HVAC License Montana: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Montana
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The systems that heat, ventilate, and cool our homes and businesses are complex and continually more technologically advanced. Learning how to design, install and repair them can lead to an essential job that will always be in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that there are over 394,100 Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers nationwide and 1,540 work in Montana. 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 Montana that growth rate is expected to be five times that. The U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, CareerOneStop, projects the growth rate in Montana to be 25% for HVAC mechanics and installers, and the Associated General Contractors of America, says contractors are hiring. In the 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 60% of firms in the U.S. reported unfilled hourly craft positions.
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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.
The licensing requirements for HVAC workers and HVAC contractors vary from state to state and, in some cases, from locality to locality. Montana's HVAC licensing requirements are different from those for plumbers and electricians.
Licensing Requirements for HVAC Professionals in Montana
Is a license required for HVAC Professionals in Montana? No, HVAC professionals are not licensed in Montana, but there are other state-mandated regulations.
You are required to register with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry if you are going to own your own HVAC business. Even though HVAC technicians don’t need to be licensed through the state, if you handle refrigerants as part of your job you will need Environmental Protection Agency certification under federal law, which will require passing an examination that is uniform nationwide.
Montana doesn’t require a statewide HVACR test to demonstrate competency in the field as it does with plumbers and electricians. Rather, Montana places a lot of the responsibility of finding a quality contractor on the person or entity hiring that contractor. That hiring party is encouraged to:
Obtain references and check them out to ensure they are experts in their field of work.
Check periodically to confirm that they have valid Construction Contractor Registration and Workers Compensation insurance on their employees.
Ask for proof of their CR and verify it is in good standing by searching on the state website or calling the office at (406) 444-7734.
Also, always be sure to check with each municipality where you will be working for any additional local requirements in those jurisdictions. Great Falls, Billings, and Missoula, for example, all require anyone doing business in their areas to have a city-issued business license.
Types of HVAC Licenses in Montana
In Montana, technicians must work for a registered contractor or be registered as a contractor instead. There are two types of registrations: Construction Contractor or Independent Contractor just like any other general construction contractor.
Is required for business owners that form corporations or is a construction Manager-Managed LLC.
Costs $70 and is valid for two years.
Requires proof of Workers’ Compensation Insurance.
Is required for sole proprietors who do not have employees and wish to take contract work and not be bound by Montana’s Workers’ Compensation laws, opting out of coverage for themselves.
Costs $125 and is valid for two years.
Requires notarized application and documentation verifying the independent business entity.
Since the state doesn’t have any entry-level licensing, the first license requirement you will encounter as a technician is the need for EPA Section 608 Certification under federal law. You will need to pass an examination for certification. We’ll explain more about that a little later.
Steps to Becoming an HVAC Professional in Montana
Meet employer expectations by being 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED, a driver’s license and basic math and reading skills.
Enroll in a training program — either a college degree program or an apprenticeship makes you a more attractive job candidate.
Get EPA Certification if you will be handling refrigerant.
Work indefinitely as an HVAC tech for a registered contractor.
Or register as a contractor yourself if you would like to own your own business and get a business license.
Apply and provide proof of workers’ compensation insurance coverage or apply for the independent contractor exemption certificate if you will not have any employees. Register your business with the Secretary of State’s Office and pay all application fees.
Renew your license every two years.
Benefits of Becoming an HVAC Professional in Montana
There are many benefits to working in the HVAC field in Montana:
The lack of statewide licensing means you need only to meet employer expectations and get federal EPA certification if you will be handling refrigerant.
You will earn as you learn with a potential for pay increases as you develop new skills.
The EPA and other certifications are proof of your knowledge and expertise.
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.
What Is the Mean Pay for an HVAC Technician in Montana?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean pay for HVAC mechanics and installers in Montana as $52,250. That salary, as you might expect, increases as you acquire more experience, according to Indeed.com.
HVAC Installer: The average wage for an HVAC installer is $27.32 per hour in Montana and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Mechanic: The average wage for an HVAC Mechanic is $24.77 per hour in Montana.
