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Massachusetts ranked 3rd in the country in the percentage of new construction jobs generated over the previous year.The Boston Business Journal
The state of Massachusetts has a number of different licensing programs applicable to the field of HVAC-R. Although the state does not have a general HVAC technician license category, it does require licensing for several related job functions that many technicians find themselves performing depending on the requirements of their employer:

  • Refrigeration Technician License

    Requires ONE of the following:

    • 6,000 hours experience with 100 hours of refrigeration theory and 150 hours of state electrical code training

    OR

    • 4,000 hours experience with 500 hours of an approved refrigeration course, 250 of which must be shop related, 100 hours of refrigeration theory, and 150 hours of state electrical code training

    OR

    • 2,000 hours experience with 1,000 hours of an approved refrigeration course, of which 700 must be shop related, 100 hours of refrigeration theory, and 100 hours of state electrical code training.

  • Oil Burner Technician Certificate

    3 certification levels, all of which require passing exam and none of which require specific training or education, though there are recommendations for appropriate level of experience:

    • Group #1 – 5-7 years of experience as well as extensive classroom education recommended
    • Group #2 – Twenty-six weeks of classroom education and time as an apprentice recommended
    • Group #3 – Exam only

  • Sheet Metal Workers License

    2 license levels that require:

    • J-1 – Unrestricted – 8,000 on-the-job hours supervised by a licensed journeyman or master and 750 hours of classroom instruction over a 5-year period.
    • J-2 – Restricted to dwellings less than 3 stories or commercial developments under 10,000 square feet – 4,800 on-the-job hours supervised by a licensed journeyman or master and 450 hours of classroom instruction over a 3-year period.

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Attending a trade school or technical college program and earning a career diploma or associate’s degree in HVAC-R will help you accomplish three things:

  • Become a strong entry-level job candidate well-versed in the many technical aspects of HVAC work.
  • Gain the classroom hours and technical training you need as you work your way up from an entry-level position to a licensed professional.
  • Obtain your federally-mandated EPA Section 608 certificate for working with controlled refrigerants.

Approved apprenticeship programs offer another route into certain categories of HVAC work in Massachusetts.

How to Become an HVAC Technician in Massachusetts: Meeting Licensing Requirements

The exact type or combination of licenses you may need to acquire will depend heavily on your employer and the kind of jobs they take. Commercial installers, for example, may work largely with sheet metal for duct work and refrigeration technologies, but never encounter an oil burning system. Residential service technicians who work in home heating, on the other hand, may frequently encounter old oil systems requiring service, but never work with any system requiring a refrigeration license.

HVAC Specialist Installing Air Conditioners

As you gain experience in an entry-level or apprentice position your employer will help you decide which license to work toward. Completing an HVAC program through a technical college is one of the best ways to present yourself as a strong candidate for entry-level HVAC jobs or apprenticeships.

Different state licensing departments regulate the different paths to licensure. Refrigeration technicians and oil burners are handled by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Department of Public Safety, while sheet metal workers are licensed by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Division of Professional Licensure.

The state follows a apprenticeship system that will require you to find a sponsor to acquire your on-the-job hours as a registered apprentice before moving on to obtain a license or certificate. The general process, with some exceptions for oil burners, will follow these steps:

  • Find an apprenticeship sponsor
  • Register as an apprentice with the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Apprentice Standards, for a $35 annual fee
  • Obtain an apprentice license
  • Accumulate required work hours for the credential
  • Acquire the necessary education hours for the credential
  • Take and pass an examination on the subject

You will have to find a program sponsor for your apprenticeship. You may apply directly to open shop HVAC refrigeration contractors, or attempt to get on with a union apprenticeship program. There are no specific refrigeration unions, so apprenticeship programs in refrigeration may be found with locals specializing in pipefitting or sheet metal work. You can consult the state Building Trades Training Directors Association directory of union apprenticeships to find the relevant local in your area.

The advantage to a union apprenticeship is that all required job hours and education will be met during the four or five year program, usually at no cost.

If you pursue an entry-level position independntly to gain your work experience, you will have to seek out educational classes elsewhere. Many trade schools and community college HVAC programs will meet the necessary requirements, as well as providing training for EPA Section 608 certification, another commonly sought credential in the industry.

Refrigeration Technician Licensing

Refrigeration licenses are only required for technicians who are working with large, commercial-grade refrigeration systems of greater than ten-ton capacity.

You will have to file for an apprentice license ($40 with a $20 annual renewal fee) while you are accumulating your on-the-job experience.

There are three paths to eligibility to sit for the technician exam:

  • 6,000 hours experience with 100 hours of refrigeration theory and 150 hours of state electrical code training

OR

  • 4,000 hours experience with 500 hours of an approved refrigeration course, 250 of which must be shop related, 100 hours of refrigeration theory, and 150 hours of state electrical code training

OR

  • 2,000 hours experience with 1,000 hours of an approved refrigeration course, of which 700 must be shop related, 100 hours of refrigeration theory, and 100 hours of state electrical code training.

The exam is based on national standards established by ASHRAE, an HVAC trade organization. Training hours must be provided by an approved provider.

You will also need your EPA Section 608 certification (see below).

The license costs $75.

Oil Burner Technician Certification

Oil burners hold a certification rather than a license. Therefore, the standards are not as strict, and there are no mandatory experience or educational requirements, only an exam. However, the Department of Public Safety, which manages the program, has recommended educational and experience levels for each grade of certification, listed below.

Nonetheless, most oil burner technicians are initially licensed as oil burner apprentices, a simple registration that costs $40. Apprentices must work under the supervision of a regular oil burner technician.

They can apply to take the oil burner technician test at any time, for an additional $75 fee. There are three grades of certificate:

  • Group #1 – Unrestricted power burners, allowed to work on any oil burning equipment. Recommended to have 5-7 years of experience as well as extensive classroom education.
  • Group #2 – Power burners, the in-between license grade. Twenty-six weeks of classroom education are recommended, as well as time as an apprentice.
  • Group #3 – Gravity feed, restricted to working on non-pressurized burners.

The licenses are cumulative, so Group #1 holders are qualified to work on all lower-level equipment. The exam includes both written and oral components.

Sheet Metal Worker Licensing

A license as a journeyman or master sheet metal installer is only required for technicians working on large-scale HVAC installations. As with refrigeration licenses, you have to apply for an apprentice license for a $65 fee before you can accumulate your on-the-job hours.

Unlike refrigeration jobs, many sheet metal workers are in union apprenticeships, although this is not required.

There are two different levels of journeyman license available to sheet metal workers:

  • J-1 – Unrestricted – 8,000 on-the-job hours supervised by a licensed journeyman or master and 750 hours of classroom instruction over a 5-year period.
  • J-2 – Restricted to dwellings less than 3 stories or commercial developments under 10,000 square feet – 4,800 on-the-job hours supervised by a licensed journeyman or master and 450 hours of classroom instruction over a 3-year period.

The license fee, due with your application, is $155.

If approved, you will be eligible to take the exam for your license category. Exams are administered by PSI and there is an additional $150 fee.

Renewals and Reciprocal Licensing Options

All three types of license last for two years and must be renewed for a fee. Refrigeration and oil burners cost only $50, while sheet metal licenses are $80.

If you hold related out-of-state credentials, it is possible to receive partial credit for those licenses in the refrigeration and sheet metal categories. Applications for reciprocal credits are at the discretion of the licensing agency and considered on a case-by-case basis.

EPA Section 608 Certification

Even if you do not anticipate needing a state-level license for the type of HVAC work you will be performing, you will probably need a Section 608 certification from the Environmental Protection Agency. The certification is mandatory for refrigerant licensees, but also for anyone working on, testing, or adding refrigerant to systems with controlled refrigerants known to have properties damaging to the environment.

