Washington DC HVAC License: How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Washington DC
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The heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems that are in our homes and businesses are technologically advanced and getting more complex all the time. Learning how to design, install and repair them means you’ll have skills that will always be in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that there are over 380,400 Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers nationwide and 290 work in the District of Columbia. The national number is expected to grow 5% from 2020 to 2030 — adding 19,000 of these skilled workers to the ranks. In Washington, D.C., it’s expected to be even higher. The U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website, CareerOneStop, projects the growth rate in D.C. to be 8% 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. had 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. Washington, D.C., has strict licensing for trades people including HVACR professionals.
HVACR Licensing Requirements in Washington, D.C.
Is a license required for HVACR Professionals in Washington, DC? Yes. You must possess a Washington, D.C. Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic license or be training under direct supervision of someone who holds a license to legally perform any refrigeration and air conditioning services in the district.
The District of Columbia licenses refrigeration and air conditioning professionals as it does electricians, plumbers and more through the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ (DCRA) — Occupational and Professional Licensing Administration (OPLA). Specifically, these tradespeople are licensed through the DC Board of Industrial Trades which was established “to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the District by ensuring that individuals engaged in these trades have the specialized skills and training required to perform such services for the public.”
Types of HVAC Licenses in Washington, D.C.
What are the different types of HVAC related licenses in Washington, D.C.?
Washington has four levels of licensure for HVAC-related work. They are apprentice, journeyman, master, and contractor. There are two types of master licenses, however. Each level has specific restrictions and requirements to be eligible for licensing.
Apprentices are required to register with the mayor once they are enrolled in an approved training program. Apprentices may work only under the supervision of a licensed master performing the scope of work permitted under the specific type of master license, either limited or unlimited.
Journeyman Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic:
A journeyman's license, according to DC Municipal Regulations, is issued at a time determined by the director (of DCRA) on the basis of a qualifying examination and test of skill in the practical details of this trade given under the direction of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Licensing Board. Specifically, Journeyman by Waiver is issued without taking the Journeyman examination to applicants who provide documentation for at least four years and 8,000 hours of apprenticeships training, including passing an exam by the apprenticeship organization. Journeyman by Exam is issued after the applicant has at least three years of experience and passes the D.C. Journeyman Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Examination administered by the third-party testing service, PSI exams. Proof of chlorofluorocarbon certification, (EPA Section 608 certification) is also required to receive a journeyman license.
Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic: Permits the licensee to supervise or perform any work required in connection with the installation, maintenance, repair, or replacement of any refrigeration or air conditioning system, including the components of a system, regardless of the size and nature of the system. For this license, the applicant must have at least five years of experience with systems larger than 25 compressor horsepower or the equivalent tons of refrigeration verified in writing by a master mechanic. This license also requires proof of chlorofluorocarbon certification, (EPA Section 608 certification).
Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic Limited: Permits the licensee to supervise or perform any work required in connection with the installation, maintenance, repair, or replacement of refrigeration or air conditioning systems up to and including 25 compressor horsepower or the equivalent tons of refrigeration. Again, the applicant must have at least five years of experience verified in writing by a master mechanic and proof of chlorofluorocarbon certification, (EPA Section 608 certification) is required.
Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractor: Entitles the licensee to engage in the business of installing, maintaining, repairing, or replacing any refrigerating or air conditioning system, including components of a system. The contractor must either hold a Master license or employ at least one master mechanic. The designated master mechanic must supervise and be responsible for the work to be performed under the authority of the permits issued to the contractor. The contractor is also required by law to purchase and maintain a surety bond of $5,000 and, if there is a separate designated master mechanic, must hold a $5,000 bond for that licensee as well.
Steps to Becoming an HVAC Mechanic in Washington, D.C.
Typically be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED equivalent to meet employer expectations or apprenticeship requirements, unless beginning as a high school student through a career and technical education program.
Must enroll in an approved apprenticeship program that is registered with the Washington, D.C., Office of Apprenticeship, Information and Training, part of the Department of Employment Services, and register as an apprentice with the mayor’s office. Or:
Enroll in a training program, either a college or trade school degree or certificate program, to prepare for entry-level work. Or:
Get an entry-level position working under the supervision of a licensed master mechanic.
Complete registered apprenticeship and apply for Journeyman by Waiver license or work for three years and apply to take the Journeyman examination to earn your Journeyman license.
After five years of experience verified in writing by a master mechanic, apply for Master Mechanic or Master Mechanic Limited license and pay a fee.
Upon approval from the board, pay a testing fee and pass the exam to be awarded your master license.
If you wish to own your own HVAC contracting business, you must be licensed as a contractor and hold a master license. You must also purchase and maintain a $5,000 surety bond. This bond must be renewed every two years along with both of your licenses.
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Benefits of Getting Your HVACR license in Washington, D.C.
There are many benefits to getting licensed in Washington, D.C.:
Most important, it is required by law to be licensed to perform air conditioning and refrigeration work.
You will earn as you learn with a potential for pay increases as you develop new skills.
