The job market for HVAC technicians in the state in particular is projected to rise by 11.9% from 2012 to 2024. New Mexico Department of Workforce SolutionIn New Mexico, HVAC-R technicians and contractors are required to be licensed at the state level. The state Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) issues what it calls “journeyman certificates of competence” for different construction trades, including certificates for specific tasks and equipment HVAC professionals often work with.
Although the state uses the journeyman nomenclature, it does not require formal apprenticeships in the field but does require hands-on experience:
Most HVAC-R technicians can meet the necessary experience qualifications within four or five years of starting out in the field.
Technicians will benefit from attending a trade school or technical college program in HVAC-R before entering the field and starting to accumulate hours on the job. Diploma and Associate of Applied Science programs in HVAC-R provide:
- A solid education in an increasingly high-tech industry that will give you a leg up when applying for entry-level work with HVAC-R contracting companies in New Mexico.
- Typically provide an easy route to gaining EPA certification, which is necessary for all professionals working with refrigerants under pressure, a common qualification HVAC-R employers look for.
How to Become an HVAC Technician in New Mexico: Licensing Requirements and EPA Certification
Although RLD is the state department with the statutory authority to issue licenses for HVAC professionals, it has designated PSI Exams, a third-party company, to manage the licensing process and to conduct the testing mandated by law.
Meeting Experience Requirements for State Certification in New Mexico
HVAC-R certificates of competence are all grouped under the Mechanical/Plumbing trade classifications.
Classifications, and the experience requirements to earn them, relevant to HVAC technicians are:
- JG – Journeyman gas fitter – 4,000 hours
- JR – Journeyman refrigeration – 4,000 hours
- JPG – Journeyman plumber and natural gas fitter – 4,000 hours
- BO1 – Journeyman boiler operator (low pressure only) – 1,000 hours
- BO2 – Journeyman boiler operator (high and low pressure) – 1,000 hours
All experience for these certifications must be gained on the job as an employee of a contractor that holds the license you are working toward. This means you will be following your employer’s guidance as to which license(s) you’re required to hold based on the kind of equipment the company works on.
You may qualify for multiple certifications during the same training period as long as your experience has covered all the relevant job categories.
You will be responsible for independently arranging to gain the work experience you need to be eligible to take the journeyman certification exam(s). Typically, this involves finding an entry-level trainee job with a mechanical contractor in the HVAC-R field.
It is also possible to join a union apprenticeship program. Because HVAC-R work tends to straddle several different traditional construction trades, there are multiple unions that may offer apprenticeships applicable to the work. Apprenticeships may run between four and five years, and include both practical experience and classroom instruction. The New Mexico Building and Trade Council page lists available training programs in the state. Apprenticeship openings are rare, however.
PSI will consider experience accumulated in the military, on a volunteer basis, or outside the state on a case-by-case basis.
Certification Testing Requirements and Application
Once you have accumulated the necessary experience, you can submit an application packet to PSI. The application form can be downloaded from their website here. The form must be notarized and sent in with a $75 application fee.
Once PSI has established your eligibility, you will be notified that you have been approved to take the test and provided instructions for registration. There are five testing sites in New Mexico located in:
- Santa Fe
- Las Cruces
The exact content of the test will vary depending on the certification(s) you are applying for. A pass rate of 75 percent is required on all exams, however.
Journeyman Certificate of Competence Renewals in New Mexico
Your journeyman certificate is good for three years from the last day of the month of issue. After the three years is up, you will have to renew it, for another $75 fee. There is a $25 late fee if you do not renew on time. You must file a notarized renewal application while making payment.
A minimum of 16 hours of continuing education is required in each license period. Eight hours must relate specifically to code changes or updates, while the other eight can be general industry topics. The courses must be delivered by an approved course provider, as listed on the state Construction Industries Division website.
State level certification is not the only thing HVAC techs in New Mexico need to think about. Federal law, in the form of the Clean Air Act, also regulates certain environmentally-sensitive refrigerant gases including Freon and ammonia. Only certified technicians are allowed to install, test or maintain systems using those gases.
The federal-level certification is known as a Section 608 EPA certification. There are four categories of certificate available:
Almost all trade school and college HVAC programs specifically teach to the test required to gain EPA certification, and most also actually offer the test as a part of the curriculum. Through a technical school program, you can graduate with both an HVAC-R degree and a certificate at the same time, being job-ready on day one.
How to Become an HVAC Contractor in New Mexico
Even as a certificated journeyman, you will have to work under a licensed HVAC contractor to work legally in New Mexico.
Obtaining your own contractor’s license is the next logical step in your career progression, and will allow you to bid and take jobs on your own.
For an individual or business to obtain a contracting license in any of the mechanical categories, at least one person must have both the experience and take and pass tests as a qualifying party. It does not have to be the business owner, but in most cases, you will be your own qualifying party.
A total of four years (8,000 hours) of experience are required – two additional years after you obtain your journeyman certification. You must first have a journeyman certificate in order to apply for a contractor license.
Contractor licenses covering HVAC work in New Mexico are issued under the following categories, all with the same 8,000-hour experience requirement in the respective area(s):
Testing as a Qualifying Party for Your New Mexico HVAC Contractor License
In order to take the required tests for licensing, you have to file a qualifying party affidavit with PSI. This will establish your experience qualifications. The affidavit must be notarized and filed with a $30 filing fee and an additional $6 for each of the license classifications you will test for.
Once accepted, PSI will notify you of your eligibility to take the exam. The exam fees for the license classifications you are applying for will be provided with the notice. For each license classification you have applied for, there is a practical knowledge exam.
For first-time qualifiers, there is another requirement that can be filled in one of two different ways:
- You have the option of taking a business and law component, testing your knowledge of New Mexico business code and legal requirements.
- Alternatively, you can take a course covering these topics from a qualified vendor and present a certificate of completion in lieu of taking the test.
Applying for Your New Mexico HVAC Contractor License
Having passed the tests and established yourself as a qualifying party, you can file your final application form with PSI. You will have to pay a $150 fee for each license category you apply for (up to a $300 maximum).
The renewal fee will be the same amount, due when the license expires after three years.
You must also provide proof of obtaining a surety bond in the amount of $10,000 before your license will be granted, and with each renewal form.
HVAC Technician Salaries in New Mexico
In New Mexico, the top 10% of HVAC technicians make an average annual salary of $61,420, or $29.53 an hour. The median salary for technicians in the state is $40,590, or $19.52 an hour (US Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2015).
A 2015 economic report by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business & Economic Research predicted that employment in New Mexico would reach pre-recession levels by the end of 2017.
The job market for HVAC technicians in the state in particular is projected to rise by 11.9% from 2012 to 2024. This growth will add about 140 jobs, or an average of thirty new jobs each year (New Mexico Department of Workforce Solution).
HVAC Technician Salaries in New Mexico’s Largest Cities
The data below, sourced from the US Department of Labor’s 2015 report, represents the median to top 10% annual earnings and hourly wages for HVAC technicians for six of New Mexico’s largest cities.