TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - A decision by the city council of Terre Haute requiring North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification as a license requirement to do HVACR work within the city limits is the first of its kind for any U.S. city.

The council recently met and approved amendments to Chapter 4 of the Terre Haute City Code, Article 10, "Contractors and Skilled Trades." The code now states, "In order to obtain licensure as a heating and cooling contractor, the contractor must employ at least one full-time employee who is certified for heating and cooling work by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), or equivalent." The new requirement will take effect on April 1, 2005.

According to one local businessperson, the requirement that at least one employee at each company be NATE certified is enough to raise the bar for local HVACR professionals.

Ed Utterbeck is the owner of Utterbeck Heating & Cooling and president of the local Wabash Valley chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

As a member of the team making recommendations for the new code requirements, he said that the city "investigated the NATE requirements and decided it would be a good basis for having knowledgeable people doing HVACR work in the city."

"The entire process took five months," he said. "We held an open meeting for all local contractors to give their input on the requirements. Through the local ACCA, we sent letters to all area contractors and suppliers. Some contractors didn't express an interest and were a little upset when the requirement passed."

Carl Smith, director of marketing and public relations for NATE, said, "Previously, Terre Haute had licensing requirements for electrical and plumbing contractors but did not possess one for HVAC contractors. The process of using NATE certification was presented, and all segments on the search team liked the idea, as it passed through the city system, from the city engineer through the legal department."

Raising The Bar

Utterbeck said that with the exception of one large union shop, most of the local shops are smaller and almost all of the city's residential work is done by the small shops. He added that approximately 50 percent of local contractors have a full-time, NATE-certified tech.

Jeff Paitson, executive director of the local ACCA chapter, said that his 12-member group's involvement with the city and the city engineer was a very strong reason why the requirement passed. "We worked hand in hand with the local government to bring some of these new regulations in line," he said. "We are trying to raise the bar and promote more quality HVACR work in the Terre Haute area."

Smith stated, "Key elements in having NATE accepted were the recertification requirement (so technicians employed by contractors constantly have to keep up with HVAC developments), and the fact that NATE was non-exclusionary (you do not have to be a member of any particular association or union, nor do you have to have any special affiliations/preparation to apply and earn the license, etc.) so that anyone could take the test."

According to Utterbeck, it may take a few months to get any feedback from customers. He pointed out that the reason the requirement does not go into effect until April 1 is to give contractors who do not have a NATE-certified technician the time to get one of their employees certified.

For more information on NATE, visit www.natex.org.

Publication date: 01/17/2005