Employment in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration over the next ten years is expected to grow at an average rate of around 4% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coupled with the emergence of the alternative energy sector that’ll also need technicians, this is becoming an optimistic field for new job prospects. But if you’re looking to stand out as a future job candidate, what preparations can you take to best help you do so?
HVAC Certifications are a great way to prove to future employers that you have an established knowledge bank in the subject matter you’re applying for and can help you stick out in a candidate pool. One that is universally recognized in the HVAC industry is called the NATE Certification, which stands for North American Technical Excellence Certification. Below is all the information you’ll need to understand the basics of the NATE Certification.
What Does NATE Offer?
NATE, the organization, does a very good job at laying out their offerings on their website. For technicians, they’ve laid out a four step process that will take you from an entry-level employee to a subject matter expert in HVAC.
The Ready-to-Work Certificate
This is NATE’s entry-level exam. It’s designed for technicians just entering the HVAC field who have little to no experience or background knowledge. The exam covers information regarding the basic fundamentals of the HVAC industry. They suggest you should have anywhere from zero to six months of experience in HVAC when taking this exam. Also note, passing this is not the “NATE Certificate”, but a certificate they endorse as a technician starts their training.
The HVAC Support Technician Certificate
This is the second step in the recommended four step process. Passing this exam and gaining the HVAC Support Technician Certificate shows an understanding of topics that’ll be covered in the professional level certification, but at a more fundamental level. NATE suggests that you have about six months to a year of experience in the HVAC industry prior to taking this exam.
NATE’s “NATE Certification” is recommended for technicians who have worked in HVAC for two or more years. This is the organization’s main certification and at the completion of this, you’ll receive a certificate, a wallet card, and a patch, along with your information stored in their internal bank for contractors to look up and confirm your completion as well.
There are now two ways you can earn your certification. The first is the traditional way, which includes a core exam and a specialty exam in your field of choosing. The second way is to complete NATE’s Certified HVAC Professional exams.
Traditional Core and Specialty Exam
This pathway to certification includes two exams. The first you will need to complete is the core exam, in which you are given 1.5 hours to compete and contains a total of 50 questions. These questions are in the areas of general knowledge, construction knowledge, and HVAC specific knowledge related to the following:
- Basic Construction
- Using Basic Science
- Achieving Desired Conditions
- Taking Temperature and Humidity Measurements
- Basic Electrical
The second exam you’ll need to take is one of the Specialty exams. These exams are broken into two groups, installation specialties and service specialties and you choose the specialty exam that you’d like to be certified in. This is a bit longer than the core exam, you will have 2.5 hours to complete 100 questions pertaining to the specialty you’ve selected.
Installation Specialties Offered:
- Air Conditioning
- Air Distribution
- Air to Air Heat Pump
- Gas Heating (Air)
Service Specialties Offered:
- Air Conditioning
- Air Conditioning - Spanish
- Air Distribution
- Commercial Refrigeration
- Heat Pump (Air to Air)
- Heat Pump (Air to Air) - Spanish
- Gas Heating (Air)
- Gas Heating (Air) - Spanish
- Hydronics Gas
- Hydronics Oil
- Light Commercial Refrigeration
- Oil Heating (Air)
Certified HVAC Professional (CHP-5)
The Certified HVAC Professional (CHP-5) is an alternative route to gaining your NATE Certification. This includes the completion of five, 30 question exams, each in one of their five main subject domains:
- HVAC Fundamentals
- Electrical and Controls
- Comfort and Airflow
You can choose which order you’d like to complete these exams, and it’s recommended that you line them up with your current job training in an attempt to best couple work with study. You are also permitted up to six months between each exam to prepare.
Senior Level HVAC Efficiency Certification
As the final step in the four step process, you can take the Senior Level HVAC Efficiency Exam. This exam is recommended for HVAC professionals with five or more years of experience. This exam tests your knowledge of the installation, service, maintenance, and repair of HVAC system operations to maintain high levels of energy efficiency. To sit for this exam, a technician must already hold two certifications from the Service Specialties offered by NATE. This exam has a four hour time limit to complete 100 questions.
Preparing and Taking the Exams
The official NATE Online Store is a good place to start when it comes to preparing and studying material. They offer their official study guides for several of the exams and additional practice exams can be found online as well.
Live Online Proctoring (LOP)
NATE offers Live Online Proctoring (LOP) for a majority of their exams. This process includes making an account on their site, logging in, purchasing the exam you are looking to take, and following their instructions for scheduling your exam. For a full list of information and FAQs, you can check out their website here.
Available LOP Exams and Exam Prices (in US Dollars):
- HVAC Support Technician: $97
- HVAC Support Technician - Spanish: $97
- CORE: $136
- CORE - Spanish: $136
- AC Installation: $146
- AC Service: $146
- AC Service - Spanish: $146
- Air Distribution Installation: $146
- Air Distribution Service: $146
- Air to Air Heat Pump Installation: $146
- Air to Air Heat Pump Service: $146
- Air to Air Heat Pump Service - Spanish: $146
- Commercial Refrigeration Service: $146
- Gas Heating (Air) Installation: $146
- Gas Heating (Air) Service: $146
- Gas Heating (Air) Service - Spanish: $146
- Hydronics Gas Service: $146
- Hydronics Oil Service: $146
- Light Commercial Refrigeration Service: $146
- Oil Heating (Air) Service: $146
- Senior Level Efficiency Analyst: $209 (Prerequisites required to sit for this exam)
Finding a Testing Location
If an online test isn’t your preferred method, NATE also has a useful tool to locate testing organizations near you. Follow this link and input your zip code to see a list of official testing locations and their contact information.
NATE Recertification Requirements
Your NATE Certification will need to be renewed every two years. There are two ways for a technician to complete this task. First, you can complete 16 hours of continuing education during the two year period and pay a recertification fee. The second option is to retake the specialty exam that you originally took prior to the two year expiration date. For further clarification of recertification, you can check NATE’s FAQ page on the matter as well.