California is no doubt one of the states that benefits most from the AC part of HVAC. The state has over 32,000 HVAC technicians working to keep California residents cool and comfortable.
HVAC mechanics and installers in California earn an average annual salary of $63,5601 — nearly $13,000 more than the median annual wage2 for these contractors nationwide. Not bad for a profession that’s based on technology originally called “an apparatus for treating the air.”3
To become an HVAC contractor in California you’ll need to get a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board.4 This license serves as proof of your professional training so potential employers and clients know that you’re capable of doing the job at hand.
The California HVAC license application requires verification of your work history and passing scores on two exams. You’ll also need adequate bond and insurance coverage to protect your business.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through each step to make sure you fulfill all the requirements to start working as a licensed HVAC technician in California, including answers to these common questions:
- Do you need a license to be an HVAC contractor?
- How do you get an HVAC license in California?
- What are the California HVAC license requirements?
- How long does it take to get your HVAC license in California?
- What are the California HVAC license renewal requirements?
- Is California HVAC license reciprocity available?
- What kind of insurance does an HVAC need in California?
- What is the certificate of insurance requirement in California for HVAC contractors?
Do you need a license to be an HVAC contractor?
So who exactly needs to get a license to be an HVAC technician? The California Code of Regulations requires anyone who “fabricates, installs, maintains, services and repairs” HVAC systems to have a contractor license in order to complete any job priced at $500 or more in labor and material combined.
California HVAC license classifications
The Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board issues a different license classification for each type of contractor. As an HVAC technician, you’ll apply for the C-20: Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Contractor license classification.
If you work on equipment that has the potential to release refrigerants, you’ll also need to obtain a license from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This license will demonstrate that you have the proper training to handle refrigerants responsibly to minimize their environmental impact.
There are four types of EPA licenses5 for HVAC contractors:
- Type I: Servicing small appliances
- Type II: Servicing/disposing of high or very high-pressure appliances
- Type III: Servicing/disposing of low-pressure appliances
- Universal: Servicing all types of equipment
Some HVAC contractors choose to pursue a North American Technical Excellence (NATE) certification as well.6 NATE is the country’s largest non-profit organization offering HVAC certification. NATE certifications are widely recognized throughout the HVAC industry in the U.S. Although this professional certification is optional rather than a requirement, it may improve your earning prospects and make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.
How do you get an HVAC license in California?
Here are the main steps for how to get an HVAC license in California:
- Get professional experience in the field
- Submit your application
- Pay the required license fees
- Schedule (and pass) two exams
- Submit fingerprints
- Obtain a bond
Your experience, application and exams demonstrate your professional proficiency as an HVAC contractor. The license fees, bond and insurance provide financial protection for your HVAC business.
Get professional experience in the field
Applicants must have at least four years of at least journey-level HVAC experience within the last ten years in one or more of the following roles:
- Supervising employee
In some cases, the CSLB will apply HVAC certification or completion of an apprenticeship program as credit toward the work experience requirement.
Submit your application
Fill out the application form provided by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board (CSLB). You’ll need to print out the form and mail it in to the CSLB along with your license fees.
Pay the required license fees
Currently, California HVAC license fees are $530. This includes a $330 application processing fee and a two-year initial license fee of $200.
Schedule (and pass) two exams
You need to pass two exams — a trade exam and a law and business exam — with a score of at least 72%. Both exams are multiple-choice, closed-book exams taken at an official testing site. You’ll also need to take an open-book asbestos exam through the CSLB website.
All applicants need to submit fingerprints for a mandatory criminal background check. The CSLB will provide instructions on how to fulfill this requirement once your application has been accepted.
Obtain a bond
All California HVAC license applicants must file a $15,000 bond with the CSLB. The bond must fulfill these requirements:
- Include your business name and license number
- Written by a surety company licensed through the California Department of Insurance
- Have the surety company’s attorney-in-fact signature
- Written on a form approved by the Attorney General’s Office
- Submitted to the CSLB within 90 days of the effective bond date
What are the California HVAC license requirements?
In order to apply, you’ll need to fulfill the following California HVAC license requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- Complete at least four years of journey-level work experience in the last 10 years
Your application must include details of your professional experience. Additionally, a certifier (such as an employer, foreman or supervisor) will have to fill out a section of the application to verify your work experience.
How long does it take to get your HVAC license in California?
The wait times for contractor applications vary based on a number of factors. It often takes several months for the CSLB to process new applications.
You can check your application status online on the CSLB website. You’ll receive a “Notice to Appear for Examination” after your application has been reviewed and accepted.
What are the California HVAC license renewal requirements?
California HVAC licenses are valid for two years. You’ll receive a notification from the CSLB about 60 days before the expiration date that includes instructions on how to renew your license. Currently, the cost of California HVAC license renewal is $450.
Is California HVAC license reciprocity available?
If you have an active HVAC license in Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada or Utah, you may be eligible for HVAC license reciprocity in California.
If you qualify for reciprocity, the CSLB will waive the trade exam requirement. However, you’ll still need to submit verification of your work experience and pass the CSLB law and business exam.
What kind of insurance does an HVAC need in California?
Depending on the nature of your business, you’ll need insurance to maintain your license. The following are the key types of HVAC insurance to consider.
Workers’ Compensation insurance
All licensed HVAC contractors in California with employees must have workers’ compensation insurance. This insurance is also recommended for sole proprietors since it provides wage protection and other benefits if you get hurt on the job.
General Liability insurance
If you own an LLC, you’re required to obtain general liability insurance for your HVAC business. This is also recommended as self-employed HVAC insurance since it provides coverage for things like work-related accidents and property damage.
Tools and Equipment insurance
Get tools and equipment insurance to make sure you have repair and replacement coverage for your work gear.
Commercial Auto insurance
You’ll need commercial auto insurance to cover costs related to accidents involving your work vehicle.
Commercial Property insurance
Commercial property insurance assists with costs related to property damage or vandalism.
What is the certificate of insurance requirement in California for HVAC contractors?
California HVAC contractors must submit a certificate of insurance as proof of their workers’ compensation coverage. The certificate must include the following:
- Name and contact information of the submitting contractor
- Contractor’s business name
- Insurance company name
- Policy number
- Policy effective date and expiration date
- Contractor’s CSLB-issued license number
- CSLB listed as the certificate holder
- Handwritten or stamped signature
How NEXT Insurance supports California HVAC contractors
NEXT is here to help you keep your cool when applying for your HVAC license. As a California HVAC technician, you can turn to NEXT to make sure you get the correct insurance to fulfill state requirements, get your license and protect your business.
Using our online services, it’s easy to apply for coverage and get a certificate of insurance in minutes. You can even get insurance from your cell phone on a jobsite, and you can share unlimited digital certificates at no additional charge.
We’re 100% dedicated to helping small businesses and self-employed workers by creating customized insurance packages at affordable rates. Our online services are available 24/7, which means we’re here to help anytime, anywhere.
Ready to get started? Get an instant quote online today.
Wondering what states require HVAC licenses? Check out our summary of HVAC contractor license requirements in every state.