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

category-iconHVAC, MN

Table of Contents
  1. Contractor Licensing Requirements

  2. Steps to Becoming an HVAC Technician

  3. Benefits of Becoming an HVAC Technician

  4. What Is the Mean Salary?

  5. How to Become an HVAC Professional

  6. How Much Does It Cost?

  7. How Long Does it Take?

  8. Training programs and schools

  9. EPA Certification

  10. Core Exam

  11. Who Issues HVAC Licenses in Minnesota?

  12. Does My Experience Allow Me to Work in Any Other State?

  13. National HVAC Certifications

  14. Continuing Education

Opportunities for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration professionals are plentiful in Minnesota. There are thousands of job postings for HVAC apprentices and technicians on online job boards for the state.

According to the  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 380,400 Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers in the United States and 3,730 work in Minnesota. That number nationwide is expected to grow 5% from 2020 to 2030 — adding more than 19,000 of these skilled workers to the ranks. In Minnesota, though, that growth rate is expected to be much higher. According to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, the projected growth rate is 11% for HVAC mechanics and installers in Minnesota. And, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, contractors are hiring. In the 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 60% of firms in the U.S. and 46% of firms in Minnesota had unfilled hourly craft positions.

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The need for trained HVAC experts is consistent because air conditioning, refrigeration and heating systems in our homes and businesses wear out and break down.  Also, now with more  emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution, mechanical systems need to be retrofitted, upgraded or replaced entirely to remain compliant.

The licensing requirements for HVAC workers and contractors vary from state to state and, in Minnesota, from locality to locality.

Contractor Licensing Requirements for HVAC in Minnesota

Is a license required for HVAC Professionals in Minnesota? Not at the state level, but in most cities there are local licensing requirements.

The state of Minnesota does not license HVAC professionals at the state level as they do electricians and plumbers through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Instead, municipalities are responsible for oversight.

About 60% of Minnesota's population lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, according to worldpopulationreview.com, and about the same percentage of HVAC workers are employed there. The Twin Cities both require HVAC workers to be certified before being allowed to work in either jurisdiction. The Minneapolis Construction Code Service and the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspection issue certificates of competency or Comp Cards at the journey and master level. The categories for competency certification are broken into areas of specialization commonly practiced by HVAC professionals like:

  • Warm Air/Ventilation

  • Refrigeration

  • Gas

  • Oil Burner

  • Steam & Hot Water

The two cities have reciprocal agreements too, so if you’re certified in one you can get your certification in the other without having to retest. While there is no state level mechanical contractor license as there is for plumbers, there is a bond requirement for mechanical contractors. Businesses must file a $25,000 Mechanical Contractor Surety Bond to legally perform HVACR work.

Steps to Becoming an HVAC Technician in Minnesota

  1. Typically be at least 18 years of age to meet employer/apprenticeship requirements.

  2. You need to have earned a high school diploma or GED equivalent.

  3. You must have a valid driver’s license.

  4. You must get the proper training. There are two paths:

    1. Attend community or technical college (usually two years) or trade school (usually six to nine months) to prepare for certification exams and be a good candidate for hire.

    2. Become an Apprentice either through a formal apprenticeship like a union or as an entry- level worker through a sponsoring employer.

  5. You will need to get EPA Section 608 Certification by passing the exam before you are permitted to handle refrigerants.

  6. You should check local or city licensing requirements for the area where you will be working. There is no statewide licensing process for HVAC technicians, so it’s all about meeting municipal regulations for all HVAC-related trades like gas fitter, warm air ventilation, etc.

  7. You can earn additional certifications to improve your marketability and pay.

  8. If you wish to own your own business in the HVAC field in Minnesota after you’ve accumulated significant experience and are a licensed contractor at the local level, you’ll need a state-issued business license, worker’s compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Mechanical Contractors in Minnesota are also required to file a $25,000 bond with the Department of Labor and Industry. Check with your municipality for further requirements. Cities or counties within the state may have further regulations, so it’s always recommended to check with local authorities before going to work.

Benefits of Becoming an HVAC Technician in Minnesota

There are many benefits to getting into the HVAC field in Minnesota:

  • You will earn as you learn with a guarantee of pay increases as you develop new skills.

  • The certifications and local licenses you earn are proof of your knowledge, experience, and expertise.

  • You will receive industry-recognized credentials that can go with you anywhere.

  • Being a skilled tradesman gives you a competitive advantage and job security.

  • You will be embarking on a career, not just doing a job.

  • You can eventually own your own business and be your own boss. 

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What Is the Mean Salary for an HVAC Technician in Minnesota?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean salary for HVAC mechanics and installers nationally as $51,420, and in Minnesota it’s higher at $62,820. The salary for an HVAC Technician increases, as you might expect, as you acquire more experience, according to Indeed.com.

  • HVAC Installer: The average wage for an HVAC installer is $28.24 per hour in Minnesota and $6,094 overtime per year.

  • HVAC Technician: The average wage for an HVAC Technician is $26.73 per hour in Minnesota and $6,562 overtime per year.

