Tennessee HVAC License: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Tennessee
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The HVAC industry is growing and advancing by leaps and bounds. If you want to join this essential field, there are a couple of ways to get started. It’s not quick, but the need for these highly trained tradespeople offers job security and the opportunity to own your own business.
HVAC/R professionals in Tennessee can make a good living and are almost guaranteed a long career because skilled craftsmen are in high demand and short supply. 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 8,740 work in Tennessee. 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. The U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, CareerOneStop, projects the growth rate in Tennessee to be more than twice that at 12% for HVAC mechanics and installers.
The Associated General Contractors of America, says contractors are hiring. In the 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 60% of firms in the U.S. and 80% of firms in Tennessee had unfilled hourly craft positions.
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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.
Because it is such an exacting job, the licensing requirements for HVAC workers and contractors can be rigorous. They vary from state to state and in some cases, like in Tennessee, from locality to locality.
Licensing Requirements for HVAC Contractors in Tennessee
Is a license required to perform HVAC work in Tennessee? Yes.
To be an HVAC professional in Tennessee, you must be licensed. Licenses are issued at both the state and local level. Cities and counties throughout the state issue traditional journeyman or master contractor licenses while the state only issues HVAC Contractor licenses.
A Tennessee contractor's license is required BEFORE bidding or offering a price, for projects $25,000 and up (includes materials and labor), as a prime (general) contractor; and also subcontractors performing electrical, mechanical, plumbing, HVAC, roofing, and masonry are also required to be licensed as a contractor, when the total portion on the project is $25,000 or more; masonry, when $100,000 or more.
A state-level license is not required for the technicians and installers they employ. Local jurisdictions have their own licensure for the mechanics and installers. Municipalities can also have their own contractor license, but those who have a Certified Mechanical Contractor (CMC) license through the state are not required to test with the local government.
Types of HVAC Licenses in Tennessee
What are the different types of HVAC licenses in Tennessee? There are two statewide license classifications for HVAC Contractors in Tennessee.
CMC — Full Mechanical Contractor: This license requires education and training in Plumbing as well as HVAC, and you must be pre-approved by the Board before you can take the examination.
CMC-C — Mechanical – HVAC/Refrigeration Contractor does not require pre-approval for testing. However, some municipalities will require that you also be an LLE (Limited Licensed Electrician) from the state level for the wiring aspects of the HVAC work if you have a CMC-C rather than a Full Mechanical Contractor license, even if the project is less than $25,000. Also, solar thermal or geothermal installers related to heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) are required to have the CMC-C license.
Steps to Get an HVAC Contractor License in Tennessee
You must be at least 18 years of age.
Have a high school diploma or GED.
Gain work experience and get classroom instruction either through an apprenticeship or technical college program.
Once you’ve gained enough knowledge/experience through apprenticeship or employment after college/vocational school, you’ll need to take the locally mandated exam and apply for your journeyman license in the jurisdiction where you intend to work.
If you want to bid on projects of greater than $25,000, you’ll need to take the statewide trade exam and Business and Law exam and apply for your Contractor License. Remember, for a CMC-C License, you do not need to be pre-approved to test, but for the full CMC, you must be pre-approved to take the trade exam.
After receiving a passing grade on the exam, you will need to complete the Contractor’s License Application Package including a financial statement either reviewed or audited by a certified public accountant and proof of general liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance.
Benefits of Getting an HVAC License in Tennessee
There are many benefits you’ll see from getting your Tennessee HVAC Contractor license:
First and most importantly, it is required by law to be licensed at the state and/or local level to perform HVAC services in Tennessee.
It will make you a more attractive candidate to prospective employers.
A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
Only licensed HVAC contractors can: operate a business and advertise services, obtain commercial insurance, pull building permits and pass inspections, bid on public and government projects.
Having a license protects your company and customers.
It also increases your earning potential.
What Is the Mean Salary for an HVAC Technician in Tennessee?
The annual mean wage for HVAC mechanics and installers in Tennessee is $47,140, 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 $22.33 per hour in Tennessee and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Technician: The average salary for an HVAC Technician is $24.10 per hour in Tennessee and $6,750 overtime per year.
HVAC Mechanic: The average salary for an HVAC Mechanic is $25.46 per hour in Tennessee.
HVAC Supervisor: The average base salary for an HVAC Supervisor is $67,480 per year in Tennessee.