HVAC Technician: The average wage for an HVAC Technician is $27.75 per hour in Montana and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Supervisor: The average base pay for an HVAC Supervisor is $52,246 per year in Montana.
Pay 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
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SMS communications that keep customers informed about the technician’s visit.
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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.
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How to Become an HVAC Professional in Montana
The most common path taken to enter the HVAC field in Montana is enrolling in a trade school or apprenticeship program. It’s all about meeting employer expectations since there is no licensing option for journeyman technicians in Montana, only federal EPA certification for handling refrigerant.
EDUCATION/WORK EXPERIENCE: You need training and experience to work in the heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration industry. You have basically three options to acquire it:
Apprenticeship: Apprenticeships are sometimes referred to as “The Other Four-Year Degree,” because it’s like college for the trades. You can apply for one of the coveted apprentice openings through your local United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, & Service Techs. Montana has three UA locals. UA Local 30 out of Billings, UA Local 41 out of Butte, and UA Local 459 out of Missoula. They offer apprenticeships for HVACR, Plumbing, Steam Fitting, and Welding. The apprenticeships are five-year programs where apprentices are mentored on the job by journeymen and go to school to learn trade-specific subjects. These apprenticeships are very competitive, so you may need to distinguish yourself if you don’t get selected immediately for one of these openings. You can do that by starting in one of the other paths to licensure.
College/Trade School: Another way to begin the process of becoming an HVAC tech in Montana is to get a certificate or degree in the field. Many employers express a desire for job applicants to have formal education in the trade and EPA certification before being hired. There are many programs from which to choose. An associate of applied science degree will take about two years, and certificate programs can take six months to a year. Often these programs will include the EPA Certification. These programs can distinguish you from other candidates for one of those union apprentice openings or make you a more desirable candidate for an entry-level job with an HVAC employer.
Entry-level Employment: The other way to begin is to simply look for an entry-level job opening and work for a registered construction contractor. Again, though, most employers state in job postings that HVAC training is preferred. Some employers will act as a sponsor in a Montana Registered Apprenticeship that meets 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.
You may work indefinitely as an HVAC technician in Montana. As you learn the trade, however, you will need to get EPA Section 608 Certification, which is a standard federal requirement for anyone testing refrigerant line pressure, adding refrigerant to existing AC systems or handling controlled refrigerants. We’ll outline that process in detail below.
CONSIDER BECOMING AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: Technicians must work for a registered contractor or be registered as a contractor themselves. If you intend to work alone and not hire any staff, you can apply for an Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate (ICEC) and waive the Workers’ Compensation Coverage. If you plan to have employees working with you, you must obtain a Construction Contractor Registration (CCR) and provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage for your employees required under the Montana Workers’ Compensation Act. As stated on the website, a construction contractor is defined, simply, as anyone who adds to or takes away from a structure, project, development, or improvement attached to real estate. You will need to complete and submit an application form with a non-refundable $70 fee to the Department of Labor and Industry for your CCR or submit the ICEC with a $125 fee. Applications must be mailed to:
Montana Department of Labor & Industry
PO Box 8011
Helena, MT 59604-8011
You can send a check to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) or you can submit your payment online.
You will also need to register your business through the Montana Secretary of State website and pay the business registration fees.
RENEW: You will need to maintain your registration as well, renewing it every two years by the same method as the original application.
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How Much Does It Cost to Become an HVAC Technician in Montana?
How you get started will determine your upfront costs. If you start by getting some kind of college degree or certificate you’ll have tuition expenses. The cost to take the EPA Section 608 Certification Examination can be as low as $20 for the Type I exam and upwards of $150 for the Universal Exam. If you start with a program, that may be included. You can then work as a technician without any licensing or testing fees. If you choose to become an HVAC Contractor, you will spend either $125 for the Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate or $70 for the Construction Contractor Registration. You’ll also have additional business registration and insurance expenses. Depending upon where you do business, you may have additional licensing expenses in certain municipalities like Great Falls, Billings, and Missoula. In Great Falls, the license application is $128 for each full-time employee and each additional owner/employee beyond four is $32 per person.Background checks are $53 per person.
How Long Does it Take to Become an HVAC Tech in Montana?
