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How to get an HVAC License in California

From the Southern California sunshine to the Northern California breeze, hot and cold temperatures run rampant throughout the Golden State, making it a premier location for working as an HVAC contractor.

Whether it’s cooling down or warming up, HVAC jobs in California are projected to continue their upward trajectory, further cementing the state as the second highest in the US for the number of HVAC professionals.

If you’re thinking about starting your own heating and cooling business in California or becoming a California HVAC technician, the following steps will provide a quick and easy roadmap for securing your HVAC license.

1. California HVAC license requirements: Overview

If you want to legally perform work on air conditioning systems, heating systems, and refrigeration systems that exceed $500 in value, you’ll need to be working under a licensed contractor or obtain your own California state HVAC license. To do so, you’ll need to meet several requirements, all of which differ depending on the type of HVAC license you want to secure. The following are the general conditions you’ll need to fulfill before getting your licenses:

  • You’ll need to be at least 18 years of age.
  • You’ll need either a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • You’ll need to hit the work experience requirement of at least 4 years as a documented journeyman on jobs less than $500 or HVAC training work experience under the supervision of a licensed contractor.
  • You’ll need to obtain exam prep and study materials.
  • You’ll need to take and pass a licensing exam.
  • You’ll need to pay application fees.
  • You’ll need to pass an exam to receive your EPA Section 608 Certification.
  • You’ll need to pass a criminal background check that includes fingerprinting.

There’s no educational requirement for California HVAC installation technicians, though techs can substitute education experience for the mandated work experience for up to 3 years. Prospective HVAC technicians also need to apply for the Original Contractors License C-20 specialty, secure workers’ compensation insurance, and secure a contractor’s surety bond.

Ultimately, each license classification has its own unique requirements, so you’ll need to thoroughly understand what’s required before forging ahead with your licensing process procurement path.

2. What are the different types of HVAC certification in California?

In California, an HVAC license is known as the C-20 Warm Air Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning Contractor License. To obtain a California HVAC license, you’ll need to attend an HVAC education program and complete on-the-job training, or, you’ll need at least 4 years of journeyman work experience.

Once you have your license, two of the most common HVAC certifications are the EPA license and the NATE certification.

EPA License

After securing your California HVAC license, you’ll also need to secure a license from the Environmental Protection Agency—EPA—that helps ensure your business knows how to handle refrigerants properly. If you work with or handle materials that might release refrigerants into the atmosphere, you must be EPA certified.
There are four types of EPA licenses, all of which require passing an exam to secure them:

  • Type i—Small Appliance Servicing: For technicians servicing small appliances.
  • Type ii—Disposing of or Servicing High-Pressure Appliances: For technicians disposing of high-pressure appliances.
  • Type iii—Disposing of or Servicing Low-Pressure Appliances: For technicians disposing of low-pressure appliances.
  • Type iv—Universal License for Servicing Equipment: This is a universal license for technicians and contractors to service all types of appliances.

NATE Certification

While not a requirement to possess along with your HVAC license, being certified by North American Technical Excellence—NATE—can help you increase your salary by qualifying you for better-paying jobs. To secure your NATE certification, you’ll need to pass exams about HVAC equipment operation that will test your knowledge of the HVAC industry.

3. How to apply for an HVAC license in California

When applying for your California C-20 HVAC license, you’ll want to allow at least 4 years for the entire application process. There’s a 4-year minimum needed to accumulate the required amount of journeyman experience, which is necessary to qualify for the Original Contractors License Exam issued by the construction industry California Contractors State License Board.

Additional factors that will influence your HVAC license processing time are the type of license you’re applying for, how many other license applications the Contractors State License Board is processing, and if the board requests additional documentation from you.

The first step to applying for your California HVAC license can happen in one of two ways: You can either have 4 years of journeyman-level experience prior to the date of the HVAC Contractor exam or graduate from an approved vocational training program or college with at least 1 year of work in the field.

Approved California colleges and vocational training programs

You can meet your vocational training program or college requirement by enrolling in an HVAC program with any of the following programs or schools:

  • San Diego City College
  • Sacramento City College
  • Riverside City College
  • Mayfield College
  • Long Beach City College
  • Fresno City College
  • City College of San Francisco
  • Brownson Technical School
  • Antelope Valley College

The following are the other specific conditions are that you’ll need to meet to secure your California HVAC license:

  • Submit your California HVAC Contractors License application to the California State Licensing Board—CSLB.
  • Pay the application fee of $330.
  • Pass the exam for the Class C-20 License, which consists of passing both a law and business exam and an HVAC trade exam.
  • Pass the asbestos open-book exam.
  • Pay the HVAC license fee of $180.Complete a criminal background check and submit fingerprints.
  • Provide proof of contractor bond valued at a minimum of $15,000.

Exam centers are located in the following areas throughout California:

  • San Bernardino
  • Oxnard
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oakland
  • San Diego
  • Sacramento
  • Fresno

The key takeaway is that costs, application requirements, and timelines will vary depending on the license you’re applying for, so be sure to have a thorough understanding of the conditions and timeline before applying. Once you have passed the C-20 License exam, you will be awarded your licensure by the California State Licensing Board.

It’s also important to note that you’ll need to renew your California HVAC license every 2 years and pay a $450 renewal fee. Should you be late paying your renewal fee, you’ll be subject to an additional $225 late fee.

4. HVAC contractor license vs. HVAC business license in California

As you embark on your HVAC contractor license journey, it’s important to consider the difference between a contractor license and a California HVAC business license.

An HVAC contractor license allows you to legally perform the day-to-day operations of a heating and cooling professional who services HVAC systems. An HVAC business license is a license provided by the State of California that grants you the ability to perform your work in a specific area of the state or within a particular industry.

5. Getting HVAC insurance for your business

The last housekeeping item you’ll need to take care of before locking in your HVAC contractor license is securing proof of insurance coverage that meets the California HVAC insurance requirements for license holders as put forth by the California State License Board.

HVAC insurance keeps you and your HVAC services legally protected from the unexpected, which helps put your mind at ease knowing you can spend more time growing your business and less time navigating potential legal headaches. While there are many insurance options available to your company, the following are the types of insurance you’ll need to secure depending on your license type:

Congratulations! You’ve just learned how to obtain your HVAC contractor license in California! But before you start promoting your business across the Golden State, don’t forget to snag a quality business insurance policy to keep you, your assets, and the future of your HVAC business safe and secure.

For all things business insurance, Huckleberry has you covered. In less time than it takes to cook a steak, Huckleberry can provide you with many insurance quotes and policy options that will protect your HVAC business now and in the years to come.

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