North Carolina HVAC License: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in North Carolina
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You simply can’t rush the process of learning a trade. There’s no easy button or shortcut. You have to put in the time and do the work, but if you do, there are a lot of job opportunities including the chance to own your own business. HVAC/R work, also known as mechanical, requires a knowledge of plumbing, electrical, ductwork, refrigerants, and more, but once you learn the trade, you will have a career with job security.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 376,800 heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers nationwide, and North Carolina employs 13,240 of them. Employment is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029 throughout the country, adding more than 15,000 of these skilled workers to the ranks. And in North Carolina that growth rate is expected to be much higher — projected at 16% according to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website,
That statistic is supported by how many contractors are trying to find skilled tradesmen like plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 60% of firms in the U.S. and 70% of firms in North Carolina had unfilled hourly craft positions on June 30, 2020. Contractors are eager to hire trained tradespeople.
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A large part of what HVAC contractors and technicians do is replace and repair existing systems. And, as more of an emphasis is placed on energy efficiency and reducing pollution, systems need to be retrofitted, upgraded or replaced entirely to comply with these new standards.
Licensing requirements for HVAC contractors vary from state to state and in some cases, from locality to locality. In North Carolina, licensing is uniform statewide, but the state website still says “check with your local City, County or Municipality for area-specific license requirements they may have.”
Licensing Requirements for HVAC/R Contractors in North Carolina
Is a license required to work as an HVAC/R professional in North Carolina? Yes.
To legally perform heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration work in the state of North Carolina, you must be a licensed contractor or working under someone who is a licensed contractor. Licenses are issued by two separate state boards that fall under the North Carolina Department of Commerce. One for those working with refrigeration and one for those doing heating and cooling work.
The State Board of Refrigeration Contractors licenses anyone engaged in commercial, industrial or transport refrigeration contracting.
The North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors licenses all heating and air conditioning contractors.
Types of HVAC Licenses in North Carolina
What are the different types of HVAC and Refrigeration licenses in North Carolina?
HVAC Licenses are broken down into three groups and two classes in North Carolina.
Heating Group 1 – water-based heating systems in any building.
Heating Group 2 – forced air heating and cooling units that weigh more than 15 tons.
Heating Group 3 – forced air heating and cooling units that weigh 15 tons or less.
Class 1 allows you to work in any home or building.
Class 2 only allows you to work in single-family homes.
So, the license designations are as follows:
Heating Group 1 – water-based heating systems in any building.
H1-I (Heating Group 1 Class I) Contractor
H1-II (Heating Group 1 Class II) Contractor
H1-T (Heating Group 1) Technician – Must be a sublicensee of an H1 Contractor. Not a contracting license.
SLGT-H1 (Heating Group 1 State & Local Government) Technician – Must be an employee of a state or local government. Not a contracting license.
PEIT-H1 (Heating Group 1 Private Education Institution) Technician – Must be an employee of a private educational institution. Not a contracting license.
Heating Group 2 – forced air heating and cooling units that weigh more than 15 tons.
H2 (Heating Group 2) Contractor
H2-T (Heating Group 2) Technician – Must be a sublicensee of an H2 Contractor. Not a contracting license.
SLGT-H2 (Heating Group 2 State & Local Government) Technician – Must be an employee of a state or local government. Not a contracting license.
PEIT-H2 (Heating Group 2 Private Education Institution) Technician – Must be an employee of a private educational institution. Not a contracting license.
Heating Group 3 - forced air heating and cooling units that weigh 15 tons or less.
H3-I (Heating Group 3 Class I) Contractor
H3-II (Heating Group 3 Class II) Contractor
H3-T (Heating Group 3) Technician – Must be a sublicensee of an H3 Contractor. Not a contracting license.
SLGT-H3 (Heating Group 3 State & Local Government) Technician – Must be an employee of a state or local government. Not a contracting license.
PEIT-H3 (Heating Group 3 Private Education Institution) Technician – Must be an employee of a private educational institution. Not a contracting license.
