Looking for a stable career in California with plenty of job openings and a high earning potential? Look no further than become a licensed HVAC Contractor. The US HVAC market has been steadily climbing upwards and is projected to grow by 5.6% by 2030. This rise in demand is driven by a surge within the real estate industry, resulting in an increase in both commercial and residential HVAC systems.

California’s warm temperatures make it an excellent place to start your HVAC career. There are currently about 32,000 technicians employed in California, and that number is rising. The Bureau of Labor expects the national employment rate for HVAC technicians in California to increase by 13% by 2028.

Interested in earning your HVAC certification in California but not sure where to get started? We’ll cover everything you need to know:

Make sure to bookmark this page for any future California HVAC license questions.

Do you need an HVAC license in California?

Yes, an HVAC license is required in the state of California for projects that cost $500 or more. For these larger projects, you’ll need to obtain your C-20 contractor license issued by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

With your contractor license, you’ll be allowed to fabricate, install, maintain, service, and repair the following systems:

  • Warm-air heating systems
  • Water heating pumps
  • Ventilating systems
  • Air-conditioning systems
  • Ducts, registers, flues, humidity and thermostatic control and air filters connected with any of these systems

Penalties for contracting without a license

Contracting without a license on projects over $500 puts you at risk of earning a misdemeanor with charges that include 6 months of jail time, a $5,000 penalty fee, and an administrative fee anywhere from $200-$15,000. You’ll face much higher penalties if you continue to work without a license. A second offense involves a mandatory 90-day jail sentence and a fine of either $5,000 or 20% of the contract price.

Types of HVAC licenses in California

Unlike some other states, there is only one license for HVAC contractors in California: the C-20 Contractor license. That means the CSLB doesn’t offer HVAC Technician, Journeymen, or Master licenses. The C-20 Contractor license allows technicians to perform services on warm-air heating systems, ventilating systems, and air-conditioning systems, including HVAC systems that use solar energy.

California HVAC license requirements

In order to be eligible to earn your C-20 HVAC license, there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a social security number or taxpayer identification number
  • Have at least 4 years of experience within the past 10 years in the HVAC industry, or be represented by a qualifier with that background
  • Obtain the necessary work experience
  • Pass the exam
  • Pay any application fees
  • Complete a background check
  • Secure the necessary insurance and bonds

How do I get an HVAC license in California?

You’ll need to complete the necessary training, testing, and paperwork to earn your California contractor license. The time it takes varies based on how you choose to get on-the-job experience, but generally, it takes about 4-5 years.

The process to earn your contractor’s license is as follows:

  1. Gain the necessary experience: to be eligible for the C-20 license, you’ll need to earn 4 years of experience. How you earn this experience is up to you: it can be from an apprenticeship, on-the-job training, or an accredited college or trade school. The only requirement is that at least 1 year must be completed on the job. You’ll need to have your experience verified on the application by a qualified individual.
  2. Identify a qualifier for the license: All contractor’s licenses in California need at least one qualifier, who will be responsible for supervising and controlling the construction operations. This person will be someone who meets the minimum 4 years of experience and exam requirements for the license and they will be documented as the qualifier in CSLB records.
  3. Apply for your license: Once you’ve earned the necessary training, you can apply to take the exam and obtain your license. Applications can be submitted online, by mail, or by order form.
  4. Take the exam: for the C-20 license, you’ll need to complete two different exams, a trade exam and a law and business exam. You’ll need to receive at least a 72% to pass. If you’re a first-time applicant, you’ll also need to pass an open-book asbestos exam.
  5. Complete a background check: you’ll need to disclose any criminal history on your application and complete a background check to get fingerprinted. You can find Live Scan fingerprinting sites using the California Department of Justice’s website.
  6. Obtain the necessary insurance and bonds: Applicants are required to obtain the necessary workers compensation and contractor bonds to receive their C-20 license. Applicants will have access to an online submission portal where insurers can easily add proof of coverage, making the process a little quicker. Contractors are also required to obtain a $15,000 contractor bond to receive their license. Bonds must be submitted via a CLBS-approved form in order to be verified.

If submitting your application by mail, applications can be mailed to:

Contractors State Licensing Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826

California HVAC license exam

The exam for the C-20 license consists of 115 multiple choice questions covering 4 different areas. You’ll have 3 hours to complete the test and must receive a grade of 72% or higher to pass. Each area holds a different weight on your overall exam score.