Because there is no entry-level state licensing for HVAC technicians in Montana, it will take as much time as it takes to meet employer expectations. Most employers prefer some kind of post-secondary training. Certificate programs vary in length. Some are only six months; others are about a year long. Most Associate of Applied Science degree programs will take about two years. Apprenticeships are typically five years long. The beauty of apprenticeship is that you are working in the field and making money from day one. No matter which of those paths you take, your wages may increase as you gain more experience and certifications.
Montana HVAC Training programs and schools
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). Currently, one program is accredited in Montana by either of these organizations.
HVAC Excellence has accredited:
HVACRedu.net based out of Heron is an online program.
There are several other schools that offer HVACR certificate programs or associate degree programs throughout the state.
Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell offers an HVAC & Refrigeration Apprentice C.T.S. (Career Technical Studies) program to coincide with an entry-level job with a sponsoring employer. The tuition is based on whether you live in-district, out-of-district, or out-of-state and will often be covered by your employer.
The University of Montana in Missoula offers an HVAC Technician Certificate program that’s 12 credits and 200 hours. The program introduces students to the fundamentals of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning. The program covers heating and refrigeration cycles, gas furnaces, refrigerants, system evacuation and charging, as well as meters and components used in associated systems. Students who complete the program will sit for the Universal 608 EPA exam and receive the NCCER certification for Heating, Ventilation, Air conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC). The cost of tuition and fees is $4,184 in-state and $16,354 for out-of-state students. If you live on campus, the total cost listed is $19,756 for in-state and $32,626 for out-of-state students.
Gallatin College is a two-year college that’s part of the Montana State University offering two-year associate degrees and one-year professional certificates. The HVAC-R programs are a one-year HVAC-R Certificate of Applied Science to prepare for work as a HVAC-R Installer, or continue on to receive a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree to work as a HVAC-R Technician. Tuition for 12 or more credits is about $1,800 for in-state and about $7,000 for out-of-state.
Apprenticeship: The alternative to beginning your HVACR training with a college education certificate or degree program is to look for an apprenticeship. You can look for a union or non-union apprenticeship.
The Montana Registered Apprenticeship website offers apprenticeship information to job seekers as well as employers to help apprentices find openings and help employers find apprentices. The site includes a list of registered apprenticeship programs with dozens of HVACR openings. Many employers will also sponsor you in an apprenticeship. You can seek them out through job boards like Glassdoor and Zip Recruiter.
Tuition: Apprenticeships usually have some up-front costs for books or tools, 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 a few thousand dollars for an online program or at a community college to tens of thousands of dollars per year at a state or private school.
Program Prerequisites: You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED and demonstrate mastery of basic high school level math. You may also need a driver’s license and a clean driving record.
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.
Montana Licensing Exam Details and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Certification
The state of Montana does not require any statewide testing for HVACR or Construction Contractors.
However, everywhere throughout the country, including Montana, federal-level EPA regulations under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act require certification for technicians who maintain, service, repair, or dispose of equipment that could release refrigerants into the atmosphere. 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. 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.
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)Recovery techniques
Who Issues HVAC Licenses in Montana?
While there is no licensing board that requires testing for HVAC professionals in Montana, contractors offering HVACR services must be registered with the Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) to legally offer those services.
Does My Montana HVACR Related Registration Allow Me to Work in Any Other State?
Every state has different professional licensing requirements. Minimum work experience thresholds will vary, 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 Montana.
Your EPA Certification and other certifications will stand, and a registered apprenticeship through the U.S. Department of Labor will transfer from state to state even if there is not reciprocity. You may still need to take an examination and apply for a license in your new home state.
Montana does not reciprocate with any other state for its contractor registrations, so anyone entering the construction industry in Montana must register with DLI. Montana does have reciprocal agreements for its journeyman plumbing and electrical licensing for several states though.
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.
There is no continuing education requirement, but you will need to maintain your registration through renewal. To keep your contractor registration current, you’ll need to maintain workers’ compensation insurance if you have any employees and show proof of it with a new application every two years for renewal. You can pay for the renewal online but you will need to mail the application in to be processed.
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 offers 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 several ways:
Read about the latest industry trends.
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