There are four Refrigeration Contractor Licenses:
Commercial Refrigeration Contractor
Industrial Refrigeration Contractor
Service Refrigeration Contractor
Transport Refrigeration Contractor
Steps to Get an HVAC License in North Carolina
Attend formal HVAC diploma or certificate program or earn a two-year degree; or
Get a formal apprenticeship through a local union or trade organization or an informal apprenticeship through a sponsoring employer as an entry-level worker supervised by a licensed contractor.
After learning the trade through classroom training and hands-on experience, you can apply to take the examination for one of the three technician licenses. It must be in the Group and Class for which you have met the eligibility requirements. To be eligible, you must have 18 months (3,000 hours) of on-site full-time experience in the installation, maintenance, service or repair of plumbing or heating systems related to the category you wish to be licensed.
Complete the application, making sure that signatures are notarized where required.
Obtain background check information from the approved provider.
Send completed application with required documents and fee to the Board's office.
If application is denied or requires additional information, you will be notified of the issues. If the application is approved, you will receive notification of exam eligibility by mail or email.
Contact the exam provider for scheduling. The exam must be taken within 30 days of the notification date.
You will be notified of a pass/fail at the exam center following your exam. Failing applicants may attend an exam review in Raleigh prior to retesting.
Passing applicants will need to submit the completed Licensing Activation form and fee in order to obtain the license.
If you want to become a contractor yourself rather than working indefinitely as a technician, you will need to acquire 2 years (4,000 hours) of on-site full-time experience in the installation, maintenance, service, or repair of plumbing or heating systems related to the category you wish to be licensed.
However, up to one-half (2,000 hours) (45 quarter hours or 30 semester hours) of the experience requirement may be in academic or technical training directly related to the category for the license sought.
Then repeat the process of applying for the examination, paying related fees, and completing the license activation form for your contractor’s license.
To be eligible to test for any of the Refrigeration Contractor’s Licenses, you must demonstrate 4,000 hours of relevant experience under the supervision of a person who holds a valid refrigeration contractor’s license. Up to one-half of that experience can be in academic or technical training.
Benefits of Getting an HVAC or Refrigeration License in North Carolina
There are many benefits you’ll see from getting your North Carolina HVAC or Refrigeration license:
Most importantly, it is required by law in North Carolina to be licensed through the state to perform heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration work.
A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
Only licensed 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 Median Salary for an HVAC Professional in North Carolina?
The annual mean wage for HVAC mechanics and installers in North Carolina is $46,300, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to indeed.com, the average salaries for HVAC professionals in North Carolina increase with experience and training and are as follows:
HVAC Installer: The average salary for an HVAC installer is $19.03 per hour in North Carolina and $6,094 overtime per year.
HVAC Technician: The average salary for an HVAC Technician is $21.19 per hour in North Carolina and $5,500 overtime per year.
HVAC Mechanic: The average salary for an HVAC Mechanic is $20.92 per hour in North Carolina and $8,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Supervisor: The average salary for an HVAC Supervisor is $59,800 per year in North Carolina and $11,250 overtime per year.
Salary can vary widely depending on the city where you work and other factors like education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession.
How Much Does It Cost to Get an HVAC or Refrigeration License in North Carolina?
It can cost absolutely nothing to get started in the HVAC field in North Carolina if you begin as an HVAC helper— an entry-level apprentice position— with an HVAC company. You just need to work for a licensed contractor and keep track of your work hours. Your employer will need to verify those hours to satisfy the work experience requirement to test for your technician license.
If you want to attend a vocational school or technical or community college for a certificate program or Associate of Applied Science degree, that’s another great way to get started. You will have that expense of schooling upfront, but employers often state a preference for job candidates with some knowledge of the field. You are also likely to earn a better wage starting out if you already have a degree or some kind of training.
If you decide to go after an apprenticeship, you may encounter fees, but they are often relatively low and structured to be paid over the four or five years of the apprenticeship. As an apprentice, you’ll also be paid a portion of a journeyman-level wage and that salary will increase each year as you learn.
The cost to apply for a contractor’s examination is $100 and the license activation fee is $150. The cost to apply for a technician examination is $100 and the license activation is $75 unless it is for a State & Local Government license. Then it is also $150.
