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HVAC professionals in Wisconsin contend with up to three levels of governmental regulation when it comes to certification and licensure:

  • City or county

    Local jurisdictions often have their own HVAC contractor certification requirements, though employees are typically exempt.

  • State

    While there are no statewide qualification requirements for HVAC technicians, the state does offer the optional HVAC qualifier certification. With some exceptions, this will fulfill any local HVAC license or certification requirements that exist at the city or county levels.

  • Federal

    Anyone in the trade working with ozone-depleting pressurized refrigerants must be certified through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by earning Section 608 certification (this can often be completed in a day).

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There are some important distinctions to make in the different professional classifications recognized in Wisconsin:

  • Employee Level

    In most cases you can work as an employee, under supervision, for an HVAC company without facing state or local licensing or certification requirements. The only time you would need to become licensed or certified is if your local city or county required it, but this is not typical for supervised employees.

  • Independent Level

    Even as an employee, if you’re going out on jobs independently without supervision your city or county jurisdiction will require you to demonstrate a certain level of professional competence. Local jurisdictions and employers will often refer to this as the journeyman level, which takes about five years of experience to achieve.

    Unless otherwise specified by your local jurisdiction, you can prove professional competency by showing your state-issued HVAC qualifier certification. In other words, professional competency requirements are determined by your local jurisdiction, not the state, however in many cases having the state-issued HVAC qualifier certification fulfills these local requirements.

  • Business Level

    Operating your own HVAC company would involve getting an HVAC contractor license. This is issued by your local jurisdiction and is typically required for anyone who wants to hire employees. Check with the city or county where you do business for information about how to qualify for an HVAC contractor license.

    In addition to local requirements, all HVAC businesses must register with the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services. This is a quick process known as HVAC contractor registration.

To keep these two important credentials straight, think of them this way:

  • HVAC qualifier certification is a qualification/skill credential
  • An HVAC contractor license is a business credential

Statewide HVAC Qualifier Certification

Statewide HVAC qualifier certification is issued at the state level through the Department of Safety and Professional Services’ Division of Professional Credentialing.

To qualify for this you must meet one of the following conditions:

  • Four years of school related to HVAC; mechanical engineering or similar education would apply
  • Four years of HVAC work experience, with at least 1,000 hours of documented experience per year
  • Any combination of HVAC-related education and experience totaling four years

HVAC Education Program

You’ll like participating in an HVAC technical program since it provides a supportive environment that fosters learning. Employers like technical school graduates because they have proven skills and knowledge in their field. HVAC diploma, certificate or degree programs are a win-win situation for you and your employer.

An air conditioning technician welds a connection prior to installing AC unit.

Earning an AAS in HVAC counts for two years towards your experience requirement, and you can take your credits with you if you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree. If you choose to go directly into the workforce with an AAS you could potentially get an HVAC qualifier certification from the state in just two years. Certificate and career diploma programs offer similar advantages, but generally take less than a year to complete so they don’t offset as much of the experience requirement.

Another advantage of completing an HVAC education program, whether diploma, certificate or AAS, is that they often include EPA Section 608 certification in their curriculum, so that you hold the credential as soon as you graduate. Section 608 certification is a basic requirement all HVAC professionals need to satisfy, and is something employers very often expect to see from job candidates.

Work Experience: On-the-Job Employer Training

Look through the local job ads in your area. If you see employers offering openings for HVAC helpers or trainees without experience, then give them a call or send an email. These kinds of entry-level jobs will provide you with the experience you need to earn your qualifier certification. Be sure to document all your work hours. On your application for HVAC qualifier certification you’ll need your employer to sign off on the hours you’ve worked.

You can always work for a few years and then decide to go to school for the remainder of your four years, and vice-versa.

Combination of Education and Training: HVAC Apprenticeships

State HVAC qualifier certification rules specify you can have any combination of education and work experience to meet the four-year requirement.

This doesn’t have to be an apprenticeship, however an apprenticeship would provide the on-the-job training you need to satisfy this requirement. You get paid during the entire course of your apprenticeship, including while you attend classes, which would typically be required one evening per week.

Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development coordinates HVAC apprenticeships with individual employers, trade associations, and local union chapters. These formal apprenticeship programs go beyond the minimum HVAC qualifier certification requirements, last a total of five years, and include:

  • 9,000 hours of on-the-job training
  • 730 hours of classroom education (including 560 paid hours)

To apply for an apprenticeship position, contact a Department of Workforce Development training representative near you.

Once you complete your apprenticeship you’ll typically take an exam. Passing the exam would result in earning your journeyman card.

Applying for HVAC Qualifier Certification and Exam

Once you fulfill the education/experience requirement you can apply to take the HVAC qualifier examination. You sign up for this by submitting an application for HVAC qualifier certification with the Wisconsin Division of Professional Credentialing.

The application has a place where you can list the schools and/or HVAC work you’ve performed that cumulatively total four years.

The application also has a section where you can choose the testing date and location to take the HVAC qualifier examination. Locations include:

  • Pewaukee – exam offered 12 times throughout the year
  • Eau Claire – exam offered seven times throughout the year
  • Appleton – exam offered six times throughout the year

You’ll get an exam confirmation letter in the mail that details your testing date and location.

The HVAC qualifier examination evaluates your basic knowledge about safety, regulations, and HVAC procedures. The exam is open book, meaning you can consult the following materials during testing:

You need at least 70 percent to pass, and your exam results are mailed to you within 21 days. Once you pass, the Division of Professional Credentialing will issue your HVAC qualifier certification.

The HVAC qualifier certification is valid for four years, and you can renew it by mail or online.

