A Checklist to Start a New California HVAC Contractor Career

Have you been thinking about becoming a general contractor, but you’re not sure where to start? If you enjoy working with your hands and want to pursue a highly-demand career, an HVAC contractor may be the right move for you. Use this checklist to pursue your new career as an HVAC worker in the state of California.

Learn More About a Typical Workday

Before pursuing any new career, it’s always a good idea to do your due diligence and decide if it’s right for you. Consider what the typical workday of an HVAC contractor looks like and what you may like and dislike about it. It’s also a good idea to learn in what industries the license you’re considering allows you to work and if there are any reciprocity agreements. 

To become licensed in the state of California, you’ll need to complete an exam. Additionally, California has reciprocity agreements with Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, and Utah, meaning once you complete the exam, you can get licensed in these states once you complete all the other state requirements.

Work as an HVAC contractor can also branch out to other employment opportunities. Some contractors may choose to further their training later and acquire even more licenses. You might even start your own HVAC business or a company focusing on general residential home improvement.

Become an Apprentice

California requires you to have at least four years of HVAC experience within the last 10 years to become licensed. The great thing about taking an apprenticeship or entry-level position is that you can learn in a hands-on environment if you enjoy the career. You’ll need to work, at a minimum, as a journeyman for the work experience to count. 

Working as an apprentice also allows you to strengthen the skills you’ll need to be successful as an HVAC worker. Whether considering a career change or expanding upon your existing hands-on skills, an HVAC apprenticeship can teach you the skills you need to do well in the contractor industry.

Research Licensing Requirements

Each state has its own requirements for obtaining your HVAC license, so it’s important to know what it requires in the state where you live and plan to work. All 50 U.S. states require the successful completion of an exam to become licensed. 

However, many states have other requirements for HVAC licensing. For example, California requires contractor bonds, insurance, and proper business licensing. Having a good understanding of these requirements before starting your education can help speed up the licensing process. Writing down the requirements and then creating a timeline can help you stay on track for achieving your new career.

Sign Up for a Pre-Licensing Class

A pre-licensing class provides you with the information you need to do well on your California HVAC contractor license (C20) exam. Pre-licensing classes provide you with the study materials and information you can expect to be on the test. Some classes also connect you to expert instructors who have worked in the industry, which further improves your chances of successfully completing the exam on the first attempt.

California requires HVAC contractors to test on subjects like evaluation, design, and estimation. You can also expect test questions related to fabrication, installation, and startup. The test will also include a business law portion, which includes business organization and financial topics. You’ll need to do well on both to become a licensed HVAC contractor.

Take the Required Exam

Once you complete your pre-licensing class and allocate the appropriate time to study, it’s time to take the required exam. It’s important to note that California does require pre-approval before taking the exam. This means you need to submit an application to take the exam. Failing to do so could result in you having to retake the test again. California requires you to obtain at least a 70% on your exam. All testing is done in person at an approved location.

Get Your Paperwork in Order and Apply

After completing your exam, you can apply for your HVAC license. Before applying, you’ll need to show proof of at least a $15,000 bond, as well as a minimum of $100,000 in employee/worker bonds. California also requires all businesses to have workers’ compensation to protect their workers. Finally, you’ll need sufficient insurance if you register your business as an LLC in California. The specific amount required depends on if you plan to hire employees for your business and how many.

The good news about this requirement is that it ensures your business is structured and filed appropriately before receiving your license. This means that by the time you receive your HVAC license in the mail, you’ll be ready to start working. You will have to keep up with license renewal, but California currently doesn’t require HVAC contractors to complete any continuing education requirements.

California HVAC contractors are highly in demand, making it an excellent career to consider this year. You’ll need to gain field experience and prep for your exam, but once you do, you’re well on your way to working as a licensed HVAC contractor. Following licensure and certification, you can also branch out and start your own HVAC business.