For some people considering getting into the appliance service business, there is some confusion about technician certification, and this likely comes about from a misunderstanding about the two certification categories that exist.
1. Those required by federal or state law.
2. Those that are industry-sponsored certifications, and are voluntary; not required by any federal or state law.
Certifications Required By Federal Law
The most common in the required certification category, of course, is the EPA Section 608 refrigerant handling certification that is required of every technician who performs service on refrigeration systems. It is simply a violation of the Clean Air Act of 1990 to connect a set of gauges to a refrigeration system, add refrigerant to a system, etc…without being certified.
In the case of major appliance technicians, they are required to hold what is known as a Type 1 certification, which is for the classification, small appliances, which means equipment that has a refrigerant charge less than 5 lbs. and has a hermetically sealed compressor. One way to understand what the EPA technician certification requirements are is to do some research at the government website, which you can access by clicking HERE.
When it comes to a Type 1 EPA certification, it’s a test that can be taken as an open book exam (unlike the Type 2 and Type 3 segments of the exam, which are required for technicians who work on larger HVACR equipment and low-pressure chillers, which require a closed-book exam). In either type of certification, what we all need to remember is that an EPA exam is all about rules, regulations, ozone depletion, history of the Clean Air Act, refrigerant chemistry, transportation of refrigerants, leak detection methods, and overall safety in regard to working on refrigeration systems. In short, if somebody is crowing about the fact that they are a “certified technician”, and that certification is EPA-related, it only means that they studied for and got a passing score on a multiple-choice exam related to the topics mentioned above.
It’s also important to understand that a technician with 20 years of experience servicing refrigeration systems, if they decided to just sit for the EPA exam without studying ahead of time, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they would fail the test miserably since it doesn’t ask questions that are directly related to field experience in troubleshooting refrigeration system problems, evacuating systems, soldering joints, replacing compressors, re-charging systems, or adding refrigerant to an existing system (which is something a technician should almost never have to do, but that’s a another story altogether).
However, if you do, as an appliance technician, decide to be certified by the EPA (after all, if you don’t get certified and you do work on refrigeration systems, it’s a violation of federal law) to handle refrigerants and connect gauges to a refrigeration system (likely about 1% to 5% of your job, depending on your specific situation), there are many resources that are available to you if you decide to study for and take the exam. One such resource is a company called ESCO Institute.
You can view their study manual and get ready to take the test on-line through them by clicking HERE.
Certifications Not Required By A Government Entity
In the second category are certifications that technicians can take a test to earn, and their purpose is to demonstrate competency. This type of certification is offered through industry trade associations. Information on industry trade associations can be found at the links below:
How Certification Processes Work
Both types of certifications serve a purpose. One brings a technician into accordance with law, and the other provides an opportunity for a technician to improve his or her understanding of their craft. After all, one just doesn’t sit down and take a closed-book exam without some preparation and learning. And, of course, this type of certification convey their higher level of competency to their customers.
The way to look at voluntary, industry-sponsored certification is that, while it may not be required by law, every technician should consider pursuing it in order to improve their skills, provide the best possible customer service, and raise the standards of the industry in which they’ve chosen to pursue their craft.
Beyond the relatively minor confusion mentioned above, there is the consumer; the person who calls and requests service on their refrigerator, washing machine, etc… and assumes that the technician who shows up will be capable, competent, and, if necessary, certified.
Sounds reasonable enough.
However, in some cases, the “certification” that consumers assume is there…. well, just isn’t. Consider this scenario:
A consumer sees a van for an appliance service company, and, in addition to the company name and contact information shown on the vehicle, the term “Certified Technicians” is listed. What is the customer’s impression of this listing, and what assumptions are, for the most part, automatic? Often, it is that when one of the technicians from this service company shows up to fix whatever specific make and model of appliance that needs repaired, he or she is certified (trained, informed, and tested) on that particular appliance or category of appliance. Well, in this scenario, that’s not what the “certified” listing means.
In this case, the appliance service company paid about $25 per technician to take an open-book, 50 multiple-choice question exam (Type 1 for technicians who service refrigeration systems containing less than 5 lbs. of refrigerant with a hermetically sealed refrigeration system is the formal definition of this EPA certification exam on refrigerant handling) and thereby listed on their van that the technicians they employ are “certified”. This certification is, as the EPA definition states, related to safe and legal practices regarding refrigerant handling and requirements for evacuating and charging refrigeration systems, and proper methods of leak testing a refrigeration system. It doesn’t speak to a technician’s competency related to any other aspect of servicing appliances…not servicing the electrical and air flow systems in a refrigerator; not for servicing gas or electric ranges, or washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, etc…. it’s related to refrigerant handling only.
Now, if the listing on the side of the service vehicle stated “Factory Trained Technicians”, that would mean something more than what’s described above, and consumers need to be aware of the difference between the two descriptions that are supposed to be an indicator of technician competency…. though, again, not exactly what the consumer may assume.
Speaking of training, sometimes people confuse the idea of certification with a certificate, when in fact, earning a certificate doesn’t mean someone is certified.
A certificate is what someone earns when they complete a training program either at a private school or training facility. A certification is what someone earns when they accomplish a specific test that is administered on a specific subject, such as refrigerant handling in regard to the EPA requirement mentioned above, or a certification may be earned through the process of taking an exam sponsored by an industry trade association.
Licensing may or may not require a test of some kind. In some cases, a business can be licensed by a city or county to, well, do business, and the only requirement is paying a fee for that license. The license in this case doesn’t speak to any competency of the person operating the business relative to appliance repair. It’s just a license to do business.
Sometimes, licensing is related to what is referred to as a “Licensed Contractor” (or Registered Contractor) and in a case such as this, which usually occurs at a state level, the individual holding the license is required to sit for an exam in order to earn the license. And, in the same way that a license that is just paid for, and doesn’t relate to the proficiency of the person holding the license, a licensed contractor isn’t always proven to be competent in every technical aspect of the trade they are licensed for.
In some states, the exam for licensing is largely about business practices, state laws, contractor’s liens in the event somebody doesn’t pay for the services they hired someone to perform, etc… and taking the exam can mean that you need to cram for it specifically so you can pass. There are companies who assist those who need to hold a contractor’s license in order to do business. In some cases, you study with them for an entire weekend, and then take the exam as soon as possible the following week.
And, in some states, licensing for a specific segment of the appliance service business, such as working with gas appliances, is required, and someone will need to prove proficiency in that area in order to earn that license.
Also, a fact to consider on the subject of a licensed or registered contractor is that in some states it’s a given that a business that offers plumbing, electrical, remodeling, or HVAC services will need to be registered, but those providing services relative to appliance repair will not be required to be a licensed contractor.
Considering a further twist on the subject of a licensed contractor, some states only require the licensing if the price of an individual job is going to be over a certain amount of money spent by the customer. For example, if the repair job is going to be less than $500 in some states, no license is required to do business as a repair company, but if that company also engages in selling and installing new equipment, then a license is required.
If you’re thinking about getting into the appliance repair business, the best thing to do is contact the your city, county or state government for information and ask about the specific licensing requirements and/or testing that may or may not apply to your specific situation.
Certification…..a certificate…. a license….. topics that can be confusing to both the consumer, and to the person providing the service. But, like anything else, doing the research and asking questions can clear things up for you.
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