South Carolina HVAC License: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in South Carolina
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HVAC professionals are in demand in South Carolina. There are literally thousands of job postings for HVAC technicians on online job boards for the state. With hot, humid summers and winters that can see temperatures below freezing, it is no wonder that climate control systems are essential there.
There are over 394,100 Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 5,700 work in South Carolina. That number nationwide is expected to grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031 — adding more than 20,000 of these skilled workers to the ranks. That growth rate is expected to be ever so slightly higher in South Carolina — projected at 6%, according to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website. 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. had unfilled hourly craft positions like plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians.
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Climate control and refrigeration systems in our homes and businesses wear out and break down and now with more of an emphasis being placed on energy efficiency and reducing pollution, 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 from locality to locality. South Carolina makes it relatively easy, providing one of the shortest routes to qualifying for an HVAC contractors license.
Licensing Requirements for HVAC Contractors in South Carolina
Is a license required to perform HVAC work in South Carolina? Yes.
But not right away. To be a commercial HVAC contractor in South Carolina or a residential HVAC contractor, you must be licensed through the state. However, when you start out as an entry-level HVAC worker you do not need to be licensed. You just need to work for someone who is!
HVAC contractor licenses are issued on a statewide level through two different entities. The South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation oversees both the Contractor’s Licensing Board which licenses commercial contractors, and the Residential Builders Commission.
There are also certifications you can earn through the Municipal Association of South Carolina, but those are not required by law and do not satisfy the statewide licensing requirement. Rather, they demonstrate proficiency to employers.
Types of HVAC Licenses in South Carolina
What are the different types of HVAC licenses in South Carolina?
There are two statewide license classifications for HVAC Contractors in South Carolina.
Mechanical Contractor — This license is required for anyone performing commercial construction over $5,000 and is issued by the South Carolina Contractor's Licensing Board. To qualify, you must pass a required technical examination and Business Management and Law exam and be able to document two years of experience within the last five years.
Residential Specialty HVAC Contractor — This license is required for anyone performing residential installations and repairs that exceed $200. It is issued through the Residential Builders Commission. To qualify, you must pass a required technical examination, Residential Business Management, and Law exam, and be able to document one year of experience within the last five years. A Residential Specialty Contractor is an independent contractor who is not a licensed residential builder but who contracts with licensed residential contractors, general contractors, or property owners to perform HVAC installations or repairs of more than $200.
Steps to Get an HVAC Contractor License in South Carolina
There is no age requirement in South Carolina to get started as an HVAC technician. Nor is there a high school diploma or GED required for licensing, but you will need these if you choose to pursue a secondary degree or certificate. Your journey begins with work experience or classroom instruction.
Gain work experience through an entry-level position or earn a certificate or diploma through a community or technical college program.
Get licensed or certified.
Either of the state-level contractor licenses requires you to take a trade exam and Business Management and Law exam.
You can choose instead to earn a Journeyman or Master certification through the Municipal Association and work for a licensed contractor. Either of those certifications requires you to pass a trade exam as well. You cannot work independently on commercial projects over $5,000 or residential projects over $200 without a state-issued contractor’s license.
For either of the state-level licenses, you must demonstrate financial stability through either submitting a financial statement or surety bond.
Pay all application, exam, and license fees.
Business corporations, nonprofit corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships must register with the Secretary of State. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are not required to register.
Benefits of Getting an HVAC License in South Carolina
There are many benefits you’ll see from getting your South Carolina HVAC Contractor license:
First and most importantly, it is required by law to be licensed through the state to perform commercial HVAC contracting work valued at more than $5,000 and residential HVAC work valued at more than $200.
A trade license/certification is proof of your experience and skill and will make you a more attractive candidate to prospective employers.
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.
It also increases your earning potential.
What Is the Mean Salary for an HVAC Technician in South Carolina?
The annual mean wage for HVAC mechanics and installers in South Carolina is $44,130, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That salary increases as you acquire more experience according to indeed.com. The following are the average salaries listed for each designation in the field.
HVAC Installer: The average salary for an HVAC installer is $21.72 per hour in South Carolina and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Technician: The average salary for an HVAC Technician is $24.14 per hour in South Carolina and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Mechanic: The average salary for an HVAC Mechanic is $23.18 per hour in South Carolina.
HVAC Supervisor: The average base salary for an HVAC Supervisor is $73,100 per year in South Carolina.
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.
What Business Owners Need to Know
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How Much Does It Cost to Get an HVAC License in South Carolina?
If you choose to start with some sort of technical or community college program, you can expect to pay $4,000 to $5,000 per year for in-state tuition. Apprenticeships are considerably less costly — usually $2,000 to $2,500 per year for five years — and often your employer will pay that fee as long as you maintain a B average or better and you will be earning a wage from the first day in the field.
Certification through the Municipal Association of South Carolina costs $25 for the application fee and $100 for the exam through Prov, an examination service that prepares, schedules, proctors, and grades all examinations for the Municipal Association. Renewal for a Journeyman certification is $20 annually and Master certification can be renewed every two years for $50.
The General and Mechanical Contractor’s Licensing fee schedule varies according to when you apply and is prorated from $175 to $350. The fee schedule is at the top of page three of the application. The statewide exams are given through PSI Testing. The business management and law exam costs $75. The Air Conditioning exam costs $60. The heating exam and the refrigeration exams each cost $75. For mechanical contractors all licenses expire October 31 every odd-numbered year and must be renewed for $350.
The Residential HVAC Specialty Contractor application fee is $100. The exams again are offered through PSI. The business management and law exam costs $75. The Residential HVAC exam is $100. The License fee is $160 if the license is issued on or between July 1, odd-numbered year to June 30, even-numbered year and $80 if the license is issued on or between July 1, even-numbered year to June 30, odd-numbered year and expires June 30 every odd-numbered year. It must be renewed every two years at a cost of $160.
How to Get an HVAC License in South Carolina
The first step in getting your Contractor’s License in South Carolina is to get the education and experience you need. You can start with an entry-level job if you can find an employer willing to train you from scratch or you can enroll in a certificate or degree program to prepare you for the job market, or you can seek out an apprenticeship that will fully prepare you for certification or licensing.
WORK EXPERIENCE: Before you can apply for licensure through the state, you must document work experience in the HVAC field. To apply to test for the Residential HVAC Specialty Contractor License, you must demonstrate at least one year of work experience in the last five years. To apply for the commercial Mechanical Contractor License, you must have a minimum of two years of work experience in the last five years.
If you choose to pursue certification through the Municipal Association of South Carolina to gain journeyman and eventually master certification because you don’t plan to work independently as a contractor but want to demonstrate your proficiency to employers, you will need a minimum amount of work experience as well. For journeyman testing, submit documentation of two full years of experience. Completion of a two-year degree from an accredited technical college can be counted as one year of experience. For master testing, an applicant must be a journeyman and submit documentation of four full years of experience. If an applicant can submit documentation for ten years of experience in the trade, the journeyman requirement can be waived.
TAKE EXAMINATION: Once you’ve fulfilled the work experience requirements, you may apply to take one of the licensing exams and pay the appropriate fees. The Contractors Licensing Board and the Residential Builders Commission that offer the statewide licenses have contracted with PSI Testing Services. The Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) administers its certification exams through Prov.
APPLY FOR LICENSE OR CERTIFICATION: After successfully passing the exam, you may apply for your state-issued license or your recognized certification as either a journeyman or master. Again, that designation does not alone satisfy the legal requirement to be licensed. MASC provides an examination and certification program for master and journeyman tradesmen in the electrical, plumbing, heating and air, sheet metal, pipefitting, and gas fitting fields that may be used as an indication of skill level in South Carolina cities that require trades certification before issuing licenses and permits. You can apply for HARV (Master Mechanical) and Journeyman Unlimited Air Conditioning certification using this link to the application and detailed instructions.
The HARV Master Mechanical is accepted in place of testing for the state-issued contractors licenses.
If you plan to work exclusively on residential projects, you can apply for a Residential Specialty Contractor License. You will mail this Residential Specialty HVAC License Application along with a check or money order for $100 payable to SCRBC. There is a checklist of items at the top of the application that you must include. The mailing address is:
South Carolina Residential Builders Commission PO Box 11329 Columbia, SC 29211-1329
To apply for a Commercial Mechanical Contractor License through the Contractor’s Licensing Board, you will need to complete the initial application-Doc #165 and submit it with the fee explained at the top of the application along with the appropriate financial statements based on the dollar amount of the projects you plan to pursue, a work experience affidavit, and either a PSI Exam score or one of the other demonstrations of proficiency like the HARV Master Mechanical Certification through the Municipal Association. You will mail all of these to:
South Carolina Contractor’s Licensing Board PO Box 11329 Columbia, SC 29211
How Long Does it Take to Get an HVAC Contractors License in South Carolina?
South Carolina has one of the fastest routes to an HVAC license. If you only plan to work on residential projects, you can apply for your state Residential Specialty Contractor License after only one year of work experience. For a commercial Mechanical Contractor License, you must have two years of work experience before applying.
South Carolina HVAC Training Programs and Schools
Because HVAC technology is becoming more and more complex, getting some kind of formal training can not only be very helpful but necessary. There are many programs to get the training you need to become an HVAC professional in South Carolina and they are located all over the state. A certificate program can take a matter of months or you can get a two-year degree at a technical or community college. For instance, Central Carolina Community College has an Associate Applied Science Degree in Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Technology.
There are also many more options for online training like Fortis. You may also choose to gain the necessary experience through an apprenticeship program. UA Local 421 offers a five-year apprenticeship for HVAC.
