Common Questions About HVAC Technicians in Virginia
Most of us take for granted the fact that no matter what the weather is like outside, we can step inside a building and be perfectly comfortable. That's largely due to the work of HVAC professionals. They're experts at maintaining the systems that keep indoor conditions pleasant. With the training you can get at an HVAC school in Virginia, you can develop a solid foundation of relevant technical skills to help you become one of those professionals and succeed in this vital trade.
Read on to get answers to four of the most common questions about the HVAC profession in this state:
1. How Do I Get Into This Trade?
Trade schools, vocational colleges, and technical institutes throughout Virginia offer hands-on HVAC training programs where you can learn the essential skills related to installing, maintaining, and repairing complex heating and cooling systems. You can choose a program that awards a certificate (which can be completed in less than a year), a diploma (which takes about a year) or an associate degree (which generally takes about two years). Once you complete your program, you can pursue entry-level work that will allow you to gain the experience required for your journeyman license.
An alternative option is to go directly into an apprenticeship, which lasts for four years and features a mix of paid on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. HVAC apprenticeships in Virginia are offered by unions and individual employers, which act as sponsors. Keep in mind that it can be much easier to convince a sponsor to take you on as an apprentice if you complete formal training at a vocational college or trade school first.
2. What Are the Licensing and Certification Requirements?
Federal law stipulates that all HVAC professionals who work with freon- or ammonia-based refrigerants (found in most residential and commercial systems) must be certified in their proper handling. The credential is known as EPA Section 608 certification. Most technical and trade schools prepare their students to take the 608 certification exam; some even include it as part of their curriculum.
In Virginia, all HVAC technicians who wish to work independently must be licensed. That means you need to meet educational and experience requirements and pass an exam. You must get approval from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation before beginning the licensing process. In order to qualify to take the journeyman licensing exam, you need:
- One year of practical work experience and a bachelor's degree in an HVAC-related field such as mechanical engineering; OR
- Two years of practical work experience and an associate degree from a two-year vocational program; OR
- Four years of practical work experience and 240 hours of vocational training; OR
- Five years of practical work experience and 160 hours of vocational training; OR
- Six years of practical work experience and 80 hours of vocational training; OR
- 10 years of practical work experience
The exam itself is comprised of 85 questions related to piping, ducts, chimneys, insulation, fire safety, and more. You have 210 minutes to complete it. A passing grade is 60 percent.
Licenses must be renewed every two years. You will need to complete three hours of continuing education credits for renewal.
After at least one year of experience as a licensed journeyman, you can apply to take the exam for a master's HVAC license. In practice, most people wait until they have several years of experience before advancing to the master's level.
If you want to run your own business, you must become a contractor. You'll need a master's license and at least two years of experience first. Virginia has three classes of contractor licenses: A, B, and C. The monetary value of the projects you plan to undertake determines which class of license you should apply for:
- Class C is for projects with values up to $10,000; it requires two years of experience.
- Class B is for projects in the $10,000 to $120,000 range; it requires three years of experience.
- Class A is valid for any size of project; it requires five years of experience.
For all three classes, you must complete a pre-licensing business course and pass a series of exams. Note that contractor licenses are granted to business entities as opposed to individuals. But you can designate one person who meets the experience requirements to take the course and exams on behalf of the business.
3. How Much Could I Earn?
HVAC mechanics and installers in Virginia made a median annual wage of $49,970 as of May 2018. That was slightly higher than the national median of $47,610. And keep in mind that those are median wages, so half of the people in this trade actually made more.1
Earnings can be even higher depending on which part of the state you live in. For instance, HVAC mechanics and installers in the Lynchburg metro area earned a median annual wage of $49,903. Those in the Richmond area had median earnings of $50,837. And those in the Virginia part of the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area had a median annual income of $58,667.2
4. What Is the Outlook for the HVAC Trade in Virginia?
HVAC technicians throughout the state can find lots of opportunities. With 12,690 people working in this profession, Virginia has the fourth-highest concentration of HVAC jobs in the country.1 And employment in this field is projected to grow by more than 11 percent over the decade between 2016 and 2026. A total of 1,369 HVAC jobs should become available in Virginia during that time frame.2
Get Started Today
You have the power to create a more fulfilling future. Why not begin right now by checking out the Virginia HVAC training schools listed above? Or simply type your zip code into the school finder below to generate a list of training options in your area of the state!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on July 16, 2019.
2 Virginia Employment Commission, website last visited on November 25, 2019.