  • HVAC Mechanic: The average wage for an HVAC Mechanic is $26.89 per hour in Minnesota and $8,750 overtime per year.

  • HVAC Supervisor: The average base wage for an HVAC Supervisor is $83,484 per year in Minnesota and $11,250 overtime per year. 

Pay ranges 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. 

How to Become an HVAC Professional in Minnesota

To enter the HVAC field in Minnesota you need to learn and gain work experience. Minnesota doesn’t have predetermined steps but does have common requirements for licensure in the heating field at the municipal level and to satisfy employer expectations. You’ll need to acquire some combination of classroom training and hands-on work experience. For example, in Minneapolis, you must have four years of documented on-the-job experience and proof of completing four years (576 hours) of related education before taking the city-mandated exam.  

There is no state-mandated minimum age to get started on your HVAC career path. Through Minnesota’s Career and Technical Education, some high schools offer vocational programs for sophomores,  juniors and seniors combining the trade education with high school curriculum. However, most employers seem to expect job candidates to be at least 18 years old and have earned either a high school diploma or GED.

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: One path you can take to enter the HVAC/R field in Minnesota is to attend community or technical college to learn what you need to earn the required certifications. For instance, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System has HVAC/R programs at campuses throughout the state that prepare students for HVAC technician work, commercial refrigeration, fuel gas piping, sheet metal and duct work, welding, and more. At Minneapolis Community and Technical College you’ll find both a 42-credit diploma program and a 72-credit hour Associate of Applied Science degree in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. More information on other educational and training programs is explained below.

APPRENTICESHIP: Another way to enter the field is through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are sometimes referred to as “The Other Four-Year Degree,” because it’s like college for the trades. If you get one of the coveted apprentice openings through your local United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, & Service Techs it’s like getting a full-ride scholarship to college. Minnesota has 10 UA local chapters that offer plumbing, pipefitting, HVAC and welding apprenticeships. UA Local 6, based in Rochester, offers apprenticeships for plumbers, pipefitters, Service Technicians, Welders and HVAC/R Service. Apprentices are mentored on the job by Journeyworkers and go to school to learn trade-specific subjects. Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455 out of St. Paul requires all of its apprentices to begin by completing a two-year HVACR degree at a technical college. Local 455 says on its website that you can be provided a job as a pre-apprentice during a portion of this time. After completing the two-year degree program, you will begin your training at Local 455’s training center as a first-year apprentice.  Throughout the five-year apprenticeship, you’ll work full time and attend classes two nights per week

WORK EXPERIENCE: If you don’t get one of those sought-after union apprentice openings, you can apply for entry-level work and treat it as an informal apprenticeship to begin getting the practical experience while attending classes at night or on weekends to prepare for the trade-specific certifications and licenses. Employers will often give you the opportunity to earn while you learn as long as they see you are committed to getting licensed. In fact, Minnesota State Community and Technical College has a comprehensive HVACR program that some employers will pay for using tuition reimbursements through a Business and Industry Partner Sponsorships program.

Some employers will act as a sponsor in a registered apprenticeship through the Minnesota  Department of Labor and Industry which maintains a list of registered apprenticeships that meet national standards for registration with the U.S. Department of Labor.  Apprenticeships through the Department of Labor are recognized nationwide, so your credentials will move with you. You will be required to attend classes at night or on weekends to get the requisite theoretical training, but you’ll be getting your academic instruction in tandem with your practical experience, and you probably won’t be paying for all of it.

APPLY FOR EXAMINATION/LICENSE: Once you’ve completed the license requirements in terms of the amount of training and education for your locality, you may apply for examination for licensure. In St. Paul, for example, testing is offered for Warm Air/Ventilation in January and July, and for Gas,  Refrigeration, Oil, and Steam certifications in April and October. All applicants must furnish proof of at least four years of experience working in the field for which they are applying and four years of related schooling before being approved to test at the journey level. Then you will need another year of working as a licensed journeyworker before being allowed to test for your master certification.

Again, you’ll need to check with your local licensing agency for specific requirements, but that is the standard set in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Once you pass the examination, you will receive your license.

CONSIDER BECOMING AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: If you wish to own your own business in the HVAC field in Minnesota after you’ve accumulated significant experience and local licensing and certifications, you’ll need a state-issued business license, worker’s compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Mechanical Contractors in Minnesota are also required to file a $25,000 bond with the Department of Labor and Industry. Check with your municipality for further requirements. Cities or counties within the state may have further regulations, so it’s always recommended to check with local authorities before going to work.

How Much Does It Cost to Become an HVAC Technician in Minnesota? 

It costs $24.95 to take the EPA Section 608 Certification Examination and $5.95 for each additional attempt. The cost associated with the schooling to train to be an HVAC technician varies widely—from a couple of thousand dollars at some trade schools to upwards of $20,000 for longer, more comprehensive programs. How you get started will determine your upfront costs. If you choose to start with a college program, you can expect to pay about $5,500 for in-state tuition at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. The school says the average cost after aid is $11,000 per year for full-time students. Northwest Technical Institute will run you about the same — $5,654 for in-state tuition, and the average cost after aid is $12,000. There will also likely be a licensing fee from your locality and fees associated with taking certification exams. In St Paul, for example, the application fee is $55 and the annual fee for trade licenses is $168.

