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Washington led the nation in job creation in 2015, primarily by adding jobs in the construction industry.Seattle Times
Washington doesn’t offer a license specific to HVAC services, instead the state classifies HVAC techs and contractors as licensed specialty electricians.

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Starting in 2002, the HVAC industry in Washington had to adapt to new rules requiring anyone working on HVAC systems to hold a valid electrician’s license issued through the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

The state created two new specialty electrician license categories specifically for HVAC technicians, known by the codes they are given in the state regulations as part of series 6, low-energy systems:

  • 6A HVAC/Refrigeration system

    Unrestricted in voltage/phase/amperage and allowed to install and service commercial systems, with some restrictions on height and complexity (Requires 4,000 work hours AND 48 hours of classroom instruction)

  • 6B HVAC/Refrigeration system (restricted)

    Only allowed to work on single-phase systems below 250 volts and less than 120 amps (Requires 2,000 work hours AND 24 hours of classroom instruction)

Through some particularly complex systems may require a full-fledged general electrician, most HVAC installations and service can be performed entirely by HVAC specialty electricians under one of these licenses.

Steps to Earning a Washington State Specialty Electrician License in HVAC/Refrigeration

Like other types of electricians, you will have to go through a number of steps to gain a Series 6 HVAC/R Specialty Electrical License.

City-Specific Licenses For HVAC Technicians in Washington State

Although the state only requires an electrician license, some Washington cities have additional licensing requirements for HVAC technicians depending on the type of HVAC installation being serviced, each with their own set of requirements:

  • Seattle
  • Spokane
  • Yakima
  • Pullman
  • Kennewick

As an example, the City of Seattle offers three types of refrigeration licenses, a gas piping mechanic license, and a steam engineer and boiler fireman license that you may need depending on what type of HVAC systems you are working with.

  • Journey refrigeration mechanic license

    Three classes of licensure, based on types of refrigerant being used, required to install, repair, or alter systems with:

    • Freon-type refrigerants
    • Ammonia-based refrigerants
    • All types of refrigerants

  • Refrigeration operating engineer license

    Required for technicians working on systems in a single bulking owned by their employer (for on-site technicians that service refrigeration systems at their place of employment)

  • Refrigeration and air conditioning contractor’s license

    Required for HVAC business owners that bid jobs that involve installing, repairing, or altering refrigeration or air conditioning systems

  • Steam engineer and boiler fireman license

    Required for operators of boilers and steam engines

Each of the refrigeration licenses and the gas piping mechanic’s license requires passing a test and either undergoing an apprenticeship process or providing proof of training at a recognized trade or technical school covering HVAC technology. Boiler licenses only require passing Seattle’s city-administered test.

Each of the other cities has their own set of requirements that you can find more general information about here.

Many HVAC technicians will not need to worry about these licenses because the technology in the field has evolved away from the types of systems these licenses cover. In fact, the city of Tacoma scrapped its own licensing program for boiler technicians in 2000.

EPA Certification Requirements

Although the state licensing process focuses on electrical requirements, those are only a small part of the work of HVAC systems installation. An EPA certification package is often included as part of the curriculum in HVAC/R trade school or community college programs.

Section 608 of the Federal Clean Air Act covers the uses of regulated refrigerant substances. There are four categories of certification:

Small appliances service and repair

Type II covers most standard residential and commercial systems, making it the most common certification among HVAC technicians and contractors.

You will need one of these certifications to work directly with equipment using controlled refrigerants. Some HVAC positions do not involve these tasks but you will find your job opportunities limited if you do not hold an EPA certificate.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor in Washington

Although working as an HVAC technician can be lucrative, most ambitious installers someday hope to run their own HVAC businesses. If you have a good head for business, an ability to plan and supervise system installations, and a flair for salesmanship, you will likely make the decision to eventually work towards earning your HVAC/R specialty contractor’s license.

HVAC technician working on a capacitor part for condensing unit.

Because of the way the licensing process works in Washington, it makes most sense to take this step only after becoming a master specialty electrician in your license category. Washington does not require that HVAC contractors pass a test, unlike some other states, but instead requires that every licensed HVAC company designate a qualified master electrician on staff to be responsible for maintaining standards to code and supervising other employees.

You can always hire someone else to fill this position but it’s more economical and provides more control to assume that role yourself.

Becoming an HVAC contractor in Washington means obtaining a general or specialty electrical contractor’s license:

  • General contractor – is allowed to perform all types of electrical installation work, including HVAC systems
  • Specialty contractor – can only work within the specialty field.