A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
By meeting the high standards set in Washington, D.C., you will receive industry-recognized credentials that can go with you anywhere.
Having a license protects your company and customers.
A license gives you a competitive advantage in the job market and increases your earning potential.
You can own your own business and be your own boss.
What Is the Mean Salary for an HVAC Technician in Washington, DC?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean salary for HVAC mechanics and installers nationally as $54,690. In the District of Columbia, it is much higher. The District has the second highest annual mean wage for this group of workers in the nation at $70,130. 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 $29.01 per hour in Washington, D.C., and $6,250 overtime per year.
HVAC Technician: The average wage for an HVAC Technician is $32.93 per hour and $6,500 overtime per year.
HVAC Mechanic: The average wage for an HVAC Mechanic is $33.51 per hour and $7,875 overtime per year.
HVAC Supervisor: The average base pay for an HVAC Supervisor is $85,902 per year in Washington, D.C., and $9,375 overtime per year.
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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How to Become an HVACR Professional in Washington, D.C.
To enter the HVAC field in Washington, D.C., you need to learn and gain work experience. Washington offers a few options for this but has rigid requirements before permitting applicants to test for licensure. You’ll need to acquire some combination of classroom instruction and hands-on training. Those are the two components of any U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is the preferred path to working in the HVACR field in Washington, D.C.
CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION: If you decide young that this is your path, you can get a jump on that instruction through Career and Technical Education. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, all offer vocational programs combining trade education with high school curriculum. Maryland CTE includes HVAC in its Construction & Development Cluster. The Edison Academy is part of the Fairfax County, Virginia, Public School System and offers a two-year HVAC & Refrigeration program for 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-grade students. Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in D.C. has an HVAC/R program too.
EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: If you decide on this career after high school, you can enroll in a community college or trade school program to get the foundational knowledge many employers prefer before looking for an entry-level HVAC job under the supervision of a licensed master mechanic.
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 scholarship to college. UA Local 5 offers a five-year apprentice program that covers all aspects of the plumbing and gasfitting industry, including welder certification. The apprenticeship through UA Local 602 covers all aspects of pipefitting, welding, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration, whether for construction or service and maintenance and is also five years long. These openings are very competitive.
Alternatively, you can find an apprenticeship through the District of Columbia Office of Apprenticeship Training. The website explains the benefits of apprenticeship, the application process, and allows you to search for both non-union and union sponsors. Or, you can find an entry-level job and ask your employer to act as your apprentice sponsor. If your employer agrees to register you with D.C.’s Apprenticeship program, which meets the U.S. Department of Labor standards that are recognized nationwide, your credentials 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: You can receive your Washington, D.C., Journeyman by Waiver license without taking the DC Journeyman exam–if you complete an apprenticeship and receive a certificate from a national certifying organization, including a nationally recognized trade organization, non-union sponsor, or labor union that is registered with the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training, the United States Department of Labor, or the District of Columbia Apprenticeship Council. Alternatively, you can apply for your D.C. Journeyman license by examination by submitting an Employment Verification Letter signed by a licensed master mechanic.
After meeting the five-year experience requirements verified by a licensed master mechanic, you may apply to the board for approval to take the exam for Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic or Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic Limited.. The application fee for either is $65, and the initial license fee is $110. You’ll use the DCRA online application portal and will need to submit the following:
One 2”x2” passport-style photo (.jpeg format)
Government-issued identification card (e.g., driver’s license)
Debit or credit card to pay application, exam or license fees
Certificate of completion
Employment Verification Letter
The type of license you hold determines the HVACR services that you are permitted to provide. A Master HVACR can design, install, construct, maintain, service, repair, alter, or modify a product or equipment including gas piping in any size heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, ventilation, or process cooling or heating systems. A Master HVACR Limited can work only on systems of 25 horsepower or less or the equivalent tons of refrigeration.
CONSIDER BECOMING AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: If you wish to own your own business in the HVAC field in Washington, D.C., then you will also need to get your Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractor License. To get this type of contractor license, you must hold the Master Mechanic license or employ someone who does. Contractors also need to purchase and maintain a $5,000 surety bond and, if there’s a separate designated master mechanic, for that licensee as well.
RENEW: You must renew any of these licenses every two years. They expire on September 30 of even numbered years.
How Much Does It Cost to Become an HVAC Technician in Washington, DC?
If you discover your interest in HVAC as a high school student in the D.C. area, you may be able to get some of your early training for free through the career and technical education system. For example, the Edison Academy, part of Fairfax County Public Schools, offers an HVAC program free of charge to high school students. You can expect college programs to cost thousands of dollars. Apprenticeships can be almost entirely sponsored by the organization it’s through whether it’s a union, trade organization, or employer. Each level of license application is $65. An apprentice license is $110. All mechanic licenses are $110. Contractor licenses are $120. The journeyman or either master exam fee is $52. Renewal of any of the mechanic licenses is $155, and renewal of the contractor license is $180. A benefit of this career, however, is that you will be earning while you’re learning from the very first day on the job with pay increases as you gain more expertise.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic in Washington, D.C.?
