California HVAC license and insurance requirements

California HVAC license and insurance requirements

Ashley Henshaw
By Ashley Henshaw
Feb 5, 2024
10 min read

HVAC mechanics and installers that hold a California HVAC license earn 17% more than the national average salary and have the highest employment level in the nation.

To become an HVAC contractor in California, you need a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board (CSLB). This license is proof of professional training so potential employers and clients know you can do the job.

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.

Jump ahead to learn:

Do you need a California HVAC license?

So who exactly needs to get a license to be an HVAC technician? The CSLB requires anyone who “fabricates, installs, maintains, services and repairs” HVAC systems to have a contractor license to complete any job priced at $500 or more in labor and material combined.

The CSLB 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.

Your EPA certification depends on the type of work you plan to do. Here are the four EPA license types for HVAC contractors:

  1. Type I: Servicing small appliances
  2. Type II: Servicing or disposing of high or very high-pressure appliances
  3. Type III: Servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances
  4. Universal: Servicing all types of equipment

Some HVAC contractors also pursue a North American Technical Excellence (NATE) certification. NATE is the country’s largest non-profit organization offering HVAC certification. Its certifications are widely recognized throughout the U.S. HVAC industry. 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 to get an HVAC license in California

Here are the main steps for how to get an HVAC license in California. Your experience, application and exams demonstrate your professional proficiency as an HVAC contractor. The C-20 license fees, bond and insurance provide financial protection for your HVAC business.

1. Get professional experience in the field

The CSLB doesn’t set specific educational requirements. However, applicants must have a minimum of four years of HVAC experience within the last ten years in one or more of the following roles:

  • Journeyman
  • Foreperson
  • Supervising employee
  • Contractor

In some cases, the CSLB will apply HVAC certification or completion of an apprenticeship program as credit toward the work experience requirement.

2. Submit your application

Fill out the “Application for Original Contractor License” form provided by the CSLB. You can complete it online, print a blank form to fill out or request the application by mail. However, you cannot apply online. You must mail the form to the CSLB along with your license fees.

3. Pay the required license fees

As of 2024, California HVAC license fees are $650. This includes a $450 application fee and a two-year initial license fee of $200.

4. Schedule (and pass) two exams

You need to pass two license exams — a trade exam and a law and business exam — with a score of at least 72%. Both 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.

5. Submit fingerprints

All applicants must 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.

6. Obtain a bond

All California HVAC license applicants must file a $25,000 bond with the CSLB. Your contractor bond must fulfill these requirements:

  • Include your business name and license number
  • Be written by a surety company licensed through the California Department of Insurance
  • Have the surety company’s attorney-in-fact signature
  • Be written on a form approved by the Attorney General’s Office
  • Be submitted to the CSLB within 90 days of the effective bond date
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Insurance for HVAC licensed contractors in California

Depending on the nature of your business, you’ll need business insurance in California to maintain your license. The following are the key types of HVAC insurance to consider.

Workers’ compensation insurance

The CSLB requires licensed contractors in California to submit a certificate of insurance as proof of workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Workers’ comp coverage can help provide wage protection and other benefits if you or your employees get hurt on the job.

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

General liability insurance

If you own a limited liability company (LLC), you’re required to obtain general liability insurance in California for your HVAC business. This insurance can help provide coverage for some of the most common accidents at a business, including property damage and if someone other than an employee gets hurt.

Tools and equipment insurance

Tools and equipment insurance is valuable repair and replacement coverage if something happens to your work gear, like damage or theft.

Commercial auto insurance

Commercial auto insurance can help cover costs related to accidents involving your work vehicle, such as property damage or medical expenses.

Commercial property insurance

Commercial property insurance in California can help cover costs related to damage or vandalism affecting property you own or rent for your business.

California HVAC contractor license requirements

In order to apply for a license, 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
  • 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.

The wait times for applications vary based on a number of factors. It often takes several months for the California Contractors State License Board 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.

California HVAC licenses are valid for two years. You’ll receive a notification from the CSLB about 60 days before the expiration date, including instructions on renewing your license. Currently, the cost of California HVAC license renewal is $450.

California HVAC license reciprocity

If you have an active HVAC license in Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada, 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.

How NEXT helps support California HVAC contractors

NEXT can help you get the correct insurance to fulfill California requirements, get your license and help protect your business. We’re 100% dedicated to helping small businesses and self-employed workers with customized insurance packages at affordable rates.

Apply for coverage and get a certificate of insurance in under 10 minutes. Our online services are available 24/7, which means we’re here to help anytime, anywhere.

Start a free quote with NEXT.

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Ashley Henshaw
About the author

Ashley Henshaw was a contributing writer at NEXT. She specializes in small business topics, covering everything from insurance and branding to web hosting and cryptocurrency.

Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, AOL City's Best, Citysearch, USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle and Livestrong.

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