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

Birmingham Alabama home air conditioning condensersNow that you have decided on a career as a heating and cooling technician, the next step is to find an HVAC vocational school near Birmingham AL. But with so many to pick from, how do you select the ideal one to receive the training that you require? A number of potential students will make their selection based solely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their home. Even though these are significant factors to consider, they are not the only ones to investigate. Just some of the other things that you need to research are the graduation rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. Those and other criteria will be covered 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 a/c contractor does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor

Birmingham Alabama HVAC Contractor fixing air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is widely used in the industry that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC professionals specialize in the installation, repair and maintenance of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are commonly mandated to be licensed, though every state and local municipality has its own criteria. Attaining professional certification is not compulsory, but an optional means for Birmingham AL HVAC technicians to prove that they are exceptionally skilled and experienced in their area of specialization. There are multiple respected certifications within the trade that are offered. Following are some of the important ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally recognized certification for HVAC technicians. The certification is earned by passing a proficiency exam and can 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 three years of experience in addition to a passing result on the professional level examination. As with NATE, certifications are offered in several specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is required for technicians that work with refrigerants. There are three types of certification obtainable, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing might be mandated in your area, and you may also wish to acquire certification, it's essential that you choose an HVAC vocational school that will train you for both. And since you will probably be dealing with refrigerants, make certain that the program you choose readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 exams.

HVAC Degree and Certificate Schools

Birmingham Alabama residential heating pump

There are a variety of options available for HVAC training 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 amount of time, usually achieved in as little as 6 months, however some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for most HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification appropriate to the position. The degree training programs may provide a competitive advantage for securing employment and will deliver more extensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a short explanation of each option offered near Birmingham AL.

  • Certificate. Normally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level commercial or residential HVAC technicians. They provide a solid foundation of skills for job opportunities within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more detailed background of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Generally taking 2 years to complete, some degrees include an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is tailored more for a career in management or even business ownership. Some programs call for an Associate Degree, while others are a standard 4 year program. In addition to mastering how to service and maintain heating and cooling systems, you will also learn how to design them.

Selecting the appropriate credential program will be based on what your future career objectives are, in addition to the time and money that you have to invest. One approach is to start with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the field in Birmingham AL, later going back to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your strategy, make certain to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Online Classes

Choosing an HVAC program online is one option in attaining your training and earning a degree or certificate. Almost all schools will require some attendance on campus to take part in practical training. Some also provide 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 option may be a more practical solution for many Birmingham AL students that are pressed for time. And a number of online degree programs are cheaper than other traditional alternatives. Even commuting expenses from Birmingham and study materials may be lessened, helping to make education more affordable. And numerous 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, maybe an online HVAC degree program will make it easier to accommodate school into your active schedule.

Questions For HVAC Schools

Birmingham Alabama Heating and Cooling contractor installing water heater

After you have picked the type of degree or certificate that you would like to attain, either on campus or online, you can begin to narrow down your list of schools. As you are probably aware, there are many HVAC vocational schools in the Birmingham AL area and all over the Country to choose from. That's why it is imperative to have a list of important qualifications when making school comparisons. As formerly stated in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will most likely be the initial two factors you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you should investigate before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Numerous HVAC technical programs in the Birmingham AL area have received either a regional or a national accreditation. They can acquire Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to a specific program, for example HVAC technology. Make sure that the school is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization, which includes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping guarantee that you receive a quality education, it can assist in securing financial assistance or student loans, which are in many cases unavailable for non-accredited schools. Furthermore, many states require that the HVAC training course be accredited for it to be approved for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the HVAC schools you are looking at what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage of students who enroll in and finish the course. A low completion rate may indicate that students were disappointed with the course and dropped out. It may also signify that the instructors were not competent to train the students. It's also important that the schools have higher job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader list of graduates, which may mean more contacts for the school to employ for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate can not only validate that the school has a good reputation within the industry, but additionally that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to help students secure apprenticeships or employment.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Many HVAC vocational programs are taught along with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating trade and technical schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of Heating and Cooling contractors or labor unions. Find out if the schools you are comparing have working partnerships with local Birmingham AL HVAC companies. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by providing practical training, but it also supplies employment opportunities and helps to form 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 presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC specialist you are working with regarding what you should be looking for. If not, ask a local Birmingham AL HVAC contractor if they can provide some suggestions. Additionally keep in mind that unless you are able to relocate, the school needs to be within driving distance of your Birmingham AL home. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there can be higher tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's desirable that you get as much one-on-one instruction as possible, which can be difficult in larger classes. Ask if you can monitor a couple of the classes so that you can observe how big they are and witness first hand the interaction between students and instructors. Talk with several of the students and get their opinions relating to class sizes and instruction. Last, talk with a few of the teachers and learn what their level of experience is and what certifications or degrees they hold.

Flexible Scheduling.  Make sure that the class schedules for the programs you are assessing are flexible enough to fulfill your needs. If you are only able to attend classes at night or on weekends near Birmingham AL, check that the schools you are comparing offer those options. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Additionally, find out what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, illness or family responsibilities.

Learn More About Birmingham Heating and Cooling Courses Near You

Earn Your Heating and Cooling Degree and Certification

Selecting the right HVAC school program is an important beginning toward a fulfilling career in the heating and air conditioning industry. As we have covered in this article, you should select a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have exceptional reputations within the HVAC profession. Other factors to look for are sufficient hands-on training and state-of-the-art facilities. You should go to each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to explore the campus and talk with both the current students and faculty. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. In addition, ask about scheduling choices and whether or not evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And remember to inquire about financial aid and student loan options also. If you ask the right questions as we have detailed in our guidelines for comparing schools, you'll be able to filter your options so that you can make an informed decision. With the proper training, hard work and dedication, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC contractor in Birmingham AL.