There are four types of EPA Section 608 certificate offered:

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

Union apprenticeships and trade schools or college HVAC courses almost always include the required education to pass a Section 608 exam, and many provide the exam itself as part of the program.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Massachusetts

Massachusetts only requires a contractor’s license for refrigeration installation and maintenance work for systems over ten tons. The contractor’s license is treated as an extension of the technician’s license, even making use of the same application form, and is also administered by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS).

Requirements are straightforward:

  • As a fully licensed refrigeration technician, obtain a total of 2,000 on-the-job hours

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  • Complete 100 additional hours of refrigeration training from an approved school

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  • Take and pass a contractor’s written exam

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The refrigeration contractor’s license essentially signifies an advanced level of refrigeration installation and maintenance experience and training, rather than the more comprehensive business and job site management skills that contractor licenses in other jurisdictions indicate.

If you plan to run your own refrigeration contracting shop, you may also need to obtain a state Construction Supervisor’s License, also through EOPSS. The CSL comes in three grades:

  • Unlimited – Actually limited to work on buildings of less than 35,000 square feet.
  • Limited – Limited to work on one or two family dwellings of any size.
  • Specialty – Allowed to supervise only specific types of construction, such as masonry, siding, and insulation. A solid-fuel burning category is the only one of interest to HVAC contractors.

A licensed engineer or architect must supervise projects of greater than 35,000 square feet.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Massachusetts

HVAC technicians in Massachusetts earned the 5th highest average salary in the country in 2015 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported that experienced HVAC technicians earned an average salary of $66,580 ($32.01 hourly). The median salary among HVAC techs in Massachusetts was $56,620 ($27.22 hourly).

HVAC Technician Salary (Median)
$56,620
HVAC Technician Salary (Experienced)
$66,580

The BLS reported that HVAC techs in the nonmetropolitan area of Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard earned the 5th highest salary in the country of any rural area. In addition, the median salary among HVAC technicians exceeded the national average in six of the seven largest metropolitan areas in Massachusetts.

HVAC techs in the top 10% in Boston-Cambridge-Quincy earned exceptionally high wages. Their average salary exceeded the national one for this category by more than $15,000.

HVAC Salaries in the Largest Cities of Massachusetts

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

  • Barnstable

    • Annual: $52,440* – $68,900
    • Hourly: $25.21* – $33.17
  • Boston-Cambridge-Quincy

    • Annual: $59,380* – $87,359*
    • Hourly: $28.55* – $47.99*
  • Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner

    • Annual: $51.810* – $60,670
    • Hourly: $24.91* – $33.49
  • Pittsfield

    • Annual: $42,900 – $74,610*
    • Hourly: $20.62 – $36.87*
  • Providence-Fall River-Warwick

    • Annual: $55,460 – $72,820*
    • Hourly: $26.75* – $35.01*
  • Springfield

    • Annual: $54,780* – $75,790*
    • Hourly: $26.34* – $36.44*
  • Worcester

    • Annual: $56,080* – $77,700*
    • Hourly: $26.96* – $37.36*

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

Employment Levels for HVAC Technicians in Massachusetts

Both rural and metropolitan areas in Massachusetts boast unusually high levels of employment for HVAC technicians according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The nonmetropolitan area of Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard had the highest concentration of jobs for HVAC technicians of any rural area in the country. In addition, Boston-Cambridge-Newton boasted the 9th highest number of jobs for HVAC techs of any metropolitan area in the country.

The BLS reported that the building construction industry employed the most HVAC technicians in the US, so good construction news bodes well for skilled tradesmen such as HVAC techs.

The Boston Business Journal featured a report from the Associated General Contractors of America in March 2016. The report revealed that Massachusetts ranked 3rd in the country in the percentage of new construction jobs generated over the previous year.

The number of construction jobs in Massachusetts increased by 11.9% during this period to a total of 150,100. The greater Boston area contains a large number of these skilled tradesmen. As of February 2016, there were 61,400 construction workers in this metropolitan area.