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The number of jobs for HVAC techs is expected to increase 1.6-times faster than the national average between 2014 and 2024.The Montana Department of Labor & Industry
Montana does not issue licenses for HVAC technicians and contractors specifically, although HVAC contractors will need to register with the state Department of Labor and Industry as either a “construction contractor” or “independent contractor,” just like any other general construction contractor.

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This means that coming into the field as an entry-level technician is all about meeting employer requirements and federally-mandated certification requirements for working with HVAC systems with pressurized refrigerants known to have an environmental impact.

All reputable HVAC contracting companies in the industry look for candidates with either experience or training in HVAC-R.

Air conditioner repairmen work on a home unit.

One of the best ways to acquire that training is to enroll in a trade school or community college program. As the industry becomes more high-tech, the importance of classroom education in theory and practice becomes more important.

Moreover, despite the lack of state-level regulation for professionals in the field, the federal government has specific requirements for anyone dealing with controlled chemical refrigerants. The EPA mandates that anyone installing, maintaining, or testing pressure in the lines of systems using Freon or ammonia-based refrigerants obtain a Section 608 certification– a credential commonly offered as part of most HVAC-R training programs.

Montana’s residential construction industry is strong and expected to remain that way through at least 2024. Western Montana saw more homes built between 2003 and 2013 than during any other decade in the state’s history.

New construction means new HVAC installations. The Montana state Department of Labor and Industry projects a robust 24 percent job growth in HVAC-R positions between 2014 and 2024.

Federally-Mandated EPA Certification Requirements for HVAC Technicians

Section 608 of the Clean Air Act mandates that all technicians working with certain controlled refrigerant gases commonly found in HVAC and refrigeration systems be certified through the Environmental Protection Agency. Freon and ammonia-based refrigerants can be both environmentally destructive and potentially hazardous, so technicians working with those gases need to be familiar with protocols for safe handling and recovery, recycling, and reclamation.

There are four different categories of Section 608 certification:

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

Obtaining a certification is as simple as passing a test on the subject. Because the EPA does not offer testing services itself, it’s easy to find places to take a Section 608 test either in person or online.

Most HVAC-R training programs offer the test as a regular part of their curriculum. More importantly, they teach you all the material you will need to know to pass it.

Almost all HVAC positions hiring in the state require a Section 608 certification at a minimum. With fines of up to $37,500 per day for violations, working without a certification card is a bad idea!

How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Montana

Montana doesn’t have a specialty contractor category for HVAC services. Anyone setting up shop as an independent HVAC mechanic in the state only has to register with the Department of Labor and Industry like any other contractor.

There are two options for contractor registration:

  • Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate (ICEC)

    For sole proprietors who do not intend to employ other staff, an ICEC allows you to take on contract work while opting out of providing worker’s compensation insurance for yourself.

    • $125 application fee
    • 2-year renewal, renewals $125
    • Application must be notarized and include fifteen points of business documentation (see application form) to verify your status as an independent business entity.

  • Construction Contractor Registration (CR)

    For business owners that form corporations in the construction industry and hire employees.

    • $53 application fee
    • 2 year renewal, renewals $53
    • Proof of worker’s compensation coverage must be provided with application

These registrations are not mutually exclusive; you may file for an ICEC to exempt yourself from worker’s compensation while still registering as a CR and covering your other employees normally under state worker’s compensation laws.

Because these are only registrations, and not credentials, there are no testing or verification requirements for experience in HVAC specifically or the construction industry in general.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Montana

With Montana’s construction industry in great shape and winter temperatures ranging from 50° to -50°, the demand for HVAC technicians in the state is well above the national average. And with increased demand comes more opportunities and higher pay.

In fact, the Montana Department of Labor & Industry expects the number of jobs for HVAC techs to increase 1.6-times faster than the national average between 2014 and 2024.

The average salary for experienced HVAC techs in Montana also exceeds the national average with those in the top 10% averaging $74,670 ($35.90 hourly) as of 2015. The median salary among these professionals was $40,530 ($19.49 hourly).

HVAC Technician Salary in Montana (median)
HVAC Technician Salary in Montana (experienced)

HVAC techs in Great Falls earned exceptionally high salaries with a median that exceeded the national average.

HVAC Salaries in Montana’s Largest Cities

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

  • Great Falls

    • Annual: $50,460* – $61,410
    • Hourly: $24.26* – $29.52
  • Billings

    • Annual: $44,100 – $61,340
    • Hourly: $21.20 – $29.49
  • Missoula

    • Annual: $35,340 – $54,910
    • Hourly: $16.99 – $26.40

*Salaries that exceed the national median.

Montana’s Rebounding Construction Industry Bodes Well for HVAC Technicians

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry predicts rapid growth in the construction industry through 2024. In fact, this industry is one of the fastest growing in Montana when measured by the total number of jobs added and the percentage increase in employment.

In the South Central region of the state, construction occupations are generating the fastest rate of job growth.

The increase in the number of jobs for HVAC technicians appears to be exceeding the high level predicted by the Department. Estimates suggested that 774 of these professionals would be employed by 2024. However, employment figures from 2015 indicated that 730 HVAC techs worked in Montana—an increase of about 100 jobs over the previous year, far outpacing the projections for the ten-year period leading up to 2024.

There has never been a better time to get your foot in the door and start taking advantage of the opportunities becoming available in this trade.