Most HVAC technicians hold some kind of post-secondary degree or certificate. There are currently two main organizations that approve HVAC programs and schools nationwide: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).
HVAC Excellence has accredited 2 technical colleges in South Carolina.
Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter, SC
Greenville Technical College in Greenville, SC
The Basic Air Conditioning and Heating Certificate (BACH) program at Central Carolina Technical College is 39 credit hours. The Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning & Refrigeration (HVAC/R) program at Greenville Technical College prepares students for entering the HVAC work force or prepares them to continue their training for an Associate Degree in Applied Science.
PAHRA has not accredited any programs in South Carolina at this time.
Here are two great lists of the best HVAC schools in South Carolina:
Niche: 2023 Best Colleges with HVAC and Refrigeration Engineering Technician Degrees in South Carolina
Tuition: The Cost of Tuition depends on the program you choose. In-state students can expect tuition to be in the $4,000 to $5,000 range per year. The cost of an online training program can be significantly less. Apprentice positions are listed on job sites like indeed.
Program Prerequisites: For most programs, you must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED. Many also require you to pass a drug test and physical and have reliable transportation.
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.
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South Carolina HVAC Licensing Exam Details
The state has contracted with PSI Testing services for all South Carolina HVAC Contractor exams. The Residential Builders Commission Offers the Residential HVAC Exam and the Residential Business Management and Law Exam. The Candidate Information Bulletin explains the application and examination process.
The Business Management and Law Exam has 50 questions and a time limit of 120 Minutes. It covers:
Licensing Laws and Rules
Estimating and Bidding
Contracts and Agreements
Insurance and Bonding
Safety Recordkeeping and Reporting
Labor Laws and Employment Regulations
Environmental Laws and Regulations
The Residential HVAC Exam has 80 questions and a time limit of 240 Minutes. It covers:
Hangers and Supports
Sound, Vibration & Seismic Control
Heating and Cooling Principles
Refrigerants Load Calculations
Testing, Adjusting and Balancing
A/C and Heat Pump Equipment
Furnaces and Heaters
Chimneys, Flues and Vents
Ventilation and Exhausts
The business management and law exam costs $75. The Residential HVAC exam is $100.
The Contractor’s Licensing Board offers several SC Commercial Contractor exams and the Business Management and Law exam. The Candidate Information Bulletin explains the application and examination process.
The Business Management and Law Exam has 50 questions and a time limit of 125 Minutes. It covers:
Estimating and Bidding
Contracts and Agreements
Insurance and Bonding
Safety Recordkeeping and Reporting
Labor Laws and Employment Regulations
Environmental Laws and Regulations
For the HVAC related trade exams, you will choose between or do some combination of:
Air Conditioning: 80 questions and 240 minutes
Heating: 50 questions and 180 minutes
Package Equipment: 80 questions and 240 minutes
Refrigeration: 50 questions and 180 minutes
And possibly several other specialties.
The exams for the Municipal Association of South Carolina are administered through Prov. The Candidate Information Bulletin provides you with information about the testing and application process for becoming certified. The tests for the HVAC exams are based on the International Mechanical Code 2015. The HARV Master Mechanical exam is made up of 120 questions and has a time limit of four and a half hours. There are 100 questions on the Journeyman Unlimited A/C exam and you are allowed three hours to complete it. Both cost $100.
Who Issues HVAC Licenses in South Carolina?
HVAC licenses are issued by the state through the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. The Contractor’s Licensing Board licenses commercial contractors and the Residential Builders Commission issues licenses for all residential work over $200.
Does My South Carolina HVAC License Work in Any Other State?
South Carolina does have reciprocal agreements with several other states for the HVAC Mechanical Contractor License. Those states are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Also, the Municipal Association of South Carolina HARV Master Mechanical certification acts as a waiver for examination for the state license.
HVAC Specific Requirements: EPA Certification
Everywhere throughout the country, including South 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 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:
Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol
Section 608 regulations
Substitute refrigerants and oils
The Three R’s (Recover, Recycle, Reclaim)
National HVAC Certifications
Other certifications can help you demonstrate your proficiency to potential employers and clients. North American Technical Excellence (NATE) certification, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers) certification and other professional certifications are not required but can add to your marketability as a service provider and therefore increase your opportunity to make more money.
Other Requirements Unique to South Carolina
To keep your state-issued license current, you must renew it.
Your Residential Specialty Contractor license must be renewed every two years at a cost of $160. Your Commercial Mechanical Contractor’s license must be renewed every two years for a $350 fee.
Renewal for a Journeyman certification through MASC is $20 annually and Master certification can be renewed every two years for $50. The Municipal Association will send a renewal notification 60 days prior to the certification card’s expiration date.
There is no continuing education requirement for licensed HVAC Contractors in South Carolina at this time.
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