Per the section 608 refrigeration recycling rule, which is part of the Clean Air Act of 1990, all technicians performing service, maintenance, or disposal of equipment that could release refrigerants into the atmosphere must be certified by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved organization and pass a test.
The EPA developed four types of 608 certifications: servicing small appliances (Type I); servicing or disposing of high- or very-high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and MCACs (Type II); servicing or disposing of low-pressure appliances (Type III); and servicing all types of equipment (universal). As a result, many contractors have had to adjust their training certification processes to comply. Moreover, other trends have emerged over time, and contractors are following these trends to ensure their technicians measure up.
STICKING WITH 608
Compliance with the EPA’s 608 is a mandatory part of HVAC contracting. Techs are required to gain certification by an EPA-approved organization and pass their tests or else they are unqualified to work in the field.
“We get all of our field technicians certified with at least types I and II certification when they start unless they are only doing new construction installations,” said Travis Smith, owner, Sky Heating and Cooling, Portland, Oregon. “If they are only doing new construction, we will put them in the class the next time one comes up to ensure they are ready, in case they need to work on an R-22 system in the future.”
Most agree that if technicians want to work in the field, their first stop in training is EPA-approved certification.
“We have always required our technicians and helpers on the mechanical side to be EPA-certified. For us, this is kind of a pay-to-play thing,” said Matt Bergstrom, owner, Thornton & Grooms Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Aaron York, owner of Aaron York’s Quality Air, Indianapolis, agrees. With his more than 60 years in the industry, York still feels that 608 is a government refrigerant certification that all techs must possess.
Having EPA-approved training is a must as it not only benefits HVAC companies and their technicians, it benefits their customers, as well.
“Beyond keeping in compliance with federal regulations, licensing provides a level of trust for our customers,” said Todd Kletz, owner, Classic Air’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Certifications also provide our team members with a higher level of self-confidence and competence. We’ve maintained our credibility in the industry and community for the past 37 years by following the rules.”
TAKING ON TRENDS
According to Angie’s List, there are three trainings an HVAC technician should have that include: North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification, a nationally recognized certification for HVAC and refrigerant technicians; HVAC Excellence certification, which includes the professional level and master specialist level of certification; and EPA 608 certification, which requires all people with access to a system or container that stores refrigerant, including a/c cooling, such as R-22 or R-410A, to have the EPA 608 certification.
In addition, Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI) training is an integral part of HVAC training. Having skilled technicians complete these trainings allows contractors to know their technicians can perform their duties well.
“From an employer’s point of view, certifications give you assurance that your technicians and potential hires have the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job,” said John Jones, national technical director, BPI.
Now in its 20th year, NATE certification has stood the test of time. Today, nearly 34,000 technicians hold an active NATE certification throughout North America.
However, some contractors are actually experiencing a decline in technician certifications when training and hiring technicians.
“Personally, I have not seen any training certification trends except maybe a slight decline in NATE certification,” Smith said. “It seemed that, for a while, every utility required a high percentage of installers to have a NATE certification, but now that requirement is not followed nearly as much. Many installers I interview seem to have let their NATE certifications expire,” said Smith.
Kletz agreed, stating that, “In our area, NATE certification seems to be less prevalent.”
Furthermore, contractors are seeing that more and more manufacturers are requiring specialized training on individual pieces of equipment with each brand requiring specialized knowledge, which has proven challenging for contractors nationwide.
“Most manufacturers today have improved their systems to a point that for you to install and service their equipment, you need to be trained on that particular brand of equipment. One company is different than the next — they are all different. So, typically, when there is a new unit, you have to have a manufacturer’s representative come and update technicians on the equipment, so most of the training trends lately are being handled by manufacturers. Contractors must be consistently updated and trained on new equipment by each manufacturer,” said York.
With all of the differing trainings on different products, contractors are trying to keep up. Where it used to be a focus on a few training certifications, there are now certifications on nearly every aspect of an HVAC technician’s job.
“Whether it’s being factory certified from an equipment manufacturer or certified to sell and be a dealer for a thermostat or IAQ product, there are certifications for everything nowadays,” Bergstrom said. “We have tended to focus on the certifications that travel well. Once our guys receive them, they get a badge, which cannot be taken away,” said Bergstrom.
In order to keep up with ongoing certification trends, it’s important to contractors that technicians are being provided with the proper certifications in their training. Training keeps both technicians and HVAC companies relevant.
“New certification trends can only help,” Kletz said. “They give us opportunities to focus our time and energy on different areas we may otherwise overlook. Although it may be challenging, it will be worth it to make progress through improvements.”
Publication date: 3/6/2017