HVAC technician jobs will increase by 31.8 percent from 2014 to 2024California Employment Development DepartmentIn California, HVAC technicians and installers enter the field as entry-level employees in either a formal apprenticeship program or trainee position without the need to meet any state licensing requirements. Without the state involved, it’s all about becoming a strong candidate so you can compete for entry-level jobs. Earning a certificate of completion, career diploma, or associate of science in HVAC-R through a technical school program will accomplish three things:
Achieving HVAC journeyman status can be accomplished through experience or a combination of education and experience:
- 4 years of practical HVAC on-the-job experience and hands-on training as an apprentice or trainee
- 1 year of experience with training through a technical school program able to substitute for up to 3 of the 4 years of required experience. All candidates for journeyman status must complete at least 1 year of experience in the field as an apprentice/trainee. (Education for experience substitutions are determined by your employer or apprenticeship sponsor.)
Getting Started as an HVAC Trainee or Apprentice in California
The decision to enroll in a trade school program as a way to prepare for an entry-level trainee position where you can begin accumulating the experience you need to become a journeyman often comes down to practicality since apprenticeship programs listed with the California Apprenticeship Coordinator’s Association have a limited enrollment and can prove difficult to get into.
Completing an HVAC technical school program and earning a certificate of completion, career diploma, or associate of applied science in HVACR will prepare you with the hands-on training and classroom instruction employers look for from entry-level candidates. This would allow you to enter the field as a strong job candidate familiar with installing, servicing, and maintaining modern HVAC systems.
Most programs also include curriculum and testing for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Section 608 Certification. The EPA requires any person who tests line-pressure, adds or otherwise handles certain controlled refrigerants known to contribute to ozone depletion to be certified in the proper procedures for recovery, recycling and reclamation.
Four certification options are available (Type II covers most standard residential and commercial systems.):
To earn EPA Section 608 certification, you must pass an examination that includes two sections: (1) a Core Section and (2) a section that aligns with the certificate type for which you are applying. Both test preparation and testing itself is part of most technical school program curriculum.
Many HVAC programs offer flexible schedules, online study options, and job placement assistance upon graduation.
After anywhere between 1 of experience (in combination with technical school training) and 4 years of purely on-the-job training, you may be able to qualify for journeyman status if your employer believes your skills and aptitude are up to par. A journeyman in California is defined as a person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker beyond the trainee level capable of performing the trade without supervision.
HVAC Contractor Requirements in California
A specialty contractor’s license granted through California’s Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) generally involves gaining at least 4 years of practical HVAC experience as a journeyman. However, technical training and education can be substituted for up to 3 of the 4 years of required experience.
All candidates must complete at least 1 year of practical training as a journeyman in the field.
A “qualified and responsible person,” such as an employer, fellow employee, other journeyman, contractor, engineer, architect, building inspector, etc. will verify your work experience claims by completing a Certificate of Work Experience. The person signing off on your Certificate of Work Experience form must have firsthand knowledge of your experience.
Along with a completed Certificate of Work Experience, you may also need to furnish the Board with further documentation, if requested.
The CSLB recognizes the following HVAC classifications for (C) specialty contractors in California:
Earning a specialty contractor’s license in California involves four steps:
Step 1. Complete the Application for Original Contractor’s License
You can only apply for one license classification at a time (C-20, C-38, C-4, or C-46). After your original license is issued, you can apply for additional licenses. You can complete the application form online or download and print it.In addition to your completed application, you must submit:
- $300 application processing fee (will increase to $330 in July 2017)
- Certification of Work Experience form 13A-11: This form must be used to report your journeyman experience.
The CSLB will send you a letter of acknowledgement once they receive your application. This letter will include two important numbers: an application fee number and a four-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN). You will use these numbers to check on the status of your application.
Step 2. Take and Pass the Law and Business and Trade Examinations
Once your application has been accepted, the CSLB will send you a fingerprinting live scan packet and a Notice to Appear for Examination, which includes the date and time of the exam, where you will take the exam, and directions on how to get to the exam site.There is a $49 fingerprinting processing fee and a Live Scan fee. You can find a list of Live Scan Locations here.Testing centers are located throughout the state in San Diego, San Bernardino, Norwalk, Oxnard, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Fresno. You will be assigned to the testing center located nearest to you.You must bring the Notice to Appear for Examination and your picture ID with you to the exam.The examination includes two parts: the standard Law and Business examination and a test covering the specific certification area for which you are applying. You will receive a study guide for each examination when you receive your Notice to Appear for Examination. You can also find the appropriate study guides here.