The cost for any of the refrigeration contractor’s licenses is $100 for the application to take the examination and $80 for the new license.
How to Get an HVAC License in North Carolina
Because HVAC systems are becoming increasingly complex, most aspiring HVAC/R professionals opt to get some post-secondary education. Alternately, you could begin with an apprenticeship that will combine hands-on training with classroom instruction and usually takes four to five years. The bottom line is that you need to learn and begin gaining the necessary work experience required for licensure.
WORK EXPERIENCE: No matter whether you take an entry-level job or enroll in a formal apprenticeship, you need to accumulate 18 months or 3,000 hours of work experience before you can submit an application for examination for a technician’s license. Then you’ll send the completed application with the required documents and fee to the Board's office. Mail to:
State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating & Fire Sprinkler Contractors 1109 Dresser Court Raleigh, NC 27609
Make sure that signatures are notarized where required. Also, all fees must be paid by check or money order made payable to “State Board of Examiners.”
BACKGROUND CHECK: You must obtain background check information from the approved provider. All applicants are required to utilize “CastleBranch.com” to obtain a nationwide criminal record report and must attach a paper copy of the background report to the application. Applicants are required to pay the reporting service for the cost of the report. Detailed directions are included in the application. A past offense will not necessarily prevent you from getting a license. The Board will consider several things when an applicant has a criminal conviction.
TAKE LICENSING EXAM: If your application is denied or requires additional information, you will be notified of the issues. If your application is approved, you will receive notification of exam eligibility by mail or email. You must then contact the exam provider — PSI Exams Online — for scheduling. The exam must be taken within 30 days of the notification date. You will be notified of a pass/fail at the exam center following your exam. Failing applicants may attend an exam review in Raleigh prior to retesting.
SUBMIT LICENSE ACTIVATION FORM: Passing applicants will need to submit the completed Licensing Activation form and fee in order to obtain their license.
WORK EXPERIENCE: If you want to become a contractor yourself rather than working indefinitely as a technician, you will need to acquire 2 years (4,000 hours) of on-site full-time experience in the installation, maintenance, service, or repair of plumbing or heating systems related to the category for which license is sought. However, up to one-half (2,000 hours) (45 quarter hours or 30 semester hours) of the experience requirement may be in academic or technical training. Then you’ll repeat the process of applying for examination, paying related fees, and completing the license activation form for your contractor’s license after passing the exam. There are links to each of the different license application packets and forms on the Board’s website.
REFRIGERATION LICENSE: The steps are very similar when trying to obtain your Refrigeration Contractor’s License. You’ll need to get the proper training, years of experience, and also your CFC Certification from the EPA (more details on this are below). Once you’ve met the eligibility requirements, you can apply to take the Refrigeration Contractor’s Exam. All of the forms and applications are on the Board website.
How Long Does it Take to Get an HVAC or Refrigeration License in North Carolina?
It will take a minimum of 18 months (3,000 hours) to qualify to take any of the Technician license exams in North Carolina, but you will have most likely spent some time taking classes first or an apprenticeship will take four to five years. As an apprentice, you will be earning a wage as you learn what you need to pass the state licensing exam. Likewise, if you take classes first as part of a certificate program or earn an Associate degree, you’ll still need to acquire the required experience and you’ll be getting paid while you do.
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North Carolina HVAC/R Training Programs and Schools
There are many programs to get the training you need to become an HVAC/R professional in North Carolina and they are located all over the state.
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).
Those organizations have accredited one school each in North Carolina.
HVAC Excellence has accredited:
PARAH has accredited:
HVACClasses.org breaks down the credit hour requirements and tuition costs for both of the programs listed above as well as those at a couple of other schools.
