa’s Authentication and Authorization (A&A) service, which is referred to as an A&A account.

Resources

You can stay up to date on all HVAC industry news several ways:

 

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