One of the main prerequisites for becoming an HVAC technician is to be able to do the work safely. Heating and cooling systems use potentially dangerous chemicals, flammable substances, and heat. All of these could potentially be dangerous if handled or installed improperly. For this reason, states often require technicians to be licensed or in some way certified.
Some of the more volatile and potentially poisonous substances with which HVAC technicians often deal are refrigerants. These chemicals have the general classification of being what are known as chlorofluorocarbons. These chemicals have been shown to be capable of causing damage to the ozone layer. For this reason the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that these chemicals must be handled and disposed of in a responsible manner. Since technicians are dealing with the substances they need to in some way demonstrate that they are aware of the important issues regarding refrigerants and know the proper procedures for their use, handling, and disposal. These legal requirements were put into place as part of the Clean Air act of 1990.
For this reason there are four levels of certification that an HVAC technician can obtain, certifying that they know how to use these chlorofluorocarbon chemicals. These are known as CFC certifications. They are as follows: Type I – This certifies technicians to work with refrigerants in small refrigeration appliances. Type II – This certifies individuals to work with refrigerants in high pressure, and very high pressure refrigeration appliances. Type III – This certification allows individuals to work with low pressure refrigeration appliances. Finally, the Universal Certification is granted to technicians who have obtained all three other certification, or who pass a course that covers all three types of refrigeration system.
How to Get the Universal Certification
The following are the basic steps to getting a universal certification:
Contact a Local EPA Approved Organization
The EPA approves various organizations and companies as being able to administer the universal certification exam. One type of organization that administers the exams is HVAC distributors. These are companies that sell HVAC appliances and systems. Often these are overseen by a larger umbrella corporation called the Mainstream Engineering Corporation. The corporation is approved by the EPA to administer exams.
Make a few calls to these HVAC distributors (by looking in the phonebook or on the internet) and ask them if they are part of this umbrella corporation or know ones that are and which administer the exam.
Other organizations you can consider are certification agencies based at colleges, universities, or community colleges. For instance, an organization called the HVAC Pro, based at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan holds universal certification classes that last one day in length. At the end the exam is taken.
Prepare for Exam
If you pursue the first approach – calling local HVAC distributors – one that offer the exam will often send you a test preparation kit. This kit consists of study materials that will allow you to pass the exam. The kit has around 400 sample questions that let an individual practice taking the exam. These practice materials should be studied honestly.
If you’re taking a one day course, the preparation will be the course itself. These courses go over all aspects of the disposal of refrigerants, their history, the legislation governing their use, the standards of their handling, and so on.
If you are going to take the exam through a local HVAC organization, they will schedule the exam at a testing center. Go to this center and bring a #2 pencil. This pencil will be used to fill in the registration form and mark the answers to questions.
Once you have passed the exam you will be issued a Universal Certification card. This card allows you to be employed by companies that work with refrigeration or to do such work on your own.
About the Universal Certification
The CFC certifications are fundamental credentials that are legally necessary for doing certain kinds of work and possibly for getting licensed. They are not like HVAC degrees or certifications in the ordinary educational sense that may take years to complete. These are quick credentializations that are necessary as prerequisite to show that they understand the rules and regulations regarding refrigerants.
If you plan on working with refrigerants at all, make sure and get your universal certification. You could presumably get only the more specific CFC certifications (types I- III), but since it is fairly easy to obtain the universal certification, you might as well get this one that covers the whole spectrum of refrigerants and appliance types. This is easy to take care of, so get it out of the way so you can concentrate on more learning intensive parts of the HVAC trade.