The Certification Circus Comes To Town

Mark Skaer's editorial concerning the "certification jungle" ("Clearing Up The Certification Jungle," Aug. 2) absolutely struck a nerve with me. I suggest that the HVACR certification process would be better described as a circus, rather than a jungle.

I make this statement based on my experience, which includes more than 30 years in the HVACR business, a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and a Professional Engineering license. I also have more than 30 patents and 50 publications in the vapor compression field, and I authored several 608, 609, R-410A, and preventative technician training manuals.

Let me explain why "purchased" certifications are not worth the paper on which they are printed. Anyone can pay hundreds of dollars for a diploma or laminated paper card, but these useless technician skills certifications do not train the technician nor improve his/her knowledge; they merely line the pockets of some company.

Since [U.S. Clean Air Act Section] 608 and 609 certifications are the only required certifications in the industry, this practice is an appalling scam and waste of money, which results in a flood of untrained technicians performing tasks far exceeding their qualifications. And that's when the circus really comes to town!

But what are the alternatives? Textbooks such as Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Technology by Whitman and Johnson (Delmar Publishing) are vastly superior and less expensive than the course modules in these technician skills training programs. A good HVACR technician must have the appropriate tools, training from one of the numerous trade schools, and an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] 608 Universal Technician Certification.

And if you wanted to purchase a refrigerant (like Hot Shot) in small cans, you should obtain the motor vehicle A/C Section 609 certification as well. This extra 609 certification is available online for about $20 (at

If you don't have any formal training, a three-credit hour course on refrigeration at a local community college or vocational school is a good start. I would suggest you get into a two-year training program at a local community college or vocational school to get a real solid foundation.

I should emphasize that EPA 608 certification is required; any reputable 608 certification training program will cover R-410A handling, recovery, and use.

For example, Mainstream Engineering Corp.'s 608 training program includes R-410A instruction that covers the proper use of R-410A as well as other new nonazeotropic and azeotropic refrigerant blends. This is part of Mainstream's basic training and has been included since HFC replacement refrigerants became commercially available.

However, R-410A certification has since digressed into such a scam, where technicians are being forced or duped into paying lots of money to take these specialized courses. It is important to note that the EPA does not require separate R-410A certification, even if many companies would like you to think so.

Sadly, many technicians who could be spending their money on better tools and equipment are wasting it on unnecessary and virtually useless certification courses. To counter this regrettable travesty, Mainstream offers a free R-410A certification course and a free certification exam. The course offers the same instruction available in our standard 608 training program, except it is extracted and concentrated. It is available online at

Now let's discuss technical skills training. The only all-inclusive certification program is from North American Technician Excellence (NATE). This is the only program supported by the entire HVACR industry. But is it worth the expense? Personally, I believe an HVACR certificate or diploma from a hands-on trade school is a much better investment. If you want more involvement, I suggest becoming active in the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), since they provide a wealth of valuable resources. Their excellent Service Application Manual [set] is geared toward the technician's practical needs. If you want more of an engineering exposure, get involved with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). They also have a very useful series of publications thoroughly covering the engineering aspects of the industry.

So, unless you're a trapeze artist who likes to work without a net, I suggest you avoid the certification circus. Spend your money on good tools and equipment instead. If you do need more training, enroll in an HVACR course at a local community college or trade school. Get involved with the technical societies.

Robert P. Scaringe, Ph.D., P.E.
Mainstream Engineering Corp.
Rockledge, Fla.

Safety And Experience

[Editor's note: This letter is in response to John R. Hall's editorial titled "Accidental Death Reminds Us Of Dangers," July 5.]

The point that needs to be emphasized is that most errors of omission (as opposed to commission) occur by inexperienced people. They simply don't know any better.

My biggest gripe in the safety arena is the tendency to put inexperienced techs in their own truck, running independent calls, when they lack enough safety-related experience and training (and training can only do so much; experience is vital). Often the decision to put a young tech on the road independently is mostly driven by their perceived technical capability and people skills. This does not necessarily translate into good safety judgment. As the Good Book reminds us, the difference between intelligence and wisdom is judgment, and unfortunately judgment is usually learned only via experience.

Mike Gallagher, P.E.
Western Allied
Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

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Publication date: 08/23/2004