“Who needs certifications when on-the-job experience will do?” goes the lament of many a young person entering the HVAC field.
But money spent on HVAC certification is money well invested. It can lead to higher pay and better employment opportunities down the line.
The real question is: which certifications do you get?
And, given that if you’re reading this article, you’re likely at the start of your HVAC career journey.
So read on for the best tips on which certifications to pursue, the best HVAC tools to give you a leg up at the start of your career, and the HVAC software to help you do your job better.
There are a handful of key certifications you should consider pursuing, depending on who you want to work for and how much you can spend.
Note: First, you may need a license to practice HVAC work in the first place. Here’s a list of HVAC license requirements by state.
Created by the Education Standards Corporation (ESCO) in 1994, HVAC Excellence actually comprised a number of program and certifications that can help get you on your feet.
For workers just starting out, they offer Employment Ready Certifications, which demonstrate that budding technicians have attained the specific knowledge they need to perform on the job.
These are linked to specific disciplines, making it easy for students and entry-level techs to show their knowledge to potential employers.
Professional Level certifications require two years of verified field experience, while Master Specialist certification requires three.
The Master Specialist certification also requires passing the Professional Level test (or equivalent) as well as a hands-on test of experience.
These are great options that can give HVAC engineers starting out a clear path to professional mastery – at least from a certification standpoint!
The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) group bills itself as the “gold standard” of HVAC technical certifications.
It certainly has a well-deserved reputation, too, with certifications offered at over 5,000 testing organizations.
NATE offers four separate exam certifications, from a “ready to work” certification similar to that of HVAC Excellence’s to Core Speciality Exams and Senior Level Efficiency exams.
They come recommended for their long-standing reputation and specificity of their exam structure. This means you can hone in on the area where you want to be known as an expert.
Another exam, conducted by the National Inspection Testing and Certification Corporation (NITC), requires five years of documented work experience or being in the fifth year of an HVACR training program.
Participants are expected to “demonstrate mastery of the trade and will be skilled and experienced in operations, planning, blueprint reading, safety, and the practical installation, repair, and service of HVACR systems” according to the NITC’s website.
If your HVAC work involves the “R” in HVACR – that is refrigerant work – you’re going to need to get EPA 608 certification.
This certification refers to section 608 of the federal Clean Air Act and is required of all “technicians who maintain, service, repair, or dispose of equipment that could release ozone depleting refrigerants into the atmosphere.”
If that sounds like you or the career path you’re working on, you’ll need to get certified from a testing agency like ESCO mentioned above.
There are also some free practice tests available online if you want to gauge where your knowledge stands before committing to the official test.
You’ve picked out some certifications. Now, you’ve got make sure you have the right equipment to get going.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of your must have tools.
A vacuum pump is an absolute essential for HVAC techs.
Just how much vacuum pump you need depends on whether you anticipate doing mostly residential or commercial work.
On the ultra-cheap end, Amazon’s top-seller is the ZENY 3.5CFM for around 60 bucks, for instance, but it won’t be sufficient for big jobs.
Still, customers have said they’ve successfully pulled vacuum on HVAC line sets, so if you’re just dipping your toes in the water, it might be worth experimenting with at this price point.
These vacuum pump models can run up to $600 or more.
Refrigeration System Analyzer
When working on refrigeration systems, this handy gadget can save enormous amounts of time. Old hands stand by DigiCool’s DRSA 1250, which has recently been phased out in favor of the company’s AK900 upgrade.
These will generally run around $300.
Reciprocating Saw and Blades
Another non-negotiable toolset is a good reciprocating saw (sometimes known by brand-name “Sawzall" and blades.
Why? You’ll find yourself needing to plunge and got through a fair amount of material in the course of your HVAC work. This means paying good money for a good reciprocating saw and a variety of blades will be a good investment.
These can run anywhere from around $40 to $300. Here’s a list of some well-reviewed models.
Other Miscellaneous (but necessary!) tools:
In the 21st century, the most underused tool in the modern HVAC tech's arsenal might be software.
While pen and paper has reined supreme for most of the time of the field has been in existence, HVAC software that helps you track and schedule jobs, price out parts, create estimates, send invoices, and collect payments on the spot can take hours of your job times and improve cash flow immeasurably.
You already know how to do the work, so why not let software do the paperwork part more efficiently for you?
Click here to start a 14-day free trial of FieldPulse’s All-in-One HVAC software.