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Statewide, Hawaii’s HVAC techs were the third highest paid in the country in 2015.US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
If you’re going to work as an independent contractor and business owner you’ll need to hold an appropriate contractor license in order to bid job valued at more than $1,000. Among the requirements for a contractor license is having four years of supervised work experience.

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If you’re working as an employee of a company then you DO NOT need a contractor license.

Air Conditioning Repair on Rooftop Unit

However, all HVAC technicians and installers in Hawaii, including employees and contractors, must hold Section 608 certification from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relating to the Clean Air Act.

HVAC companies throughout Hawaii also have their own preferences and requirements for hiring employees. While these are not legal requirements, they may be expected by prospective employers:

  • High school diploma or GED equivalent
  • Driver’s license
  • At least one year of related work experience
  • A voluntary HVAC credential or certification from a national trade organization
  • A diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree (AAS) from an HVAC/HVAC-R education program

Some HVAC education programs include EPA Section 608 certification preparation as part of the curriculum. You can also count up to one year of your education towards the supervised work experience requirement for a state contractor’s license.

Completing an HVAC education program also gives you the specific skills that employers are looking for:

  • Basics of refrigeration – heat energy transfer, gas laws, compressors, condensers, and evaporators
  • Commercial refrigeration – heat loads, absorption principles, advanced maintenance, and electricity
  • Air conditioning – motors, control systems, psychometric properties of air, coil load, and heat gains/losses
  • Ducts – duct sizing, duct systems, water testing, and troubleshooting duct issues

EPA Section 608 Certification

If you’re going to be working with pressurized refrigerant in any capacity then according to federal law you must become certified under EPA Section 608. There are several types of certification options you can choose from depending on what type of work you’ll be doing:

For servicing small, self-contained appliances containing five or fewer pounds or refrigerant

Type II covers most residential and small commercial systems, so it is standard for most HVAC technicians. Employers will specify which type of EPA certification they prefer or require.

Some trade school programs include preparation for EPA certification as part of their curriculum.

To earn any of these certifications you must pass the EPA exam specific to the certification type.

EPA Section 608 certification courses and tests are available through many providers in Hawaii. Your school, prospective employer, and the EPA can provide you with more information about the nearest training and testing location. Some locations offer same-day classes, testing, and certification.

If you are working with motor vehicle air conditioning (MVAC) systems you must complete a separate Section 609 EPA-approved technician training and certification program.

Qualifying for Your HVAC Contractor License

The contractor license is issued through Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), Professional and Vocational Licensing Branch.

Remember you only need this if you’re going to work on contracts that are worth more than $1,000 and any of the following apply:

  • You are working independently
  • You are a business owner

To qualify for a contractor license you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old and have a good record of honesty, fair dealing, financial integrity, and truthfulness
  • Have at least four years of supervisory experience in your HVAC field in the past 10 years – if you completed an HVAC education program you can count up to one year towards this experience requirement
  • Pass an examination in the appropriate contracting field or fields

What Type of Contractor License to Get

Hawaii issues licenses for three types of contractors. For bidding and working jobs related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, you will need to hold the Class C Specialty Contractor license.

The specialty contractor license for HVAC work is the C-52 Ventilating and Air Conditioning Contractor license. This covers you if you’re doing work that involves the fabrication, assembling, and/or installation of:

  • Warm air heating systems
  • Air cooling systems
  • Heating and cooling solar systems
  • Complete ventilation systems
  • Complete air conditioning systems
  • Thermal and acoustical insulation necessary to maintain the heat, sound, or both of HVAC systems
  • Heat pumps related to HVAC systems
  • HVAC components such as piping, non-electrical controls, instrumentation, building automation, and energy management
  • HVAC work that includes surface restoration, trenching, back filling, and patching

The C-52 license should cover you for most if not all HVAC work you’re doing.

If the work you’re doing goes beyond the scope of the C-52 license then you must ensure you have the appropriate contractor licenses for the work you’re doing. Here are some of the most common contractor licenses for HVAC technicians, in addition to C-52, with descriptions of how these may apply to HVAC work:

Applying for a Contractor License with the DCCA’s Professional and Vocational Licensing Branch

Getting your contractor license involves passing an exam. You would apply by first filling out an application, which will include providing proof that you’ve fulfilled the four-year supervision requirement by having fellow employees, an employer, or another professional who has direct knowledge of your experience sign off on the Chronological History of Projects Form. Experience must be gained within the last 10 years. Up to one year of relevant HVAC education can be applied towards this requirement. Along with your application you will also include:

  • Application fee
  • Credit report – you must submit this from a credit reporting agency; it cannot be over six months old and must cover at least the past five years
  • Responsible managing employee (RME) form – one employee, or yourself if a sole-proprietor, must be designated as the RME which entails being responsible for management, supervision, and legal compliance
  • While you are a licensed contractor you must always maintain liability insurance for comprehensive personal injury ($100k per person; $300k per occurrence) and property damage ($50k per occurrence); you can submit a copy of your insurance policy with your application or have your insurance company submit confirmation online
  • You must have workers compensation insurance or be authorized to act as a self-employer, and submit proof of either of these with your application
  • The board may ask you to put up a surety bond for at least $5,000 depending on your individual circumstances

Send your complete application to the DCCA’s Contractors License Board with the Professional and Vocational Licensing Branch in Honolulu.

Note that the board evaluates license applications in the month after it receives them. If you want your application to be considered during the next month, make sure to submit your application by the 20th of the current month. Also, the board does not consider any applications in December.

Testing for Your Contractor License

Once the Contractors License Board approves your application it will send your exam registration forms. Use this information to register with Prometric, the company Hawaii works with to administer exams. After you submit your registration information to Prometric they will send you an exam date and location. Typically exams take place each month at the following locations:

  • Hilo
  • Kauai
  • Kona
  • Maui
  • Oahu

Once you’ve successfully registered for your exam with Prometric they will send you an admission letter. Make sure to bring this with you when you arrive on testing day.

You can familiarize yourself with the overall exam using Prometric’s contractor candidate information bulletin (CIB). The exam itself is divided into two parts:

  • Business and Law Section (Part I)

    This is the same for all contractor licenses you test for. It is closed-book, comprised of 80 multiple-choice questions, and has a three-hour time limit. 75 percent is the minimum passing score. You’ll need to get your hands on two study materials to prepare for this exam:

    • The latest edition of the Hawaii Contractor’s Reference Manual by Prometric (Ninth Edition as of 2017) – you can order this from Prometric (there is a form in the CIB) or find it through third-party booksellers online
    • The current year’s edition of the IRS Circular E, Employer’s Tax Guide, Publication 15

    This section covers the following subjects:

    • Contract management – 18%
    • Estimating and bidding – 12%
    • Licensing – 10%
    • Risk management – 10%
    • Project management – 9%
    • Financial management – 9%
    • Safety – 7%
    • Labor laws – 7%
    • Tax laws – 6%
    • Public works laws – 5%
    • Lien law – 4%
    • Business organization – 3%

    The results of this exam are mailed to the Hawaii Contractors License Board.

  • Trade-Specific Section (Part II)

    The following information is provided for the C-52 Ventilating and Air Conditioning Contractor exam, but Prometric also provides exam information for other Class C Specialty Contractor exams you might be interested in.The C-52 exam is closed-book, comprised of 80 multiple-choice questions, and has a three-hour time limit. 75 percent is the minimum passing score. You’ll need to study from the following sources to prepare for the exam. You can order these by calling Prometric at (877) 624-2562 or find them through third party sellers online:

    The C-52 trade-specific section of the exam covers these topics:

    • Warm air systems – 15%
    • Refrigerant and gas piping – 15%
    • Ventilation systems – 15%
    • Air conditioning systems – 15%
    • Solar systems – 10%
    • Controls – 10%
    • General estimating – 10%
    • Insulation – 10%

    The results of this exam are mailed to the Hawaii Contractors License Board.

Receiving and Maintaining Your Contractor License

Once the Hawaii Contractors License Board receives your passing exam results you will be notified that you must pay a licensing fee. Upon doing this you receive your license, and you are officially considered a contracting entity.

All contractor licenses expire on September 30th of even-numbered years. You’ll get a renewal application in the mail 45 days prior and must have it returned by the September 30 expiration date. To be eligible to renew you must continue to meet these conditions:

  • Maintain all your required insurance policies
  • Provide continued proof of good financial integrity – this means proof of paying your state taxes and testifying that you do not have any outstanding liens, undisputed debts, or judgments against you
  • Proof that your surety bond is current if the board has imposed this on you
  • Payment of a renewal fee

Factors Contributing to the Strength of Hawaii’s HVAC Market

  • Between 2000-2010 the state’s population grew by 12.3 percent; between 2010 and 2015 it has already grown another 5.2 percent
  • Hawaii has by far the most expensive electricity of all states in its residential, commercial, and industrial sectors
  • Energy efficiency incentive programs fuel demand for HVAC upgrades

Hawaii’s tropical climate brings with it many advantages as well as the constant need for air conditioning in many parts of the islands. Daily highs usually reach 88°F in the summer and 83°F in the winter.

The frequent use of AC in the hot climate combined with the high cost of electricity in the state have made it imperative for residents and businesses alike to upgrade frequently to the most energy efficient HVAC systems. This, along with the expanding population has helped spur strong demand for techs and installers. And with a greater demand comes higher salary offers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes Hawaii as offering the second-highest HVAC salaries in the nation with a statewide median of $61,330 ($29.49 hourly).

One example of an energy efficiency incentive program is sponsored by a partnership between the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and Leidos Engineering. Known as Hawaii Energy, this program offers cash rebates to residents who want to invest in energy-efficient equipment.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Hawaii

State projections indicate that construction will grow faster than any other industry in Hawaii through 2022, creating more work and job opportunities for skilled trades like HVAC.

This kind of growth means Hawaii’s HVAC specialists can look forward to more opportunities to advance, work overtime and see pay rates increase as employers compete for a limited number of skilled technicians.

Statewide, Hawaii’s HVAC techs were the third highest paid in the country in 2015 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a trend that’s expected to continue. And it’s not just those working in the big city of Honolulu that are making the big money. Both urban and rural HVAC techs enjoyed top earnings:

  • Urban Honolulu – 4th highest average metropolitan salary in the nation
  • Rural Hawaii/Maui/Kauai – 4th highest average nonmetropolitan salary in the nation

Hawaii’s HVAC techs with salaries in the top 10% earned $90,550 ($43.53 hourly), while the median salary statewide was $61,330 ($29.49 hourly), more than $16,000 a year more than the national average for these categories.

Hawaii HVAC Technician Salary (median)
Hawaii HVAC Technician Salary (top 10%)

HVAC Technician Salaries in Urban Honolulu and Rural Parts of Hawaii

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the salaries for HVAC technicians in Hawaii’s major city and the rural parts of the state. The ranges below show the median to top 10% yearly and hourly earnings of HVAC techs.

  • Urban Honolulu

    • Annual: $62,442 – $91,208
    • Hourly: $30.02 – $43.86
  • Nonmetropolitan Area of Hawaii/Maui/Kauai

    • Annual: $54,360 – $91,310
    • Hourly: $26.14 – $43.90

HVAC Technicians Benefit From Hawaii’s Booming Construction Industry

Most HVAC technicians work in the building construction industry according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Predictions from the state of Hawaii suggest that this industry will boom throughout the state between 2012 and 2022. The rate of increase over this 10-year period is shown below for several major counties in the state:

  • Building Construction

    • Maui County – 44.9%
    • Hawaii County – 37.9%
    • Kauai County – 25%
    • Honolulu – 24.1%
  • Specialty Trade Contractors

    • Maui County – 27%
    • Hawaii County – 27%
    • Kauai County – 26.8%
    • Honolulu – 19.2%