In the HVAC-R industry, understanding the ins and outs of your trade can set you apart from other technicians and give you a competitive edge while in the field. For many new job seekers, figuring out which certifications will offer the most bang for their buck may seem daunting.
To help give you the upper-hand while deciding on an education path, we’ve broken down the credentials that matter most to top HVAC employers in this guide.
Before you begin your journey as an HVAC service technician, there’s one requirement that needs to be on your radar: an EPA 608 Certification. The Environmental Protection Agency’s 608 Certification is the most common credential in the HVAC space for one good reason: it’s a mandatory requirement for any technician that handles refrigerant systems. The EPA breaks this certification down into four separate service categories:
Typically, the time it takes to prepare for the exam can vary from a couple months of studying on your own to several in an HVAC training program. Without this certificate on your resume, most employers won’t even bother reading it. That being said, HVAC apprentices are exempt from the EPA requirements, “provided they are closely and continually supervised by a certified technician.”
Still, obtaining this certification early will likely boost your enrollment chances at an accredited trade school or apprenticeship program, and is a must have for anyone looking to enter the industry.
After obtaining your basic EPA 608, the next credential on your mind should be a NATE Certification. The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certificate shows potential employers that you possess a “real-world working knowledge of HVAC-R systems” and validates your professional competency at service and installation in the field. This certification is available to technicians with at least 2 years of experience, however, there are still opportunities for new HVAC job seekers in the form of Ready-To-Work and Support credentials.
More information about each individual certification can be found on the NATE website. While the average HVAC techs bring in about $53,000 each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, NATE certified installers earn $61,000. That amounts to an extra $8,000 in earnings each year just for receiving specialized training in your field! As the HVAC industry continues to grow, technicians with better qualifications will win out over the competition, so increasing your proficiency in the field will only strengthen your employability.
The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) is another reputable institution in the HVAC-R industry which offers certifications specifically to members of their organization.
Holding an RSES membership offers several benefits, such as access to multiple online training programs, preparation guides for popular certifications (eg. EPA & NATE), and discounts on other program credentials. It's important to note, however, that membership costs $128 a year, so be sure to consider whether these opportunities are worth the price tag. Besides being able to list extra credentials on your HVAC resume, we were unable to find any income data that confirmed whether RSES members earned more than other HVAC certificate holders. Still, access to a large professional community in the industry definitely has its benefits.
HVAC Associates Degree
Another education option for HVAC job seekers can be found by pursuing an Associates degree from an accredited trade school. While a certification provides students with the basics required for the trade, HVAC degree programs often provide a more well-rounded education by allowing students to take other courses that benefit their career in the long run, such as management and finance. Taking the two years to attend school will be a lucrative investment for ambitious technicians. Rather than immediately increasing your wage, the benefit of this HVAC certification comes in the form of upward employment mobility.
Across the industry, becoming an HVAC Manager requires a minimum amount of time spent on the job and a formal education in business management. Obtaining your associate degree will give you the tools and credentials necessary to move up your career ladder. Assuming you keep striving for success, the average HVAC-R service manager makes $73,000, with the many leaders earning upwards of $100,000. If you see this industry as your life’s career, an associates degree will reward you with job security, opportunity, and higher income down the road.
Which certification is best?
At this point you may be wondering, “What certifications do I really need to do well in HVAC?” The main takeaway is that despite the numerous credentials you can obtain across the industry, the ultimate goal for any technician should be to have proficiency in their field.
Each of these programs offer specialized training for technicians, and ultimately will help you develop stronger skill sets while on the job that will set you apart from your competition. Determining which voluntary certifications you should acquire beyond that should really depend on your own career goals.
If you're looking for trade schools that offer these certifications and many other training programs, browse our list of U.S. trade schools with HVAC programs that will prepare you for your career ahead.