The C-20 license exam covers the following categories:

  • Fabrication, Installation, and Startup (29%)
  • Planning and Estimating (25%)
  • Troubleshooting, Repair, and Maintenance (24%)
  • Safety (22%)

Contractors also need to take the Business and Law exam. This exam takes 3 hours to complete and consists of 115 multiple questions.

The Business and Law exam is split into 7 categories, each carrying different score weights:

  • Contract Requirements and Execution (21%)
  • Employment Requirements (20%)
  • Business Finances (15%)
  • Safety (14%)
  • Business Organization and Licensing (13%)
  • Insurance and Liens (12%)
  • Public Works (5%)

After submitting your application you’ll receive a Notice to Appear for Examination. This notice will come 3 weeks before your scheduled exam date and will provide you with your testing location information. Exams are held at PSI Exams locations across the state and offer testing times 6 days a week.

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Reciprocity agreements with other states

Some states have reciprocity agreements available that allow your state license to be active within other states. California currently has contractor license reciprocity agreements with the following states:

  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada

These reciprocity agreements allow applicants coming from other states to be excused from the Trade exam portion of the application process. You’ll still be required to take the Business and Law exam.

HVAC license costs in California:

How much a California HVAC license costs varies depending on the specific route you take for your education and training.

EDUCATION FEES

  • Apprenticeship: programs range from $0-$1,000
  • Trade schools: tuition can start as low as $600 per semester
  • Accredited college/university: tuition starts at about $15,000 per year

APPLICATION FEES

  • Application fee to take the exam: $330
  • License fee: $200
  • Asbestos certification fee: $125
  • Background check/fingerprinting: $30-$50

Payments can be made via cash, check, or money order. You can check the Contractor State Licensing Board fee list for a full breakdown of fees.

Do I need to renew my HVAC license?

Yes, to keep your license active, you’ll need to renew it every 2 years. The cost to renew your HVAC contractor license for a single qualifier is $450 and the fee for a multiple qualifier is $700. Depending on how you qualify, your process to renew will vary:

  • Single Qualifier: renewal can be completed online via the CSLB online portal.
  • Multiple Qualifier: renewal form and payment must be completed by hand and mailed in or hand-delivered to the CSLB.

Renewal forms for multiple qualifiers can be mailed to:

Contractors State Licensing Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826

What happens if my HVAC license expires?

You must be mindful of your license’s expiration date to avoid missing it. To check the status of your license, you can use the CSLB’s license number verification tool.

If your license expires, stop performing any HVAC work immediately to avoid any penalties. You’ll also need to pay an additional $225 late fee on top of the $450 renewal fee for failing to renew before your license’s expiration date.

Requirements for business owners

Looking to start an HVAC business? You’ll need to take a few additional steps beyond getting your contractor license. On average, it costs between $3,000-$12,000 to get things going.

Before starting your business, you’ll need to establish what kind of company structure you’ll use:

  • Sole proprietorship: for business owners working alone
  • Partnership: a business with two or more partners
  • LLC/corporation: option for a business with two or more employees that incorporates liability

Once decided, you’ll need to apply for a small business license and get the right insurance. You’ll need the following insurances:

  • General liability insurance
  • Commercial auto insurance
  • Commercial property insurance
  • Worker’s compensation insurance

The specific insurance costs will vary based on each business, but you can find some insurance plans as low as $29 per month.

After registering your business and acquiring the needed insurance, your next step is to secure equipment for your business. Contractors typically pay $200-$300 on basic tools and equipment to get started.

Does an HVAC license in California increase your earning potential?

Yes, earning your HVAC license increases your earning potential. Obtaining your license allows you to take on larger projects, which results in higher take-home pay. Wondering how much you can earn as an HVAC contractor? Our Essential HVAC Salary Guide shows how much your earning potential increases based on your title, geographical location, and years of experience.

The average salary for an HVAC technician in California is $55,706. This is 12% higher than the national average wage, making California an excellent place to grow your HVAC career. The more experience you gain, the higher your earnings. After 3 years, technicians see a jump in salary of 22%, which is an additional $9,139 in your pocket each year!

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