What Is HVAC Certification and How Is It Earned?
If you’ve ever needed maintenance on your air conditioning, chances are you’ve had to call an HVAC specialist. The same applies if you’ve ever had a new furnace installed in your home, or if you’ve needed a thermostat repaired or a duct cleaned or a filter replaced. Professionals in the world of HVAC wear many hats and must be knowledgeable about many different systems in the home, from electrical to ventilation, and many more.
Anyone that’s had to call an HVAC technician has probably done their research. Of course, as you search for technicians in your area, you’ll discover that all of the best, and most reputable, ones have an HVAC certification. But what is HVAC certification? And how, exactly, is it earned? Read on to find out.
Who Carries a Certification?
HVAC certifications are carried by all manner of professionals in the industry. Certification is regulated by the United States federal government, pursuant to Section 608 of the Clean Air Act. If you contact someone to perform a repair on any one of the elements of your HVAC system, the person that will be sent to do the work will be a technician, while the person who designed the system itself will be an engineer.
Most reputable technicians and engineers work for larger companies that insist everyone they employ is certified. For example, at Entek HVAC, technicians are certified by North American Technician Excellence, or NATE, while engineers are certified by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE.
NATE Certification is sought after by technicians in the HVAC field. Your technician has many responsibilities, from starting things up after the installation of heating and cooling systems to troubleshooting and repairing equipment, as well as fixing wiring in HVAC systems. They also work to reduce energy consumption by providing the best heating and cooling available for a particular building.
Since there are so many different responsibilities that an HVAC technician has, they’re issued certifications based upon their personal specialties. They begin with a Ready-To-Work certificate—which isn’t, in itself, a NATE certification. This qualifies them to get started in the HVAC field. Later, they’ll earn an HVAC Support Technician certificate, which demonstrates their improvement in knowledge and skills.
Eventually, HVAC technicians will choose their service specialty. This can be in air conditioning, heat pumps, gas heating, oil heating, or other categories. Upon completion of this training, they’ll receive their NATE certification.
HVAC engineers—such as the ones at Entek—carry the Building Energy Assessment Professional certification, which is issued by ASHRAE. The ASHRAE website explains that this certification “validates competency to assess building systems and site conditions; analyze and evaluate equipment and energy usage; and recommend strategies to optimize building resource utilization.”
n HVAC engineer is required to be a highly qualified professional, with both education and experience being a critical part of their eligibility to attain a certification in their chosen field. The type of education they have can vary. Many HVAC technicians carry technical degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering, while others may have bachelor’s degrees in engineering or even architecture. Science, technology, and math degrees are also prized in the field.
In addition to education, candidates are expected to have experience in energy auditing, which can also mean several things. Usually, experienced HVAC technicians have spent time visiting job sites and evaluating things like energy consumption, energy systems, and industrial mechanical systems. They’ll also often have spent time identifying potential methods for saving energy through the careful calibration of HVAC systems.
HVAC training is offered in a number of different courses, which can be approached in a number of ways. Many community colleges can get candidates started, offering HVAC technician certificate classes and even associate’s degree programs in the field. Other options for candidates pursuing HVAC certification are trade schools or an apprenticeship under an expert HVAC technician.
Since safety is of paramount concern in the HVAC industry—engineers will be working with potential hazards such as propane and electrical wiring—anyone seeking an HVAC certification will have to go through safety training before they’re considered eligible to continue with their certification program.
The Code of Ethics
Anyone seeking to be certified by ASHRAE must also agree to abide by a code of ethics, to ensure they maintain honesty and integrity as they carry out their duties. Among other things, the code of ethics requires candidates for certification to represent their qualifications accurately and to place the health and safety of the public as a top priority. Needless to say, candidates are also expected to abide by all laws and regulations in the areas where they work, as well as to comply with all the policies and guidelines required by their certification program.
As you probably have guessed, becoming certified either by NATE or ASHRAE requires an extensive exam, which is either done on a computer or at any one of the many testing sites located around the world. Candidates who approach their certification by taking courses at a college, technical college, or trade school can often take the exam right there at their school. It’s also possible to schedule an appointment at a testing center to take the exam.
Regardless of which exam you’re studying for, it’s important to take the practice exam first, as many times as is necessary. Certification candidates who learn their trade in one of the many HVAC schools will have the advantage of receiving the help of an instructor. Resources for studying can also be found online or purchased in the form of textbooks. No matter which route they choose, candidates work hard to ensure they’re prepared for the test.
The exams themselves have time limits, which can vary a bit depending on circumstances. For example, non-native English speakers can often apply to receive extra time to complete the test.
What Happens After Certification?
After receiving a certification, an HVAC technician or engineer will find themselves more employable in their chosen field. In fact, most reputable HVAC companies won’t hire anyone who doesn’t have the proper certification. And while some technicians and engineers choose to work for themselves as contractors, most home and business owners still won’t consider hiring anyone who isn’t certified. Why would they risk it when there are plenty of highly skilled, certified technicians out there? In some states, certification is even a requirement for all HVAC technicians.
Even if it isn’t a requirement, an HVAC certification will almost always mean a pay bump for the HVAC professional who has it.