Here are three lists of some of the best HVAC schools in North Carolina:
Niche: 2021 Best Colleges with HVAC and Refrigeration Engineering Technician Degrees in North Carolina
Tuition: The cost of tuition depends on the program you choose. Certificate programs can cost as little as $2,000 and associate degrees from community colleges can cost several thousand for in-state tuition. There are also many jobs listed for HVAC apprentices on zip recruiter and indeed. Employers will often sponsor employees in an apprentice training program as long as they get a minimum grade in their classes. Or you can look for formal apprenticeships through union and non-union organizations which can run from $500 to $2,000 or more, but those costs are usually spread out over the three to five years of the program.
UA Local 412 union serves North Carolina and South Carolina and offers apprentice training in plumbing and pipefitting as well as HVAC and Refrigeration Technology. The Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association of North Carolina also has four-year plumbing and HVAC apprenticeships.
North Carolina’s Apprenticeship program is managed by the North Carolina Community College System. The website for the program, ApprenticeshipNC, will lead you to registered apprenticeships that meet national standards for registration with 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. Apprenticeships through the Department of Labor are recognized nationwide, so your credentials will move with you.
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.
North Carolina HVAC/R Licensing Exam Details
The HVAC examinations are administered by PSI testing services. The Candidate Information Bulletin (CIB) provides you with information about the examination and application process. Every exam costs $100. Each of the HVAC trade exams for both the technician license and the contractor license are open book and each has a time limit of four hours. Contractor applicants will also need to take a 90-minute Business and Law exam. The Board gives detailed Exam Information on its website.
Examinations are given on a daily basis at seven testing centers throughout the state in Asheville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greenville, and Wilmington. If your application to test is approved, you will receive written notification including instructions for scheduling the examination, which must be taken within 30 days of the date of the notification letter.
The State Board of Refrigeration Contractors provides an examination packet for anyone applying to take the qualifying examination for a Refrigeration Contractor’s License. In the packet, you will find details on the reference materials you need to prepare, details of the examination process, and the application itself.
The exams are administered by the Board. Exams are scheduled by appointment in the Board office and are given in the Board Office located at 1027 US Highway 70 W Suite 221, Garner, NC, 27529. The $100 fee is payable to the State Board of Refrigeration Examiners and is a nonrefundable fee deposit for your exam.
The transport exam covers only transport refrigeration equipment, such as refrigerated trucks. If you are going to work exclusively on transport refrigeration equipment, then you may wish to register for the transport exam. The regular exam covers transport refrigeration as well as other commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment.
In order to qualify for the exam, you must have 4,000 hours of experience in working with refrigeration equipment. Half of this experience can come from education. Commercial, Service, and Transport applicants must also have a valid Section 608 EPA Certificate (Type II or Universal) to handle refrigerants and must attach a copy of that CFC Certificate to their application.
Everywhere throughout the country, including North Carolina, 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.
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:
Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol
Section 608 regulations
Substitute refrigerants and oils
The Three R’s (Recover, Recycle, Reclaim)
Who Issues HVAC and Refrigeration Licenses in North Carolina?
The State Board of Refrigeration Contractors issues all Refrigeration Contractor’s Licenses.
The State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors issues all Heating, Air Conditioning, and Ventilation licenses.
Does My North Carolina HVAC or Refrigeration Contractor License Work in Any Other State?
No. North Carolina does not have reciprocity agreements with any other state. Anyone wishing to be licensed in North Carolina must meet the requirements and pass the examination(s). Current and former military personnel or spouses may receive credit for experience gained during active service. Click here for more information.
The only other possible exception is for Licensed South Carolina Contractors in Heating Group 1 Class II or Heating Group 3 Class II. If you are licensed and in good standing with South Carolina, you may be eligible for a technical exam waiver by completion of this form. The waiver is for the technical exam only and those who receive the waive would still need to take and pass the North Carolina Business and Law exam.
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 is no longer required by either Board as a condition of annual license renewal; however; licensees are urged to take courses appropriate for their qualifications in order to remain current on codes, practices, technologies, and other subjects pertaining to the professional trades.
All HVAC and Refrigeration licenses must be renewed annually by the end of the calendar year.
The State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors website has links to the form for both contractors with sublicensees and without. The renewal fee for contractors is $150 and for technicians is $75.
The renewal fee for all Refrigeration Contractors is $120.
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