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

Birmingham Alabama residential A/C condensersNow that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning specialist, the next step is to locate an HVAC trade school near Birmingham AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you pick the ideal one to get the training that you require? A number of prospective students will make their choice based exclusively on the price 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. 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 additional criteria will be addressed in more detail later in this article. But before we examine how to select an HVAC training program, let's look at what a heating and a/c specialist does to become a licensed professional tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Professional

Birmingham Alabama HVAC Contractor inspecting air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is commonly used in the business that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC techs specialize in the installation, maintenance and repair of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As skilled tradesmen, they are typically mandated to be licensed, though every state and regional municipality has its own prerequisites. Attaining professional certification is not required, but a voluntary means for Birmingham AL HVAC specialists to prove that they are exceptionally proficient and knowledgeable in their area of specialization. There are multiple acknowledged certifications within the industry that are offered. Here are a few of the important ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC techs. The certification is achieved by passing a competency examination and can be received in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. 2 years of field experience as well as passing a comprehensive exam are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have 3 years of experience in addition to a passing result on the professional level exam. Similar to NATE, certifications are made available in various specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for technicians that handle refrigerants. There are three types of certification available, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing could be mandated in your area, and you may also wish to earn certification, it's important that you select 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 program you choose preps you for passing the EPA Section 608 exams.

HVAC Certificate and Degree Training Programs

Birmingham Alabama residential heater

There are several choices available for HVAC training in a trade or technical school. You can earn a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the lesser amount of time, usually completed in just six months, though some programs are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification relevant to the position. The degree programs can provide a competitive advantage for securing employment and will deliver more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a brief explanation of each option offered near Birmingham AL.

  • Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are preferred among entry level residential or commercial HVAC professionals. They provide a strong foundation of skills for employment within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program supplies a more comprehensive background of heating and cooling systems than the certificate program. Usually taking two years to finish, a number of degrees include an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is suited 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 cooling systems, you will also learn how to design them.

Choosing the appropriate credential program will be based on what your future career aspirations are, along with the time and financial resources that you have to commit. One option is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the trade in Birmingham AL, subsequently returning to acquire a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, be sure to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Online Schools

Enrolling in an HVAC program online is one option in obtaining your education and earning a degree or certificate. Almost all schools will call for some attendance on campus to participate in practical training. Many also offer internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes may be participated in online, this approach may be a more accessible solution for many Birmingham AL students that are short on time. And some online degree programs are cheaper than other on campus alternatives. Even driving expenses from Birmingham and study supplies may be reduced, helping to make education more economical. And numerous online programs are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family obligations have left you with limited time to attend classes, maybe an online HVAC degree program will make it easier to accommodate school into your busy schedule.

What to Ask HVAC Training Classes

Birmingham Alabama HVAC technician installing water heater

After you have selected the type of certificate or degree that you desire to obtain, either on campus or online, you can begin to decrease your selection of schools. As you are probably aware, there are a large number of HVAC vocational schools in the Birmingham AL area and throughout the USA to pick from. That's why it is imperative to have a list of important qualifications when making school evaluations. As formerly mentioned in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will probably be the first 2 variables you will look at. Following are several additional ones that you need to explore before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Numerous HVAC vocational schools in the Birmingham AL area have attained either a regional or a national accreditation. They may attain Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to a specific program, such as HVAC technology. Make certain that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting agency, for instance the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping make certain that you receive a quality education, it may assist in securing financial aid or student loans, which are in many cases not available for non-accredited programs. Furthermore, many states require that the HVAC training program be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Cooling schools you are reviewing what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage or portion of students who enroll in and finish the program. A low completion rate may indicate that students were unhappy with the program and quit. It could also signify that the instructors were not competent to instruct the students. It's also important that the schools have high job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader list of alumni, 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 affirm that the school has a good reputation within the industry, but also that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to help grads obtain apprenticeships or employment.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Many HVAC training programs are taught along with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating vocational and technical programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of Heating and Cooling businesses or trade unions. Find out if the schools you are reviewing have referring relationships with local Birmingham AL HVAC professionals. An apprenticeship not only offers a rewarding experience by providing practical training, but it also supplies job opportunities and helps to build relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Confirm that the school facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are up-to-date and what you will be using on the job. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, consult with the HVAC specialist you are working under regarding what you should be expecting. If not, ask a local Birmingham AL HVAC contractor if they can give you some tips. Additionally bear in mind that unless you are able to relocate, the school must be within commuting distance of your Birmingham AL residence. Take note that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, besides the added moving costs there can be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you get as much personalized instruction as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can sit in on some of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and experience the interaction between students and instructors. Speak with a few of the students and get their comments relating to class sizes and instruction. Last, talk with some of the instructors and find out what their level of expertise is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Verify that the class schedules for the schools you are reviewing are flexible enough to meet your needs. If you can only attend classes in the evening or on weekends near Birmingham AL, check that the schools you are looking at provide those choices. If you can only attend part-time, make certain that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Finally, ask what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family issues.

Find Out More About Birmingham HVAC Courses In Your Area

Earn Your Heating and Cooling Certificate or Degree

Picking the right HVAC school program is an important first step toward a gratifying career in the heating & cooling industry. As we have discussed in this article, you should choose a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have exceptional reputations within the HVAC field. Other features to look for are plenty of hands-on training and modern facilities. You need to visit each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to explore the campus and speak with both the current students and faculty. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. Also, ask about scheduling options and whether or not night or weekend classes are offered if needed. And don't forget to inquire about financial assistance and student loan options as well. If you ask the right questions as we have detailed in our guidelines for assessing schools, you'll be able to narrow down your choices so that you can make an informed decision. With the proper training, hard work and dedication, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC specialist in Birmingham AL.