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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Required forms that ensure every job is done right, driving consistency.
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How Much Does It Cost to Get an HVAC License in Tennessee?
If you choose to start with some sort of technical or vocational school education, 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 four 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.
Licensing application fees and exams at the local level vary from city to city and county to county. The statewide business and law exam costs $57 and the statewide trade exam also costs $57. To earn a Full Mechanical - Plumbing & HVAC (CMC) license or an HVAC (CMC-C) license, the application fee is $250.
Remember, some municipalities require a Limited Licensed Electrician (LLE) license for the wiring aspects of the HVAC work if you have a CMC-C rather than a Full Mechanical Contractor license even if the project is less than $25,000. The LLE exam fee is once again $57 and the application fee is $75.
All licenses must be renewed every two years. The contractor license renewals cost $200. The renewal of the LLE costs $50.
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How to Get an HVAC License in Tennessee
The first step in getting the state of Tennessee Contractor License is to take and pass the state-mandated contractors exam. You do not need pre-approval to register for the CMC-C exam, but you must be pre-approved by the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors to sit for a Full Mechanical Contractor exam. Once you’ve received approval, you must pass the exam and then submit a completed Contractor’s License Application Package to the Board.
The mailing address is: Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors 500 James Robertson Pkwy. Nashville, TN 37243-1150 Telephone: (615) 741-8307 Email: Contractor.App@tn.gov
You can save time by applying online and may pay by credit or debit card or e-check.
However, your journey to a statewide license will begin well before this at the local level.
WORK EXPERIENCE: Before you can apply for a local or state license, you must gain the necessary years of experience and classroom instruction. The requirements vary in cities and counties throughout the state. For specific details, contact your local licensing board.
In many cases, you need a minimum of 8,000 hours (or four years) of work experience to be eligible to apply for your local level journeyman HVAC license and anywhere from 576 to 900 hours of classroom-based instruction. This can be done through completing a degree at a technical college and then working for a licensed contractor or HVAC business or through a registered apprenticeship.
APPLY TO TAKE EXAMINATION: Once you’ve fulfilled the work experience requirements, you may apply to take the local licensing exam. After successfully passing the exam and providing any other documentation the local jurisdiction prescribes, you will be issued a journeyman or master license as appropriate.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, has a Board of Mechanical Examiners to oversee the examination and licensing of master and journeyman mechanical contractors. You also must register first as a helper so the board can document your hours to be applied toward the three years of experience required for the journeyman license. Then you’ll need to work for another three years with that license and pass an exam before qualifying for master mechanical contractor.
Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee, issues both First-class Mechanical Contractor or Third-class Mechanical Contractor licenses through the Shelby County Mechanical-Gas Code Board.
Shelby County requires both First-class or Third-class Mechanical Contractors to be at least 21 years old and have four years of experience for First-class or two years of experience for Third-class. The exam fee for either is $150 and the Board specifies that projects must be valued at less than $25,000 coinciding with state law.
STATE CONTRACTOR LICENSE: If you choose to work on projects valuing $25,000 or more, you will need your Tennessee Contractor’s License. Also, in certain municipalities even on jobs valued at less than $25,000, HVAC contractors may be required to be licensed at the state level. That license would be for Limited Licensed Electrician (LLE).
To obtain an HVAC contractor license, you must pass a business and law exam and a trade exam, submit the appropriate application and supporting documentation, which includes financial statements either reviewed or audited by a Certified Public Accountant, and proof of workers’ compensation and general liability insurance.
All state contractors' licenses are issued with a classification, like CMC for Full Mechanical Contractor and a monetary limit. The monetary limit is an amount approved for contracting/bidding, and this is based upon your financial statement prepared by a CPA, and experience. A “reviewed” financial statement is required to obtain a monetary limit of $3,000,000 or less; an “audit” is required to obtain a monetary limit more than $3,000,001 to Unlimited. Financial statements must be prepared by a properly licensed CPA. A contractor’s license is issued in the exact name as on the Financial Statement.
The fee to obtain an HVAC contractor license is $250, and licenses must be renewed every two years. The renewal fee is $200. Applicants who wish to establish a corporation, LLC or Partnership must register with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office.
How Long Does it Take to Get an HVAC Contractors License in Tennessee?
It will typically take three to five years to complete an apprenticeship or alternate training program to qualify to apply for local licensing in Tennessee. Then you will need time to prepare to successfully pass the statewide Law and Business and trade exam and meet the other rigorous financial and insurance mandates.
Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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.
There are also many more options for online training like Fortis. You may also choose to gain the necessary experience through a Registered Apprenticeship program. The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development maintains a statewide list of Eligible Training Providers and Registered Apprenticeships are allowed automatic inclusion on that list.
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 18 of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses statewide.
They are located in: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Covington, Crossville, Crump, Dickson, Elizabethton, Jackson, Knoxville, McKenzie, Memphis, Morristown, Nashville, Newbern, Pulaski, Shelbyville, Surgoinsville, and Whiteville.
PAHRA has not accredited any programs in Tennessee at this time.
HVACClasses.org breaks down the credit hour requirements for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Knoxville Campus. It also details programs at Chattanooga State Community College, Remington College (Memphis campus), and Northeast State Community College in Blountville, TN.
Here are two great lists of the best HVAC schools in Tennessee:
Niche: 2023 Best Colleges with HVAC and Refrigeration Engineering Technician Degrees in Tennessee
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 for online training program can be significantly less. Apprentice positions are listed on job sites like indeed. They are also offered through unions like UA Local 572 in Nashville, UA Local 43 in Chattanooga, and UA Local 614 in Memphis.
Non-union-based apprenticeship programs are offered by the Tennessee Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors with a school located in Knoxville and the Associated Builders and Contractors or Greater Tennessee where members pay $2,075 per year for tuition including books and materials and non-members pay $2,675.
Program Prerequisites: You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED. Many also require you 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.
Tennessee HVAC Licensing Exam Details
Local-level licensing exams vary by city and county. Check with the local licensing board for those details.
The state has contracted with PSI Testing services for all Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractor exams. The Tennessee Contractors Candidate Information Bulletin describes the exam and the process.
The Business and Law Management Exam has 50 questions and a time limit of 140 minutes. It covers:
Estimating and Bidding
Business Organization and Financial Management
Project Management and Lien Law
Environmental and Safety
The CMC – Full Mechanical Contractor Exam requires pre-approval from the Licensing Board. It consists of 120 questions and you are allowed a maximum of 325 minutes. It covers:
Electrical Knowledge, Motors, and Controls
Piping -Refrigeration, Hydronic, Steam, and Process
Heating and Cooling Principles and Theory
Heating and Cooling Equipment and Components
Refrigerants and Refrigeration
Fuel and LP Gas
Combustion Air, Chimneys, Flues, and Vents
Ducts, Ventilation, and Exhaust
Safety, Fire and Smoke Protection
Both exams are open book, using the references materials listed in the Candidate Bulletin. Only those items listed may be used and there are specific rules about how you can mark them using permanent tabs, highlighters, and pen only—not pencil. Be sure to read all the information carefully and follow it closely.
The cost of each exam is $57, so to take both the trade exam and the Law and Business exam will cost $114.
They are administered in PSI examination centers in Chattanooga, Jackson, Johnson City, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville.
All questions and requests for information pertaining to the examination should be directed to PSI.
PSI3210 E Tropicana Las Vegas, NV 89121 855-746-8173 www.psiexams.com
All questions and requests for information pertaining to licensure should be directed to the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors.
Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors 500 James Robertson Parkway Nashville, TN 37243-1150 615-741-8307 https://www.tn.gov/commerce/regboards/contractors.html
Who Issues HVAC Licenses in Tennessee?
HVAC licenses are issued by cities and counties throughout Tennessee. Statewide Contractor Licenses are issued by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance through the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors for projects that are $25,000 or more. Also, in certain municipalities even on jobs valued at less than $25,000, HVAC contractors may be required to hold an LLE at the state level.
Does My Tennessee HVAC License Work in Any Other State?
Tennessee does have reciprocal agreements with several other states to waive the trade exam but still requires that out-of-state contractors take the Business and Law Management exam before practicing in Tennessee. The process to obtain a Tennessee license without retaking the trade exam can be found here.
The states with this limited reciprocity are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
HVAC Specific Requirements: EPA Certification
Everywhere throughout the country, including Tennessee, 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 Tennessee
To keep your state-issued license current, Tennessee requires you to renew it every two years. The renewal fee is $200.
There is no continuing education requirement for licensed HVAC Contractors in Tennessee at this time.
You can stay up to date on all HVAC industry news in several ways: