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A nearly 19 percent rise in HVAC employment over the next decade is expected. The Iowa Department of Workforce Development
The state of Iowa has fairly strict licensing requirements for HVAC-R technicians. There was a complete restructuring of the state’s HVAC-R mechanic, technician and contractor licensing system that took place in 2012, which put into place a streamlined, but well-defined, apprenticeship structure for state HVAC-R licensing.

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The same legislative changes also revamped the contractor licensing scheme for HVAC contractors, making statewide changes which were implemented in 2014 and are being phased in over the following three years.

Although formal schooling in HVAC-R is not required as part of the Iowa licensing process, you might find it good preparation for the rigors of an apprenticeship program or entry-level employment, as well as a solid basis for acquiring other certifications, including the federally-mandated EPA Section 608 certificate or the voluntary NATE private industry certification that employers require for some positions.

HVAC Mechanical Licenses

There have historically been four mechanical specialty licenses that are of interest to HVAC-R mechanics and installers in Iowa for specific types of work…

  • Hydronics – Covers all closed heating and cooling systems that circulate fluid, including boilers, pressure vessels, chilled water systems, steam piping
  • Refrigeration – Covers refrigeration systems used for both food handling and comfort connected to natural gas, propane, and other gas lines
  • Sheet Metal – Covers all sheet metal ductwork used in HVAC systems
  • HVAC – Covers ducted systems and refrigeration that makes use of natural gas, propane or other gas lines

However, under the new PMSB rules, rather than carry multiple specialty licenses, HVAC professionals can opt for the Mechanical license, which covers everything included under the various specialty licenses. This makes the universal Mechanical license the sensible option for those whose job duties involve more than one of the above-named specializations.

HVAC Technician Specialty License

There is also other more limited specialty category available outside the mechanical license area: The HVAC Technician Specialty License is appropriate for limited function service technicians and allows the holder to work only on appliances, from the location of the shut-off valve, which can be no more than three feet away from the appliance. This license covers most duties that residential service technicians would be called upon to perform. A NATE certification or other board-approved training program is required; a list of programs can be found here. No apprenticeship or exam is necessary, only a $50 license fee (pro-rated based on your application date).

Licenses for HVAC mechanics, specialty technicians and contractors now now fall under the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board (PMSB).

How to Become an HVAC Mechanic or Specialty Mechanic in Iowa: State Licensing Requirements and EPA Certification

A registered apprenticeship is the only route to obtaining a new HVAC-R Mechanical or Mechanical Specialty license in Iowa. Apprenticeship programs are typically offered through unions or industry trade groups.

To earn a journeyman-level HVAC-R Mechanical and Mechanical Specialty licenses in Iowa named above, you must:

  • Complete a 4-year apprenticeship through a program registered with the United States Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship.
  • Pass the Iowa journeyman’s exam for each trade discipline for which licensing is being requested.
  • Join an Approved Apprenticeship Program

    The state provides one-stop shopping for apprentices on the Iowa Workforce Development Apprenticeship website. The site provides valuable information about apprenticeship processes and expectations as well as a list of currently registered programs available in the state. Your apprenticeship will involve at least 144 hours per year of classroom training in HVAC theory and practice. On the job, you’ll work directly under the supervision of a currently licensed master or journey-level HVAC-R mechanic, learning the hands-on aspects of the business. Union programs typically incorporate classroom teaching by United Association or other umbrella union training committees, while open shop apprentice programs often contract out classroom hours to HVAC-R community college or trade school programs in the area.

  • Apply for an Apprentice License

    You must be licensed as an apprentice by the state to actually begin working under the supervision of a licensed master or journeyman and accruing your on-the-job training hours. The apprentice license from the PMSB costs $50 for two years, although your actual cost will be pro-rated based on when you obtain the license. You must be at least 18 years of age and will have to provide proof of enrollment in a registered apprenticeship program as well as information for a criminal background check. You can apply online and pay by credit card.

  • Apply to Take the Journeyman Exam

    When your four years of apprenticeship are up, you will be eligible to take the state journeyman license exam. You’ll have to file an Examination Candidate Application, with a $35 fee, available on the PMSB website. It is actually allowable to take the exam up to six months prior to your official graduation, and application processing can take up to two weeks, so you can file early to get a head start on the process. If approved, you will have a one-year window in which to schedule and take the exam. Exams are conducted by Kirkwood Community College at the following locations:

    • Ankeny
    • Des Moines
    • Dubuque
    • Cedar Falls
    • Cedar Rapids
    • Council Bluffs
    • Creston
    • Estherville
    • Fort Dodge
    • Ottumwa
    • Marshalltown
    • Mason City
    • Sheldon
    • Sioux City
    • Tipton

    A $95 exam fee will be charged (per specialty, if you are sitting more than one) at the time of registration. Exams are open book and require a 75 percent or better to pass. If you pass the exam, you will have to file a post-examination licensure application with a pro-rated $180 fee in order to obtain the actual license credential.

  • Master-level and Reciprocal Licensing

    Iowa does not have a specific reciprocal licensing agreement for HVAC-R license categories, but it does allow you to apply directly for a journeyman license in the state on the basis of any master HVAC-R credentials you may have in another state. This allows you to avoid the apprenticeship period and the examination in Iowa. The license fees are identical, however.Moving up to the master level from journeyman requires an additional test as well as two years of experience at the journeyman license level. Alternatively, if you hold a master’s level credential from another jurisdiction, you can apply to directly take the master’s exam in Iowa. There is a $95 exam fee, and a pro-rated $240 license fee. Master’s licenses are available in all the same categories as journeyman licenses.

  • License Renewals

    Both contractor and all technician level licenses in Iowa are set to expire on June 30, 2017, as part of the final stage of licensing changes begun in 2013.Although this should not affect new licensees, the renewal process as it exists after completion of the licensing changes has not been described in detail so you should consult the PMSB website for details as your own license expiration date approaches.

EPA Certification Requirements

Completely separate from the state-level license requirements, most positions in the HVAC-R industry require an EPA Section 608 certification. This is named after Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, which mandates certain education and training minimums for anyone servicing, pressure-testing, or otherwise working with systems using controlled refrigerant gases such as Freon or ammonia that might escape.

There are four different categories of Section 608 certification:

Small appliances service and repair (self-contained appliances with 5 pounds of refrigerant or less)

Most HVAC trade school, community college, and apprenticeship programs include a component specifically designed to teach Section 608 requirements. In many cases, they also offer the certification test itself, so when you are finished with the program you will also be officially certified.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Iowa

At some point, you may decide that building your own HVAC-R business is a good idea. With complete control over your destiny, anyone with a little salesmanship and business sense can make a good living and enjoy the freedom of being an HVAC contractor.

New Air Conditioner Unit Under Service

You will have to have a master’s level license before becoming a contractor in Iowa.

Currently, contractor licensing is still in a transitional period for HVAC-R contractors. In addition to registering with and meeting the requirements of the Plumbing and Mechanical System Board, through June of 2017 contractors must also register with Iowa Workforce Development’s Division of Labor. Beginning in May 2017, and thereafter, the registration forms and processes will be combined and PMSB will provide a sole point of contact for contractors.

There is no testing or experience requirement to obtain a contractor’s license other than what is required to become a master technician. The license fee is $250.

You must, however, obtain and submit proof of:

  • $500,000 of liability insurance
  • A $5,000 surety bond
  • Worker’s compensation insurance commensurate with the number of employees in the firm

It is possible to designate another person as the master technician to qualify for the PMSB license, who will be known as the Master of Record and must be an employee of the firm.

Some Iowa cities, such as Davenport, may have their own licensing requirements for HVAC contractors in addition to the state license requirement.

Contact your local municipality for licensing details

HVAC-R Job Prospects and Industry Growth in Iowa

Iowa’s Department of Workforce Development foresees a nearly 19 percent rise in HVAC employment over the next decade. Specialty trade contracting firms in technical areas like HVAC account for the largest percentage of construction companies in the state. This has helped create more job opportunities in the field of HVAC-R than is seen in most of the country.

With the recent licensing changes, Iowa HVAC companies are struggling to find qualified applicants. Newer, stricter licensing with higher requirements have left the lower end of the market light on qualified candidates, mirroring a general construction industry worker shortage. This spells opportunity for new Iowa trade workers as companies offer more incentives in their bid to compete for qualified workers from a smaller pool of candidates.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Iowa

Iowa Workforce Development reported that HVAC technicians in the top 10% earned an average salary of $73,806 ($35.48 hourly) as of 2016. The median salary among HVAC technicians in Iowa was $47,813 ($22.99 hourly).

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

The salaries for HVAC technicians in Iowa are exceptionally high according to the US Department of Labor. The median salary among HVAC techs exceeded that nationally in six of the eight largest cities in Iowa as of 2015. In fact, the average salary for HVAC techs in the top 10% in Iowa City exceeded the national average for this category by more than $9,500.

Wages in Iowa’s construction industry increased dramatically in recent years according to a report on the construction industry by the state’s Workforce Development. Employees in construction boasted a 27.7% increase in wages between 2006 and 2014.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Iowa’s Largest Cities

The US Department of Labor provides the salaries of HVAC technicians throughout Iowa as of 2015. The ranges below show the median to top 10% yearly and hourly earnings in each of the state’s major cities.

  • Ames

    • Annual: $45,620 – $59.510
    • Hourly: $21.88 – $28.61
  • Cedar Rapids

    • Annual: $53,490* – $74,610*
    • Hourly: $25.72* – $35.87*
  • Davenport-Moline-Rock Island

    • Annual: $48,210* – $73,250*
    • Hourly: $23,18* – $35.22*
  • Des Moines-West Des Moines

    • Annual: $50,460* – 76,730*
    • Hourly: $24.26* – $36.89
  • Dubuque

    • Annual: $48,770* – $62,670
    • Hourly: $23.46* – $30.13
  • Iowa City

    • Annual: $57,620* – $81,250*
    • Hourly: $27.70* – $38.06*
  • Sioux City

    • Annual: $54,800* – $73,440*
    • Hourly: $23.26* – $36.31*
  • Waterloo-Cedar Falls

    • Annual: $43,960 – $61,340
    • Hourly: $21,14 – $29.49

*Salaries that exceed the national median or top 10%.

Iowa’s Strong Economy Benefits HVAC Technicians

Iowa Workforce Development predicted that the number of jobs for HVAC technicians in the state will increase by 18.9% between 2014 and 2024. The agency expects that 115 jobs will become available on average each year during this ten-year period.

Iowa had the 4th highest concentration of jobs for HVAC technicians in the country in 2015 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, the nonmetropolitan area of Southeast Iowa had the 3rd highest number of jobs of any rural area in the country that year.

Iowa’s construction industry is hot as shown by an analysis of the Associated General Contractors of America. This organization reported that Iowa that the 2nd highest increase in construction jobs over the year preceding November 2016.

The Des Moines Register reported that Iowa’s construction industry “saw gains year over year.” In fact, the construction industry added more 6,000 jobs in the year preceding March 2015. An indicator of the strong success of Iowa’s construction is that the number of people employed in this industry in 2015 was higher than before the recession.

Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, told the newspaper that the increases in employment in construction are buoyed by a number of major development projects around the state along with business expansions.

As of 2014, there were 9,413 construction locations in Iowa according to a report on the construction industry by Iowa Workforce Development. Examples of some of the major construction industry employers in Iowa that are likely to employ HVAC technicians are shown below:

  • Residential Building Contractors

    • Peterson Contractors Inc.
    • Skyline Construction Inc.
    • Weitz Agricultural Services
  • Building Equipment Contractors

    • Baker Group
    • Seneca Crop
    • Tri City Communications
  • Other Specialty Trade Contractors

    • Ames Laboratory
    • Hon Co Oak Steel Plant