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How to Pick the Right Heating and Cooling Certification Class near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama residential air conditioning condensersOnce you have decided on a career as a heating and air conditioning specialist, the next step is to find an HVAC trade school near Birmingham AL. But with so many to select from, how do you decide on the ideal one to obtain the training that you need? Some future students will make their choice based entirely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. While these are significant factors to consider, they are not the only ones to take into account. Some of the other details that you need to look into are the graduation completion rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. Those and other benchmarks will be discussed in more detail later within this article. But before we examine how to pick an HVAC training program, let's look at what a heating and air conditioning technician does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Tech

Birmingham Alabama Heating and Cooling Tech fixing A/C condenserHVAC is an acronym that is frequently used in the business that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC contractors specialize in the installation, repair and maintenance of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As skilled tradesmen, they are commonly mandated to be licensed, however each state and local municipality has its own requirements. Attaining professional certification is not compulsory, but an alternative means for Birmingham AL HVAC technicians to demonstrate that they are exceptionally qualified and experienced in their area of specialization. There are many respected certifications within the field that are offered. Here are a few of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally recognized certification for HVAC techs. The certification is achieved by passing a competency exam and may be acquired in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two years of field experience together with passing a comprehensive examination are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have 3 years of experience along with a passing score on the professional level examination. As with NATE, certifications are provided in multiple specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for specialists that work with refrigerants. There are three forms of certification obtainable, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Because licensing might be required in your area, and you may also desire to obtain certification, it's essential that you enroll in an HVAC vocational school that will prepare you for both. And since you will more than likely be dealing with refrigerants, make certain that the school you choose readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Degree and Certificate Schools

Birmingham Alabama residential heating pump

There are a number of alternatives offered for HVAC instruction in a technical or trade school. You can earn a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the minimum period of time, usually accomplished in as little as 6 months, although some programs are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification related to the position. The degree training programs can provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will provide more extensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a short explanation of each option offered near Birmingham AL.

  • Certificate. Generally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level commercial or residential HVAC specialists. They furnish a strong foundation of skills for employment within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more extensive knowledge of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Usually requiring two years to finish, some degrees include an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is geared more towards a career in management as well as business ownership. Some programs call for an Associate Degree, while others are a standard four year program. In addition to learning how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also study how to design them.

Selecting the appropriate credential program will be dependent on what your future career aspirations are, together with the time and money that you have to commit. One possibility is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after gaining some experience in the field in Birmingham AL, subsequently going back to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, make certain to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Online Courses

Enrolling in an HVAC school online is one approach to getting your training and receiving a certificate or degree. Most schools will require some attendance on campus to complete practical training. Many also offer internship or work-study programs in addition to or in place of practical lab work. But since the balance of the classes can be participated in via the internet, this approach may be a more convenient solution for some Birmingham AL students that are pressed for time. And a number of online degree programs are less costly than other on campus alternatives. Even travelling expenses from Birmingham and study materials can be lessened, helping to make schooling more budget-friendly. And a large number of online programs are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family commitments have left you with limited time to attend classes, perhaps an HVAC online training program will make it less complicated to accommodate school into your hectic schedule.

Questions to Ask HVAC Certification Classes

Birmingham Alabama HVAC tech installing water heater

As soon as you have decided on the type of degree or certificate that you desire to attain, either on campus or online, you can begin to decrease your list of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are a large number of HVAC technical schools in the Birmingham AL area and throughout the United States to select from. That's why it is imperative to have a list of important qualifications when making school assessments. As previously mentioned in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will probably be the initial 2 variables you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you should research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Numerous HVAC technical schools in the Birmingham AL area have attained either a regional or a national accreditation. They can earn Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to a specific program, for instance HVAC technology. Make sure that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping ensure that you get a superior education, it can assist in acquiring financial aid or student loans, which are in many cases not available for non-accredited programs. Furthermore, some states mandate that the HVAC training course be accredited in order to be approved for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Cooling schools you are looking at what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the portion or percentage of students who enroll in and complete the program. A low completion rate might suggest that students were disappointed with the program and quit. It might also signify that the instructors were not qualified to train the students. It's similarly essential that the schools have high job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader list of graduates, which may produce more contacts for the school to utilize for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate will not only confirm that the school has a good reputation within the field, but also that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to assist graduates obtain apprenticeships or employment.

Apprenticeship Programs.  A large number of HVAC vocational programs are taught in conjunction with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating technical and vocational schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of Heating and Cooling companies or trade unions. Check if the schools you are reviewing have referring relationships with local Birmingham AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only offers a rewarding experience by furnishing hands-on training, but it also furnishes employment opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the local HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Confirm that the campus facilities and the equipment that you will be instructed on are up-to-date and what you will be working with in the field. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC technician you are working under regarding what you should be expecting. Otherwise, ask a local Birmingham AL HVAC contractor if they can provide some tips. Additionally keep in mind that unless you are able to move, the school must be within driving distance of your Birmingham AL residence. Remember that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there can be increased tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you get as much personalized instruction as possible, which can be difficult in larger classes. Ask if you can sit in on a couple of the classes so that you can see how big they are and experience the interaction between teachers and students. Speak to a few of the students and get their comments relating to class sizes and instruction. Finally, speak with some of the instructors and learn what their level of experience is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Make sure that the class schedules for the schools you are evaluating are flexible enough to handle your needs. If you can only go to classes at night or on weekends near Birmingham AL, verify that the schools you are looking at offer those options. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Also, ask what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, illness or family responsibilities.

Learn More About Birmingham HVAC Training Classes Near You

Earn Your HVAC Degree and Certification

Finding the ideal HVAC school course is a critical beginning toward a fulfilling career in the heating and cooling trade. As we have addressed in this article, you need to choose a Heating and Cooling training program and a certificate or degree program that are both accredited and have outstanding reputations within the HVAC community. Other factors to look for are lots of practical training and modern facilities. You need to visit each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to explore the campus and talk with both the faculty and current students. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. In addition, ask about scheduling choices and if evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And remember to ask about financial assistance and student loan options as well. If you ask the appropriate questions as we have outlined in our guidelines for assessing schools, you'll be able to narrow down your options so that you can make an educated decision. With the appropriate training, hard work and commitment, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC contractor in Birmingham AL.