Primary Benefit of becoming a specialty contractor

Specialty Contractor Bond
$6,000
General Contractor Bond
$12,000

The primary benefit to becoming a specialty contractor is that it requires only a $6,000 bond be posted, versus the $12,000 required of general contractors. Obtaining an electrical contractor’s license through the Washington State Department of L&I involves the following steps:

Your contractor license must be renewed every two years, for a $240.10 fee. You can renew online here.

The Greater Seattle Area Offers a Booming Job Market for HVAC Techs and Contractors

One look at the Seattle skyline these days tells you all you need to know about job prospects in the trades: it’s a good time to be working in construction in Washington state. A forest of cranes, the sound of heavy equipment, and open construction sites means there is plenty of work to go around for HVAC technicians today.

All that construction has been powering massive job growth. According to the Seattle Times, Washington led the nation in job creation in 2015, primarily by adding jobs in the construction industry. In fact, according to the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, the share of construction-related jobs as a percentage of the total outstrips the national average by almost a full percentage point. For certified HVAC technicians, this means increasing demand and increasing salaries.

Numbers from the State Occupational Projections project bear this out. Over the next decade, the state is expected to add around 1,000 new HVAC positions, an increase of 22 percent. HVAC technicians will be working on all that new construction, but, just as importantly, they will be servicing the many new HVAC installations in homes, apartments, and commercial buildings that are springing up around the region.

Gone are the days when HVAC service meant dropping in an oil-fired boiler and running some clanking pipes around the building; today’s HVAC systems are heavily computerized, interlinked with building management systems, and built to specific tolerances to ensure high efficiency.

For Washington HVAC technicians, earning a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree from a qualified HVAC/R program can serve as the best first step to a long career in an exciting and growing industry.

HVAC TECHNICIAN SALARIES IN WASHINGTON

The median wage for HVAC technicians in Washington is $54,280, or $26.09 an hour, while those earning in the top 10% make an average annual salary of $88,360, or $42.48 an hour (US Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2015).

In the majority of Washington’s major metro areas—Tacoma, Seattle, Kennewick, Aberdeen, Bremerton, Mount Vernon, Vancouver, Port Angeles, Bellingham, Olympia, Clarkston, Quincy, and Yakima—the recorded salaries for HVAC technicians are higher than the national average. But great wages aren’t the only thing that sets a career in HVAC in Washington apart from the rest of the country.

Construction is among the top five fastest-growing industries in the state, adding 11,800 jobs from December 2013 to December 2014 alone.

In Washington, the job market for HVAC technicians alone is expected to grow by 22.1% during the ten-year period leading up to 2024. This is expected to add an estimated 1,090 new jobs during this time frame, representing an average of 190 new jobs each year (Washington State Employment Security Department).

In 2015 alone, Washington had 5,109 job postings for employers seeking HVAC technicians.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Washington’s Largest Cities

We’ve collected salary and wage data on sixteen of Washington’s most populous cities from the US Department of Labor’s 2015 report. The ranges shown here represent the median to top 10% earnings for HVAC techs in Washington’s largest metro areas.

  • Tacoma

    • Annual: $62,930* – $113,010*
    • Hourly: $30.25* – $54.33*
  • Seattle

    • Annual: $60,100* – $95,500*
    • Hourly: $28.90* – $45.91*
  • Kennewick

    • Annual: $56,020* – $76,010*
    • Hourly: $26.93* – $36.54*
  • Aberdeen

    • Annual: $54,790* – $87,240*
    • Hourly: $26.34* – $41.94*
  • Bremerton

    • Annual: $54,120* – $74,820*
    • Hourly: $26.02* – $35.97*
  • Mount Vernon

    • Annual: $52,340* – $64,590*
    • Hourly: $25.16* – $31.06*
  • Vancouver

    • Annual: $50,030* – $83,610*
    • Hourly: $24.05* – $40.20*
  • Port Angeles

    • Annual: $49,080* – $73,690*
    • Hourly: $23.60* – $35.43*
  • Bellingham

    • Annual: $48,390 *- $63,940*
    • Hourly: $23.26* – $30.74*
  • Olympia

    • Annual: $46,920* – $90,210*
    • Hourly: $22.56*- $43.37*
  • Clarkston

    • Annual: $46,590* – $64,850*
    • Hourly: $22.40* – $31.18*
  • Quincy

    • Annual: $45,760* – $59,970*
    • Hourly: $22.00* – $28.83*
  • Yakima

    • Annual: $45,750* – $62,520*
    • Hourly: $22.00* – $30.06*
  • Colville

    • Annual: $44,650 – $49,170
    • Hourly: $21.47 – $23.64
  • Longview

    • Annual: $41,430 – $79,670
    • Hourly: $19.92 – $38.30
  • Spokane

    • Annual: $40,180 – $64,720
    • Hourly: $19.32 – $31.11

*Salaries that are higher than the national median or top 10%.