HVAC/R Certification Essentials
The HVAC/R industry is booming. All across the country, wherever people cool down or warm up, HVAC/R technicians are needed. There is the potential for unlimited growth and success for HVAC/R technicians, as long as they are willing to apply themselves and keep themselves competitive in the market. How can technicians keep themselves competitive? And why do they need to?
The ‘why’ is simple: while the HVAC/R industry is growing nation-wide, individual technicians still compete for work within their areas. The more training, experience, and certifications a technician has, the more likely customers are to choose them for HVAC/R needs.
And here we’ve answered the ‘how.’ Earning industry certifications is the most immediate and important way in which HVAC/R technicians can keep themselves competitive and see more success. ETI offers HVAC/R program graduates testing for EPA Section 608 Universal Certification and the R-410A, which are the most basic and required certifications. Other certifications are available through ETI, and even more within external HVAC/R trade associations. Skill prowess, credibility and a competitive edge are what technicians receive when they earn certifications. Today, we’ll look into three certifications, one required and two voluntary, to give HVAC/R the competitive edge.
EPA Section 608 Universal Certification and R-410A Certification
Under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA requires “technicians who maintain, service, repair, or dispose of equipment that could release ozone depleting refrigerants into the atmosphere must be certified.” This is a mandatory certification that every HVAC/R technician must have to work in the field. The 608 Certification does not expire and allows technicians to practice as long as they choose. The EPA additionally defines who is considered a technician, which is anyone who performs the following tasks:
- Attaching and detaching hoses and gauges to and from an appliance to measure pressure within the appliance.
- Adding refrigerant to or removing refrigerant from an appliance.
- Any other activity that violates the integrity of a motor vehicle air conditioner (MVAC)-like appliance or small appliance (other than disposal).
To cover all types of HVAC/R work, the EPA has developed four distinct types of certification for which technicians can test for:
- For servicing small appliances (Type I).
- For servicing or disposing of high- or very high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and MVACs (Type II).
- For servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances (Type III).
- For servicing all types of equipment (Universal).
No matter which specific services technicians wish to undertake, 608 Universal Certification is absolutely necessary to practice HVAC/R repair and maintenance.
Now that the necessary basics are covered, we can move on to voluntary certifications, which can boost your HCAV/R career like nothing else.
NATE stands for North American Technical Excellence, and that’s just what it means for those who hold the certification – technical excellence. A NATE certification signifies competency in specific knowledge areas. There are two general types of NATE certifications: entry-level and professional. There are two specific certificates for entry-level or early career technicians:
- Ready-to-Work – an online exam for those who are just entering the HVAC industry with no formal education or training
- HVAC Support Technician – tests fundamental skills for those who have worked in HVAC for 6-12 months
For professional HVAC/R technicians with two or more years of field experience, NATE offers even more specialty certifications in the form of KATEs, Knowledge Areas of Technical Expertise. According to NATE, “The KATEs divide the certification process into tests for installation, service and senior-level technicians. The tests recognize different levels of experience and knowledge, and because you decide which tests to take, you can tailor your NATE certification to your interests, and skill level.”
For full NATE certification, technicians have to pass the Core Exam and one Specialty Exam. In choosing which specialty exam, NATE offers three different tracks: Installation, Service and Senior. NATE breaks down the three tracks as follows:
- Senior Certification
NATE certification is recognized industry-wide, and certified technicians are especially appealing to employers. ETI does not offer NATE testing through our program, but rest assured ETI students gain the applicable knowledge and skills to take the NATE certification exams.
R410-A Certification refers to a specific type of refrigerant used commonly in refrigeration and air conditioning units. According to the EPA, Refrigerant 410-A is “a near azeotropic refrigerant, meaning that while it is a non-azeotrope refrigerant it exhibits a very low temperature glide during evaporation or condensation, making it behave very nearly like an azeotropic refrigerant.” This basically means that R410-A is a higher-pressure refrigerant than most other types, and so is significantly more dangerous to work with. Which is also why getting trained and certified in R410-A is a wise decision when going into the HVAC/R industry.
HVAC/R technicians are not required to hold a R410-A Certification in order to work with the volatile refrigerant, but it’s certainly a smart career choice. Working with R410-A requires using different tools, lubricant, and methods than standard refrigerant like R-22. While R410-A training is covered in Section 608 certification courses, and is a part of ETI’s HVAC/R program curriculum, a R410-A Certification course will help technicians become more familiar and comfortable, which has clear benefits. Firstly, it’s obviously a positive thing to have a comprehensive knowledge of the different types of refrigerant. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, earning R410-A Certification signifies your competency and depth of knowledge to employers and customers alike, giving a competitive edge to any HVAC/R technician.
Keep in mind that while the Section 608 Certification is required and NATE certification and R410-A Certification are voluntary (but recommended), these are only three of the many various certifications a HVAC/R tech can earn. There is a plethora of industry associations that also offer certifications of varying kinds for various specialties. The more certifications a technician has, the more valuable they are in the employment market and, if done properly, the better their skills become. And that all starts at ETI. Every ETI graduate is able to earn EPA Section 608 Certification, starting their careers off with a competitive edge. From there, there’s no limit to how far you can go.