Applicants for a Master Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic license must have at least five years of experience working for a master licensee and must pass both a practical and theoretical exam. Apprenticeships in this field typically take five years as well.
Washington, D.C., HVAC training programs and schools
Many aspiring HVACR professionals decide to pursue a certificate or degree in the field to get started down this career path. Classroom instruction is also a required piece of a registered apprenticeship. There are two main organizations that offer accreditation to HVAC programs and schools nationwide: HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).
There are no schools in the D.C. area that are accredited by PAHRA at this time, but HVAC Excellence has accredited 12 in the Commonwealth of Virginia and two of them are just outside of the District.
Edison Academy in Alexandria
Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge
The Edison Academy is one of six academies in Fairfax County Public Schools and offers the HVAC & Refrigeration program for high school students. It is a two-year curriculum that can also earn students credits at Northern Virginia Community College. Students who complete the program also have the opportunity to earn professional certifications:
EPA Refrigerant Handling Section 608
OSHA 10 Hour Construction Industry
Virginia Workplace Readiness Skills
The Northern Virginia Community College Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program accredited by HVAC Excellence is the Associate of Applied Science degree program that takes two years and is 67-68 credits. The school also offers a one-year certificate program that is 33-34 credits. The tuition per credit for Virginia residents is $180.40; for out-of-state students, it’s $359.65.
HVACClasses.org breaks down the credit-hour requirements for some of the programs in nearby Maryland and Virginia.
Tuition: Tuition varies from school to school. For instance the HVAC Technology program at Lincoln Tech in Columbia, Maryland, costs about $23,000. The AAS at Northern Virginia Community College would be about $12,300 for Virginia residents and about $24,500 for out-of-state students.
Program Prerequisites: You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a GED.
Apprenticeship: UA Local 5 offers a five-year union apprenticeship in cooperation with the Washington, D.C., Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC). Steamfitters Local 602 offers an apprenticeship through the JATC too. There are also non-union HVAC apprenticeships offered through Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington. The District of Columbia also maintains an apprenticeship website that 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 current registered apprenticeship programs. Many employers will also sponsor you in an apprenticeship. You can seek them out through job boards like Glassdoor and Indeed.
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.
Washington, D.C., Air Conditioning and Refrigeration License Exam Details
The District of Columbia has contracted with PSI Exams, a third-party testing service, to conduct its licensing examinations. Applicants for any of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning licenses must first apply for approval to take the examination from the Board of Industrial Trades. You will need to submit a completed application with a Certificate of Completion from your registered apprenticeship or Employment Verification Letter signed by a licensed master and the $65 application fee. Upon approval, you will receive a notice of eligibility to take the examination. Registration for the examination can be completed online or by calling (855) 557-0616. The eligibility period will be for 30 days, and you will be able to test one time during that 30-day period. Examination fees must be paid by credit/debit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover) at the time the reservation is made, NOT at the test center.
Detailed instructions and information about the exam and the reference materials you should study are all in the Candidate Information Bulletin.
The Master A/C & Refrigeration Mechanical Unlimited, Master A/C & Refrigeration Mechanical Limited exam, and Journeyman A/C & Refrigeration Mechanical exam are all open-book and based on the International Mechanical Code and Modern Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.
The Master Unlimited is made up of 80 multiple choice questions with a time limit of three and a half hours. The Master Limited exam is 70 questions, and you are given three hours to complete it. The Journeyman exam has 60 questions and a time limit of two hours. All three exams contain questions about the following content areas:
Theory, System Types, Terminology, and General Requirements
Refrigerant and Condensate Piping
Evaporators, Compressors, Condensers, Chillers, Cooling Towers, Heat Pumps, Heating and AC Appliances
Conditioned Air, Supply, Return, Makeup, Combustion Air, Air Ducts, Dampers, and Insulation
Electrical Fundamentals and Controls
Operating Procedures, including Safety
Maintenance and Repairs
Computer-testing is administered frequently at the following address:
District of Columbia
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street SW
Suite E 500
Washington, D.C. 20024
You will be told if you’ve passed immediately following completion of the examination.
Everywhere throughout the country, 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.
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 Licenses in Washington, D.C.?
Washington, D.C., licenses refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, plumbers, electricians, asbestos workers, steam and operating engineers and those in the elevator trades through the District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades. The board falls under the purview of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
Does My Washington, D.C., HVAC License Work in Any Other State?
Washington appears to offer licensing by reciprocity for only Master and Journeyman Electricians in Virginia and Master Electricians in Maryland. However, a Journeyman by Waiver Refrigeration and Air Conditioning License may be obtained in the District if you have completed a registered apprenticeship and passed the organization’s required examination and have the documentation to prove it.
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 in Washington, D.C., but you will need to maintain your license through renewal. To keep your mechanic or contractor license current, you will need to renew it every two years by the expiration date of Sept. 30 of even-numbered years. Renewal for a mechanic license is $155 and $180 for a contractor license. Contractors also need to maintain a $5,000 surety bond and, if they have a separate designated master mechanic, a $5,000 bond for the designated master too.
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 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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