California HVAC License Certification and Requirements

| Last Updated: March 2, 2021
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According to a Bureau of Labor Statistic report issued in May 2015, California offers the second highest mean annual salary for HVAC professionals at $53,050. New York State tops the salary ladder with an annual mean salary just shy of $55,000. If this is not enough to get you excited about getting your HVAC Certification in California, then what will. If you are currently looking to get certified but just don’t know how what you need to do, this article is for you.

Becoming a certified HVAC professional in the state of California is not as complicated as many people imagine. This article lays down the certification requirements, the different classes of certification as well as offering you ideas on how to pass the certification exam at the first attempt. You also may have an option for an online certification training program as well. 

HVAC Licensing Requirements for California

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is a state body whose responsibility is to protect the citizens of california by regulating the state’s construction industry. Heating and ventilation systems, installation, maintenance and repair fall under the construction industry umbrella. Therefore, the CSLB also has the responsibility for regulating and licensing the HVAC industry. The remit of the CSLB covers 44 different license classifications and HVAC is one of them.

The board operates different classifications for the different construction trades. The code for each license is the letter "C" followed by a number. The HVAC trades are designated "C20 - Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Contractor."

No educational qualifications are necessary for eligibility to sit the licensing examination in California. However, relevant work experience is a requirement for the board to accept your application for licensing. This is known as your “qualifying experience”. The experience requirements are as follows:

"You must possess at least four (years) industry experience. Only experience earned at a journeyman level is accepted as a minimum. Further experience in roles such as foreman, supervisor, contractor or owner-builder will also apply. Any experience gained as a trainee or during an apprentice is not adequate for licensing purposes."

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If you have undergone a period of apprenticeship and now work as a journeyman, or you have learnt the trade over time, you will also be eligible for the exam. Even though schooling is not required, it can be very beneficial both in terms of getting your certificate but also for preparing you to work in the field. Find HVAC schools in California here

As an owner-builder, you can also apply for licensing if you are able to prove you possess the knowledge and skill to be a competent HVAC professional. In addition, you must complete and submit a Construction Project Experience form as evidence of your competence & experience.

Experience Verification Requirements

Any experience you claim as part of your application must be verified experience. A current or past employer, supervisor/foreman, contractor, a colleague, building inspector or architect can verify your experience. They need to be someone who know how your work, what experience and expertise you possess and have seen your work. The person verifying your experience must also complete a section of the application form, the Experience Certification section.

Please note: documented proof or evidence of experience may be requested for any experience you claim. Failure to provide the documents the board require may lead to a rejection of application. In cases where a license has been given, the board will void the license.

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Credit for Educational Qualifications

If you possess a technical or vocational qualification, this may count towards your four year experience requirement. An educational qualification will contribute a maximum of three years to your experience count.

You will still need a minimum of one year practical experience. You will be required to provide the proof and documentation to support your qualifications.

What you Need to Know about the Exam

Once the board accepts your application, you will be sent a fingerprinting pack to complete and send back. You will also be given an exam date, with a minimum of three weeks notice. Licensing exams are held at test centers at locations throughout the state. The test center assigned to you will depend on your zip code and you will need to bring identification with you.

California exams are held in San Diego, San Bernardino, Norwalk, Oxnard, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Fresno. The board will assign a date and location to you once your application is accepted. The location is based on your ZIP code. If you cannot make it, it costs $60 to reschedule, unless you can prove a medical or other circumstance beyond your control that prevented your appearance.

Preparing for your HVAC Licensing Exam

The California Contractor Licensing exam is 3-½ hours long and uses a Computer-assisted testing system. The exam is divided into the following two sections:

  1. Law and Business exam
  2. HVAC trade specific exam

You must pass all sections of the exam to receive the award and your license. Reference materials are supplied free of charge in PDF format. You may also purchase further study material to help you prepare for both sections of the exam. The questions for both sections are multiple choice in nature, and most will refer to blueprints and diagrams which come in a booklet provided in the exam.

You must pass your exam within 18 months of making a valid application and receiving a Notification of Exam. If you fail the exam, you may take the exam again by paying an exam scheduling fee of $60. 

Passing the Exam and Getting your License

The exam center will let you know on the day if you have been successful or not. Upon receiving a passing mark, the exam center will provide you with information on the next steps.

You will receive the bond and fee information, including further requirements for license issuance, they may include the following:

  • A $180 licensing fee. Your license is valid for two years.
  • $15,000 contractor bond or cash deposit.
  • $12,500 bond of Qualifying Individual if applicable in your case.
  • Passing an open book asbestos exam.
  • Certificate of Workers' Compensation Insurance or Certification of Self-Insurance of Workers' Compensation or an exemption certificate.
  • Meeting fingerprinting requirements.
  • LLC Employee/Worker Bond and LLC liability insurance if applicable.

Once you satisfy all the relevant requirements in your individual circumstances, the board will issue your Contractor’s License and you will receive the following:

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  1. A wall certificate bearing the classification you are licensed for and your license number. This is to be displayed in your primary place of business.
  2. Plastic pocket card showing the license number, your business name, classification(s), and the license expiration date


This article hopefully sheds some light on why you should be getting HVAC licensed in California right now, what the process involves and what it takes to pass the licensing exam. Other than being the second highest paying state in this field, the eligibility criteria for taking the exam are not as strict as in other states. If you have the experience and you know your stuff, there is no reason why you should not get your license.

Making sure you prepare for the exam is essential. You may choose to do this through self-study of attending a class to help you sail through the exam. Whatever option you choose, feel free share with us how you get on, and if you have some advice for other technicians sitting on the fence about certification, we’d love to hear it.

Looking For Information On Nearby States?

You might also be interested in HVAC licensing requirements in bordering states:

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My name is Bob Wells and I am a retired HVAC tech from Washington state. I am currently retired and no longer do much with HVAC, however, I feel like I have a lot of knowledge in the subject and I wanted to create a website where I could talk about what I've learned and help upcoming HVAC techs. Find more info about me and HVAC Training 101.