Getting certified is an essential step in not only becoming an HVAC technician, but more importantly, improving your professional level and getting a salary increase. Some of them actually  make sense in real life and will help you become a more knowledgeable professional. 

However, not all certifications are required or worth your time. In the guide below we cover all of the most of the popular HVAC certifications.

Types of HVAC Certifications

As of now, there’s only one mandatory certification required by local authorities – EPA 608. All additional certifications, like NATE, for example, are not required by government, but we strongly advise to get one since more and more employers want you to have one. If you’re employed already, getting a certification can help you getting a better paycheck. Below is our list of most (if not all) available certifications for HVAC, AC or refrigeration technicians:


Environmental Protection Agency requires that all technicians who work with refrigeration equipment get their certification. Thus, it's the only certification required by law. All others are nice-to-have (believe us, it's a really good sign for your potential employer if you're NATE-certified, for example). EPA has two types of certifications - 608 and 609. The first one is for those techs who plan to work with residential and commercial equipment. The latter, 609, is for those working with automotive systems. Please read more about both of them below:

EPA 608

This is the type of certificate required for professionals working with stationery equipment (both in commercial and residential settings). There four different types of certificates within Section 608 itself, here's how they differ:

Type I

Type II

Type III



Servicing small appliances such as vending machines, air conditioners, and domestic refrigerators.

High, medium and very-high pressures, such as residential air conditioners and heat pumps, refrigeration.

Servicing and dispose of equipment with low pressure appliances, like chillers.

Includes all of three previous types.

Where to take


Either in certified center, like NATE, HVAC Excellence, etc. or HVAC wholesaler from this list.


Study Manual (Free)

Software (Free)

Certified Training Program (recommended) or Qwik608™ Self-Study Course, available through local HVAC wholesalers.

Test structure

25 multiple choice questions for Core and same amount for corresponding type, 50 questions in total. Universal is 100 questions in total.



Usually between $50 and $120, plus Training costs. Exact pricing depends on location and facility.

You can read more about EPA 608 on official website, where you can find links to study materials, fee schedule, requirements, etc.

EPA 609

Every technician that works with automotive AC systems (MVAC) is required to possess Section 609 certificate. Also, without it you won't be able to purchase small containers (under 20 lbs) of refrigerants.


Although having NATE (North American Technical Excellence) certification is not required, we highly recommend it. Many employers now want you to have it, and it's steadily becoming a new industry standard. It's probably the most reputable credential in HVAC business.

What is great about NATE, is that you can customize your certification to your specific needs or employer's requirements. This is implemented through their system of Knowledge Areas Of Technician Expertise (KATEs) and division to Installation, Service and Senior-level technicians. For example, you want to verify your knowledge of working with Air Conditioning. So, you pick only this specialty for Installation, Service or both. Learn more about KATEs here.

95% of questions on exams are service-related and have real-life application in your day-to-day job, not just plain theory. Below is a short summary of certifications and levels they offer:

Certificates (for entry-level techs)

Professional certifications (2+ years of experience)


HVAC Support Technician




Focuses on fundamental skills required to start career in HVAC. No prior training required.

Aimed at technicians with 6-12 months of experience. First step towards professional certification.

Designed for techs who work with equipment installation, and preparation for one.

Advanced-level credential for technicians who work with servicing.

Where to take

Online-only (details)

NATE-approved facilities and proctors, you can find one near you here.


Guide is supplied by NATE (details).

Knowledge Areas covered in test.

Depends on specialty of your choice. All details can be found here.

Test structure

50 questions, 1.5-hour time limit

Closed Book, 100 questions, 2.5-hour time limit

Prior to taking specialty test in either Installation or Service, you need to pass Core test (Closed Book,  50 questions, 1.5-hour limit). Once done, you need to pass one test per desired specialty (Closed Book, 100 questions, 2.5-hour limit).



Depends on testing facility.

HVAC Excellence

This organization doesn't offer certifications directly, but supplies approved proctors with test material and software to measure student performance and pass/fail rates for certification exams.

Usually, their certifications can be obtained through testing in a training program, some wholesalers, apprenticeships and manufacturers.  This makes certification less accessible for general public (it's limited to certain institutions) and as a result, employers know less about HVAC Excellence as compared to NATE, for example.

Similar to NATE, you can choose a specific specialty to take your exam. Here is a list of certification levels they offer:



Student Outcome (H.E.A.T.)

Used to evaluate outcomes of high-school programs, most basic certification level that HVAC Excellence offers.

Employment Ready

Mostly used bu community colleges and technical schools to evaluate students graduating from more advanced training program.

Specialty Certifications

It's main goal is to verify technician's knowledge in a variety of specific HVACR disciplines in order to reduce number of warranty claims and callbacks.

Professional Technician

Aimed at techs with 2+ years of verified hands-on experience who want to get a credential verifying their knowledge and skills in specific areas.

Master Specialist

Advanced level of certification, requires 3 years of experience as a technician and Professional-level certification (either from HVAC Excellence, or comparable level from NATE, RSES, etc.)


Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) is a reputable institution in HVACR space that was founded in 1933. It's a bit different from all other facilities mentioned above, because it offers the following certifications only to its members:

Active Specialized Member (SM)

Certificate Member (CM)

Certificate Member Specialist (CMS)


It allows to become a Certified Member Specialist without passing Certified Member (CM) exam.

Rigorous exam (current pass rate is only about 30%) that covers 18 knowledge areas required to install and service air conditioning and refrigeration appliances.

Most prestigious level of certification awarded by RSES. You must own a SM or CM certificate prior to it.

Where to take

Local RSES chapter, RSES training events or conferences.


All materials are available on RSES website member area.

  • RSES Technical Manual 1
  • RSES Technical Manual 2
  • RSES Technical Manual 3

Test structure

You can choose one (or more) out of eight categories. For each, there are 100 questions. You must achieve 80% or more to pass.

150 multiple-choice questions, 70% or more required to pass.

 100 questions, 80% or more is required to pass.





Membership at RSES has many benefits, like extensive online training, certification preparation guides and discounts for most popular exams from EPA and NATE, member-only content, just to name a few. Individual membership is only $128 a year ($108 if you are referred by another member).

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the questions we often get asked on certification in HVAC:

Can I get my HVAC certification online?

It depends greatly on level of certification. You can get some entry-level certifications after online test. For example, ETA 608 Type I, or Nate Ready-for-Work. However, if you want a more advanced credential, exam to obtain one will be held in a proctored classroom. These exams are also closed-book, whereas during some entry-level tests you can use a book (they are called open-book).

How long does it take to become HVAC-certified?

Usually, preparing for specific certification is matter of couple months, if not weeks. What is more time-consuming , is actual HVAC training, that can help you get prepared for certain certification.

What are the costs involved?

Again, certifications themselves are not expensive. The cost can be anywhere from $25 to $120. What will cost you money, is training course or educational guides.

What are the general requirements for certificates?

Basic level certifications usually don't have any prerequisites. More advanced ones will want 2-3 years of field experience which can be verified and a basic certification.

How long will my certificate last?

Almost all institutions, except EPA (EPA 608 and 609 don't have expiry date) will require you to pass some sort of ongoing Continuing Education in order to maintain your certification, or get re-certified every X-years.

Last updated: February 8, 2018