NATE Certification: What Is It and How Do You Get It?
Updated June 24, 2022
Homes and businesses often have heating and cooling systems to provide a comfortable indoor environment to stay warm or cool depending on the season or weather. The heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) industry installs and maintains these systems and you can become a NATE certified technician. Certification can lead to more job opportunities, higher pay and improved health, safety and comfort of customers and clients. In this article, we explore what NATE certification is, how you can get it and what the various benefits of a NATE certification are to help discover if you want to pursue gaining certification.
Related: How To Become an HVAC Technician
What is NATE certification?
NATE certification stands for the North American Technician Excellence, the largest nonprofit independent certification organization in the United States for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians. It is a nationally recognized organization that offers optional certifications developed and supported by industry professionals.
NATE certification establishes a level of professionalism and high-quality standards, making it easier for consumers to make informed decisions when choosing technicians and companies to install, maintain or repair heating and cooling equipment in their homes or businesses. You can earn both installation and service certification, specialize in oil, gas or other heating and cooling areas and gain senior level technician status through various NATE certification tests.
A NATE certification exam tests a technician on the following concepts:
Basic construction, scientific and electrical knowledge
Safety, equipment and tool essentials
How to achieve home comfort conditions
How to measure temperature and humidity
Who uses NATE certification?
The NATE certification applies to individual technicians who pass a knowledge exam that tests their understanding of HVAC systems. To earn your NATE certification, you must pass the core service test and one specialty exam, like gas furnace, air conditioning or air-to-air heat pumps.
Several national organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers recognize and partner with NATE, along with other contractors, distributors, educators, technicians, utilities and manufacturers.
What are the benefits of NATE certification?
There are many benefits to earning your NATE certification, including these:
Establish a career: Gaining the industry certification can create a career path for you, whether you have minimum prior experience or a significant amount. The NATE certification is also helpful if you're considering opening your own HVAC business or working as an independent contractor.
Boost your earning potential: Earning the NATE certification often leads to being hired in higher-level positions, which include better starting pay and potentially getting raises and bonuses associated with your level of knowledge and expertise. It can distinguish you from other candidates for job opportunities, as employers and customers value official ratings and certifications.
Increase your skills, efficiency and knowledge: With technology improvements and changes in the heating and cooling field, NATE certification provides education about the industry with a uniform standard of knowledge. Often NATE certified technicians are recognized as experts in their field for residential and commercial HVAC and refrigeration.
Gain professional credibility: A specialized certification and credential appeals to employers and customers alike, and can lead to more job opportunities, career growth, higher salaries or customer demand. The NATE certification often leads to career longevity and success, plus it allows you to be aware of regulator or technical changes with ease through the organization.
Access marketing resources: Earning your NATE certification allows you to advertise your achievement, and the organization provides elements like the NATE logo and decals, marketing materials, brand guidelines, apparel, accessories and more.
Grow business: Companies can advertise as NATE certified installers when 25% or more of the technicians hold NATE certification. This can attract customers and manufacturers, who often equate NATE certification to quality installation, fewer warranty repairs or returns and ultimately better service, lower energy bills or more profits.
Become an official NATE contractor: While the NATE certification is specific for individual technicians, contractors and companies of all sizes can take part as official NATE contractors through a coordinated program with the organization. It gives you access to a potential new customer base by listing on the NATE contractor locator site. The tiered program features basic, standard and quality circle contractor ratings depending on the percentage of eligible NATE certified technicians within your company.
How do you get a NATE certification?
If you are considering a career in the HVAC field, here are six steps to follow to earn your NATE certification:
1. Gain HVAC experience
NATE recommends a minimum six-months to one year of relevant work experience before registering for the support team test and two years of experience for the professional level tests. You can gain experience through internships, apprenticeships or by being hired with HVAC installation and repair companies to train and gain on-the-job practical experience.
2. Consider taking courses
Many online programs offer self-paced study and preparation courses with video presentations, study guides and practice tests to help you prepare for the NATE certification exam. Formal training through these programs, an employer or a technical school can help you pass the NATE certification exam. Some vocational schools offer financial aid and scholarships for students or reduced tuition for military veterans.
Many courses review topics like:
Installation and design
Startup and checks
Regulation and codes
3. Practice and prepare
Studying before your NATE certification exam is beneficial and necessary, and you can use practice questions, past exams and online content to prepare. Consider asking family members or colleagues to help you study, too. You can also find official NATE materials online to help you prepare for the test. Be sure to focus on the knowledge areas of technical expertise (KATE), which has several for each portion of the exam.
Look at finding the best study method for you to help you prepare. For example, if you're a visual learner, opt for more video-based training. If you're a reading-based learner, reviewing the study guides and NATE literature may work best.
Related: Top 10 Study Skills and Techniques
4. Sign up and take the test
You need to register to take the NATE certification exam. It's offered in nearly every state with over 5,000 testing organizations or through a live online proctored exam session, if preferred. You can find location testing sites on the NATE website to sign up.
To pass, you must earn a score of 70% or higher on both portions. There are 50 questions on the core test and 100 on the specialty test, and they take about four hours total to complete. You can retake any tests you do not initially pass.
Here are the specific focus areas for each specialty test:
You can choose an installation specialization certification in:
Air conditioning installation
Air distribution installation
Gas heating installation
Air-to-air heat pump installation
You can choose a service specialization certification in:
Air conditioning service
Air distribution service
Air-to-air heat pump service
Gas heating service
Oil heating service
Hydronic oil service
Hydronic gas service
Commercial refrigeration service
Light commercial refrigeration service
5. Maintain certification
To keep your NATE certification, you must meet continuing education requirements of 16 training hours every two years. This helps ensure you stay up-to-date on the latest HVAC technology, equipment, features and repairs to offer reliable, high-quality service. As long as you keep your credentials current, you never have to repeat the core exams.
The annual training can include NATE certified courses or other training elements programs, like electrical license classes, state licensing courses and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety training.
6. Earn senior level status
After gaining at least five years of HVAC experience, you can test to achieve senior level technician NATE certification. It requires you to have already passed two of the specialty exams and the HVAC efficiency analyst test, which includes these categories:
Indoor air and environmental quality
What are some FAQs related to NATE certification?
Here are some frequently asked questions related to the NATE certification:
What does the NATE certification test include?
The NATE certification test has 50 questions on the core exam and 100 questions on each specialty test. On average, it can take up to four hours to complete the full certification testing and you can earn subsequent specialty certifications throughout your career, leading up to and including the senior level exam. A passing score on all tests is 70% or higher and you can retake exams if you do not achieve a passing score.
How much does the NATE certification cost?
The NATE certification uses authorized testing organizations, which set their own prices. However, the most basic exam for support team technician costs $50 and includes a downloadable study guide after registering. Subsequent retakes should you not get a passing score are $35 each. Study guides purchased through the NATE organization average about $20 each. Recertification fees if you have a lapse in maintaining your NATE certification also vary.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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