EPA Section 608 Certification Requirement for Ozone-depleting Pressurized Refrigerants

If you’re going to be working with certain ozone-depleting pressurized refrigerants anywhere in the state, which virtually all HVAC techs do, you’ll need EPA Section 608 certification. There are four types of certification options you can choose from depending on what type of work you’ll be doing:

For servicing small, self-contained appliances containing five or fewer pounds or refrigerant

To earn any of these certifications you must pass the EPA exam specific to the certification type.

If you attend an HVAC technical program of any kind, chances are that your program will include classes that prepare you for this certification.

Your employer can also direct you to the nearest EPA certification site. Same-day testing and certification are common.

If you are working with motor vehicle air conditioning (MVAC) systems you must complete a separate Section 609 EPA-approved technician training and certification program.

Local HVAC Requirements

Larger cities usually have their own licensing authority. Counties usually handle licensing for smaller cities within their jurisdiction.

State-Level HVAC Contractor License

All HVAC businesses must register with the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. This is a straightforward process that involves submitting an application where you note your business name, designate a business representative, and pay a fee.

The HVAC contractor registration is valid for four years, and you can renew it by mail or online.

Cities and counties usually require an additional HVAC contractor license to work within city limits. Requirements for municipal licensure often include:

  • A minimum number of years of experience in the HVAC field with a good track record
  • Status such as HVAC qualifier certification or HVAC journeyman
  • Minimum levels of liability insurance, workers compensation insurance, and/or a surety bond
  • Passage of an HVAC contractor examination

Wisconsin HVAC Industry and Job Market Analysis

By every indication, Wisconsin will continue to see a strong demand for HVAC technicians well into the future:

  • Biting winters and hot summers
  • Growth that spurs new construction – A report released by the Wisconsin Department of Administration at the end of 2013 projects that in the 30 years leading up to 2040 the state’s population will grow by 800,000 people (14 percent).
  • Industries that are reliant on a controlled climate – The finished product of dairy production depends on a stable temperature, while sawmills and paper manufacturing plants rely strongly on industrial spaces where a specific level of heat and humidity is maintained.
  • Expensive energy that encourages HVAC efficiency upgrades – Wisconsin has the second most expensive electricity rates in the entire Central United States in the residential and industrial sectors (US Energy Information Administration, 2016).Expensive power translates to increased value for HVAC professionals who install and upgrade homes and businesses to more energy efficient systems. This helps to explain why Sheboygan offers the second-highest average salary for these professionals of all cities in the nation (US Department of Labor, 2015).
  • Incentives for HVAC upgrades – Wisconsin’s Focus On Energy program provides automatic approval for up to $25,000 in rebates for business HVAC upgrades and up to $500 in instant rebates for residential HVAC upgrades.
  • Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development projects a 12.1 percent increase in HVAC technician jobs in the decade leading up to 2024.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Wisconsin

The top 10% of HVAC technicians in Wisconsin make an average annual wage of $72,640, or $34.92 an hour, while the median annual salary for HVAC technicians is $46,750, or $22.48 an hour (US Department of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2015).

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

In Sheboygan, Eau Claire, Bloomington, Oshkosh, Milwaukee, Racine, La Crosse, Madison, Fond du Lac, Wausau, and Appleton—eleven of Wisconsin’s fourteen largest cities— the recorded salaries were higher than the national median for HVAC technicians.

HVAC Technician Salaries in Wisconsin’s Largest Cities

The data below is sourced from the US Department of Labor and shows the median to top 10% of earnings in both average annual wages and hourly figures. We’ve included data for fourteen of Wisconsin’s largest cities.

  • Sheboygan

    • Annual: $70,100* – $97,420*
    • Hourly: 33.70* – $46.83*
  • Eau Claire

    • Annual: $59,080* – $78,320*
    • Hourly: $28.40* – $37.65*
  • Bloomington

    • Annual: $55,930* – $88,500*
    • Hourly: $26.89* – $46.85*
  • Oshkosh

    • Annual: $51,830* – $62,790
    • Hourly: $24.92* – $30.19
  • Milwaukee

    • Annual: $49,070* – $81,060*
    • Hourly: $23.59* – $38.97*
  • Racine

    • Annual: $48,390* – $62,850
    • Hourly: $23.27* – $30.22
  • La Crosse

    • Annual: $47,980* – $61,410
    • Hourly: $23.07* – $29.52
  • Madison

    • Annual: $47,850* – $75,180*
    • Hourly: $23.01* – $36.14*
  • Fond du Lac

    • Annual: $46,450*- $59,880
    • Hourly: $22.33* – $28.79
  • Wausau

    • Annual: $46,170* – $63,600
    • Hourly: $22.20* – $30.58
  • Appleton

    • Annual: $45,550* – $73,530*
    • Hourly: $21.90* – $35.35*
  • Duluth

    • Annual: $44,890 – $62,230
    • Hourly: $21.58 – $29.92
  • Janesville

    • Annual: $44,620 – $73,100
    • Hourly: $21.45 – $35.14
  • Green Bay

    • Annual: $43,830 – $59,300
    • Hourly: $21.07 – $28.51

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

The Job Market for HVAC Technicians in Wisconsin

In 2015, the construction sector in Wisconsin showed signs of steady growth. In December of 2015 alone, the state added 7,600 private-sector jobs—2,900 of which were construction jobs (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

Wisconsin Worknet (Wisconsin’s Workforce and Labor Market Information System) noted “Maintenance and Repair Workers” on a list of the 25 occupations projected to have the most job openings during the twelve-year span of 2012-2024. The projected number of average annual job openings for maintenance and repair workers is 1,050.

Between the years of 2012 and 2024, the HVAC job market in Wisconsin is expected to rise by 12.1%. This change will increase the number of HVAC jobs by 590—adding about 140 jobs per year, according to Wisconsin Worknet.