How Long Does it Take to Become an HVAC Tech in Minnesota? 

The education and experience requirements for licensing varies from one municipality to another.  In both St. Paul and Minneapolis, it will take about four years of schooling/work experience to be eligible for examination to qualify for your Certificate of Competency or Competency Card. You will most likely have already been EPA Section 608 Certified. Typically you are sufficiently prepared for that examination after about two years. However, you can be working under a seasoned professional—and earning money—the whole time. Full training through an apprenticeship takes about five years. The longer you work in the business, the more skilled and valued you will become as an employee and the more earning potential you will enjoy. 

Minnesota HVAC Training programs and schools 

There are many programs to get the training you need to become an HVAC professional in Minnesota, and they are located all over the state, in major cities and smaller communities. There are also many more options for online training. The US Department of Labor’s careeronestop.org website lists 1,553 training programs for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Engineering Technology Technicians in Minnesota. 

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).

PAHRA has not accredited any programs in Minnesota at this time, but HVAC Excellence has accredited three schools in Minnesota:

  • Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis

  • Minneapolis Community and Technical College in Minneapolis

  • Hennepin Technical College in both Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie

You can earn a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree through the Dunwoody College program. The Hennepin Technical College program in Eden Prairie is a diploma program, while the one in Brooklyn Park is for an associate’s degree.

HVACClasses.org breaks down the credit-hour requirements for programs at two of the above schools and others.

Here are four great lists to the best HVAC schools in Minnesota:undefined

You’ll see that many of the same colleges or programs appear on all these lists. 

Apprenticeship: The alternative to a formal education program is to look for an apprenticeship. Many employers hiring entry-level HVAC technicians follow an apprentice model — pairing new employees with others who are licensed in the local jurisdiction to begin hands-on training while requiring the beginner to attend HVAC classes. Employers will often pay for the instruction if you maintain a certain grade point average, or will reimburse you after a certain amount of time on the job.

There are also apprenticeships through unions or local trade associations. Local 11 and 589 Northern Mechanical & Iron Range Plumbing & Pipefitting Joint Apprenticeship trains pipefitters, steamfitters, plumbers, and HVAC technicians. The program consists of five years of on the job training and at least 144 hours per year of related classroom instruction. 

Applicants are required to:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.

  • Be a high school graduate, or have a GED, or equivalent.

  • Fill out and return application to the apprenticeship office before the deadline.

  • Submit a transcript of the applicant’s high school record or the GED scores and technical college transcripts (for HVAC Service Apprentices).

  • Must be physically able to perform the work of the trade.

  • HVAC candidates must submit a photocopy of a valid driver’s license at the time of application and have a clean driving record. Any applicant who is found not able to be insured by a union contractor due to a poor driving record will not be placed in the program.

  • Pass a drug and alcohol screening test and a criminal background check as may be administered by an employer.

Tuition: Apprenticeships usually have some up-front costs of tuition and book fees, but the apprentice will be paid a percentage of the journeyman wage rate and will receive periodic wage increases as they meet program requirements. The cost of tuition at a vocational school or college can range from $2,000 at a community college to $40,000 at a state or private school for an associate degree or bachelor degree in engineering.

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. 

EPA Certification

Everywhere throughout the country, including Minnesota, 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 and many even make it part of the curriculum, 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.

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

Who Issues HVAC Licenses in Minnesota?

There are no licenses issued at the state level for HVAC contractors/technicians in Minnesota. However, there are many municipalities that have licensing requirements. Be sure to check with local governments to know what is required in the area you intend to work before submitting your license application. If you own your own business in the HVAC field in Minnesota, you’ll need a state-issued business license from the Secretary of State’s Office and workers’ compensation insurance. The process is explained on the Department of Labor and Industry website, and there’s another page that offers advice about starting a business. Also, businesses must file a $25,000 mechanical contractor bond with DLI to contract to perform gas, heating, ventilation, cooling, air conditioning, fuel burning or refrigeration work.

Does My Minnesota HVAC Experience Allow Me to Work in Any Other State?

Every state has different licensing requirements. Some will have minimum work experience thresholds, and many will require that you document that experience and pass a licensing exam. Be sure to check those mandates before beginning work as an HVAC professional in another state, even if you’ve been doing HVAC work in Minnesota. Your EPA Certification and other Certifications may not be enough to legally perform HVAC work in another state. However, if you’ve completed a registered apprenticeship through the U.S. Department of Labor, your credentials transfer from state to state. You may still need to take an examination and apply for a license in your new home state, so always check first. 

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

Although Minnesota does not require continuing education at the state level for HVAC, some municipalities do. You’ll want to check in the area where you will be practicing to be sure to keep your license current. Also, 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 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. 

Resources

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

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