Step 3. Submit Issuance Requirements
You will be given a bond and fee notification upon passing the examination.You must then submit the following to the CSLB to complete the license application process:
- Initial licensing fee of $180
- Contractor bond or cash deposit of $15,000
- Bond of qualifying individual (if applicable) of $12,500
- Certificate of Workers’ Compensation Insurance or Certificate of Self-Insurance of Workers’ Compensation from the Department of Industrial Relations (or exemption from workers’ compensation, if you have no employees)
- LLC Employee/Worker Bond (if applicable)
- LLC liability insurance (if applicable)
- Completion of Asbestos Open Book Examination
Step 4. Keep Your Contractor’s License Current
Your contractor’s license as an HVAC contractor is valid for two years from the last day of the month in which it was issued. You will receive a renewal application about 60 days before your license expiration date. The renewal fee is $360. You can read more about renewals here, along with requirements for maintaining your bond and workers’ compensation insurance.
California’s HVAC Professionals are Benefiting from a Major Construction Boom
Construction industry professionals, including HVAC service technicians and installers, continue to benefit from California’s persistent labor shortage and booming construction market.
According to the Associated General Contractors of America, between May 2015 and 2016, California ranked first in the nation for job growth in the construction industry, increasing 5.5 percent during this time. But it’s still not enough to satisfy the new residential and commercial demands.
A January 2017 LA Times article reported that downtown Los Angeles is “undergoing its largest construction boom in modern times.” Just a few of the massive projects currently under construction include:
- Wilshire Grand: 900 hotel rooms
- Metropolis: 1,910 condos and hotel rooms
- Oceanwide Plaza: 688 condos and hotel rooms
California is also at the front of the class for its green building practices. In 2016 alone, California completed 632 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects.
HVAC Technician Salaries in California
An environmentally-conscious citizenry, cost savings, population growth, and seasons that include hot summers and cold winters all combine to rank California sixth in the nation when it comes to projected HVAC technician job growth and salaries going forward.
Statewide, the average HVAC technician salary is $53,050, the eighth-highest in the nation. The 90th percentile HVAC technician salary is $80,840 (US Department of Labor, 2015).
California HVAC Technician Salary (average)
California HVAC Technician Salary (90th Percentile)
The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan area offers the highest average salary for HVAC technicians of all metro areas in the nation. Santa Rosa offers the ninth-highest.
California’s Employment Development Department projects that HVAC technician jobs will increase by 31.8 percent from 2014 to 2024. That is the sixth-largest projected increase of any state in the nation. The national projection for HVAC technicians is just a 13.6 percent increase.
HVAC Technician Salaries in California by City
California’s most populous cities are presented here with hourly and annual salary information. This is presented as a range between the median and the 90th percentile. This salary data is from US Department of Labor records for May 2015:
Private and Public Costs, Incentives Support Strong Demand for HVAC Industry
Californians have been in a unique position to understand the importance of having efficient heating and cooling systems ever since the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001. Rolling blackouts, an 800 percent wholesale energy price increase, and an economic cost of at least $40 billion were forerunners of new regulations to improve the efficiency of HVAC systems throughout the state. That has translated into high demand for HVAC technicians.
Aside from the obvious savings businesses and residents achieve with a more efficient HVAC system, the government is also playing a significant role in funding HVAC refurbishments and keeping demand strong.
For example, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) notes that retail stores in the commercial building sector pay approximately $20 billion annually in energy costs. “Together, lighting and HVAC account for about 70 percent of the electricity that retail buildings use.”
To make HVAC costs on business easier, commercial property owners can turn to a program like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy). This is a no-money-up-front financing option that funds HVAC refurbishment or replacement with more efficient systems. Property owners can pay their tab over the long term in the form of a voluntary property tax assessment. The PACE program is also available to residential property owners, and is just one example of many incentive programs that encourage HVAC upgrades.
Despite these types of government incentive programs, San Francisco-based market research and analysis company Greentech Media makes the case in a 2015 article that California must support energy efficiency even more. It says these types of energy efficiency programs are not enough to effectively meet current demand and will prevent the state from achieving its climate goals.
Greentech Media’s solution ultimately results in an even stronger demand for HVAC technicians. It notes, “Commercial and residential air conditioning loads cause more than 30 percent of California’s total peak power demand in the summer…efficient HVAC with demand response can free up dispatchable resources to improve both system reliability and renewables integration.” When an influential market research company makes this case it has a domino effect; other market research companies listen and industry follows suit.