The career opportunities for HVAC technicians and contractors are high in states such as California, where the demand for climate control systems continues to rise. If you are looking to learn how to get an HVAC license in California, this guide provides everything you need to know about the experience, education, and California HVAC license requirements. The first step in obtaining your HVAC license in California is to assess your current level of experience and take the next steps.
Who Needs an HVAC License?
According to the California Contractors State License Board’s Description of Classification, anyone who “fabricates, installs, maintains, services and repairs” HVAC systems must have an HVAC contractor license. HVAC technicians do not need a license to gain experience working under an HVAC contractor. However, technicians cannot install or work on HVAC systems independent of a licensed contractor. A registered HVAC contractor has completed all the licensing requirements mandated by the state and obtained a license through the CSLB.
HVAC License Types in California
The C-20 Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Contractor license is a specialty contractor classification awarded to individuals who complete all the licensing requirements. HVAC contractors are also required to obtain the EPA license issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The NATE license issued by North American Technical Excellence is an optional license available to technicians and contractors.
As dictated by the Clean Air Act, Section 608, the EPA license proves that the contractor has trained to work with any equipment that could potentially release refrigerants, a hazard for the ozone layer. Once you pass the EPA-approved exam, there are four types of licenses you can obtain:
- Type I allows work on small appliances.
- Type II allows servicing or disposing of high-pressure equipment.
- Type III allows servicing or disposing of low-pressure equipment.
- Type IV is a universal license that covers the service and disposal of all types of appliances.
The NATE license requires passing an exam designed to test your knowledge of certain HVAC appliances and industrial equipment. Technicians with a NATE license often receive higher pay.
California HVAC License Requirements
To receive a California HVAC license, you are required to:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a Social Security number or ITIN
- Have four years of experience working as a journeyman, foreperson, or supervising employee within the last 10 years
- Submit your application for the license
- Pass the trade exam
- Pass the California Law and Business exam
- Pass the asbestos exam (open book)
- Provide a contractor bond
- Meet the insurance requirements
- Pass a background check
Any work done as an apprentice or trainee does not count toward the four years of the experience requirement. However, an education credit can count as three of the four required years.
Contractor’s Bond Requirements for an HVAC License California
The contractor’s bond is a requirement for the HVAC license. This entails:
- A $15,000 bond on file with the CSLB
- A $12,500 qualifying individual’s bond filed for all qualifying contractors in your business
- The LLC licenses requirement of an additional $100,000 employee bond on file with CSLB for the benefit of your workers
You will need to register your business as an LLC before you can complete the requirements.
Insurance Requirements for an HVAC License California
The type of insurance that you need depends on the nature of your business. Commonly held types are:
- Workers’ compensation insurance
- General liability insurance
- Tools and equipment insurance
- Commercial auto insurance
- Commercial property insurance
Workers’ compensation is always required if you have a company with employees, and general liability insurance coverage between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000 is required if you have a registered LLC. The rest depend on the type of equipment you possess.
Use the tool below to request a free commercial insurance quote from our partners.
California HVAC Licensing and Registration Fees
At the time of this writing, the HVAC licensing fee is $450.
The required background check will also cost about $50 combined for the fingerprinting and the FBI processing fee.
The highest cost associated with the licensure process is the cost of school tuition. To know the exact education costs, contact your chosen institution for pricing. On the lower end, programs typically cost between $500 to $1,000. For a more prestigious institution, you can expect tuition up to $30,000.
California HVAC License Education Requirements and Exam
An education credit can be used in place of three out of the four required years of experience needed to obtain an HVAC license in California. You can obtain that credit through a technical or vocational training program or a qualified college. Once you complete the education and experience requirements, you qualify to complete the licensing exam.
HVAC License Exam Details
The HVAC license exam is broken down into four components:
- Evaluation, design, and estimation cover 26% of the exam and include the topics of job cost estimation, system design, system evaluation, load and psychrometric calculations, and duct system layout.
- Fabrication, installation, and startup cover 27% of the exam and includes the topics of HVAC system startup, duct system fabrication and air distribution, equipment installation, and components of electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and refrigeration.
- Troubleshooting, repair, and maintenance cover 22% of the exam and include the topics of diagnostic testing and evaluation and system maintenance and repair.
- Safety covers 25% of the exam and includes the topics of personal protective equipment, hazardous materials, and Cal/OSHA requirements.
The exam is closed-book and takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete. It is multiple-choice, and some questions require mathematical calculations.
HVAC Examination Locations
The following cities have examination centers:
- San Bernardino
- San Jose
- San Diego
Once your application has been processed, you will be notified that you are eligible to take the exam. The city closest to your residential ZIP code determines your testing location.
HVAC Training Schools in California
Several schools in California offer HVAC training. Here is a comprehensive list of programs:
- Riverside City College, Riverside, CA (951) 222-8000
- Cypress College, Cypress, CA (714) 484-7000
- Sacramento City College, Sacramento (916) 558-2111
- Long Beach City College, Long Beach, CA (562) 938-3066
- Fresno City College, Fresno, CA (559) 442-8200
- Antelope Valley College, Palmdale, CA (661) 722-6300
- San Diego City College, San Diego, CA (619) 388-3400
- City College of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA (415) 452-4729
- Mayfield College, Cathedral City (760) 328-5554
- Brownson Technical School, Anaheim, CA (714) 774-9443
Standard course topics include HVAC laws and regulations, work safety, principles of heat transfer and refrigeration, HVAC systems design, gas heating, electric heating, energy management, and electrical technology.
Great HVAC training can be found both in-person and online. Use our tool below to find additional programs near you.
California HVAC License Application
In California, you must apply for an Original Contractors License with a C-20 specialty. The application is accessible online through the Contractors State License Board. Follow these simple steps:
- Complete the Application for Original Contractor License form and follow the instructions closely.
- Choose the C-20 classification in Box 2.
- Sign and complete the form in its entirety.
- Complete the Certification of Work Experience form to prove your four years of experience.
Fee payments must be made by mail to the address listed on the website. In Sacramento, you may also make these payments in person at the CSLB office.
Registration and Permitting Requirements
California requires a building permit for the following HVAC projects:
- HVAC installation
- Replacing or adding ducting that is more than 40 ft.
- Replacing a furnace, condenser, coil, or FAU
- Changing out an HVAC unit
- Relocating existing HVAC systems
The permit is provided by the city or county and is typically pulled by the contractor.
HVAC Registered Contractor Requirements in California
To keep an active state-issued license, California requires renewal every two years. If you renew your license on time, the fee is $450. Late renewal charges an additional fee of $225. Renewal payments can be made online through the CSLB website.
This guide should give you a comprehensive understanding of how to get an HVAC license in California. Once you submit your application and receive exam notification, you have 18 months to complete it with a passing grade of no less than 72% to meet all the California HVAC license requirements. You can search the CSLB website for proof of your registered HVAC license in California.
California HVAC Licensing FAQ
How Long Is My License Valid?
Your California HVAC license will be valid for 2-4 years, depending on which type and class of license you possess.
Can I Use My License in the Other States?
At the time of this writing, California has reciprocity agreements with Arizona and Nevada.
Who Can I Contact If I Have Questions?
For more information, please contact the Contractor’s State License Board.
For More License and Career Guides
To find out how to become an HVAC-R technician in another state, start here.
For information on other trades in California, click on a link below to learn more about the licensing requirements: