I’ve had many discussions with technicians about going through the NATE, HVAC Excellence, or RSES testing programs, and one of the comments I get from some of them is that consumers don’t understand or care about a technician being certified; that their only interest is that the person who shows up to troubleshoot and fix their air conditioner will get it done right and for the most reasonable price.
While I agree that there might be some consumers, whether they’re residential homeowners or commercial, that might fit that description, I don’t buy the idea of painting everyone with the same broad brush. So, I’ve spent some time asking others about this issue, and I found out about a situation while I was working in Florida that caused me to consider an interesting question about consumers and what they do or don’t understand about technician certification. In this particular situation it wasn’t an HVAC contractor, but an appliance service company that a parts distributor employee told me about.
As it turns out, this particular appliance company, in addition to having their company name painted on their service vans, lists the fact that they employ “Certified Technicians”.
Now, the question you want to consider here is that when 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 $25 per technician to take an open-book, 50-question, multiple-choice exam through an outfit called NARDA (North American Retail Dealers Association, which is an organization that has offered this type of testing for appliance technicians who work on sealed systems in refrigerators and other small appliances. As people in the HVAC industry know, this is a Type 1 certification for technicians who service refrigeration systems containing less than 5 lbs. of refrigerant with a hermetically sealed refrigeration system (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 pretty much to the safety and legal issues about refrigerant handling only.
So, on the HVACR side of service, the situation could be similar and the consumer, if they didn’t know enough to look for specific information, such as the NATE logo, wouldn’t know the difference. For an HVAC service company the only things that would be different from an appliance company are that the cost would be somewhat higher, and the exam is closed-book. But it could be only 50 questions if the technician is becoming certified in Type 2 equipment (high-pressure refrigeration systems with more than 5 lbs. of refrigerant) rather than Type 1 equipment. Or, it could be that the technician accomplished a 100 multiple-choice question exam that covers not only Type 1, but also Type 2 and Type 3 equipment (low pressure refrigeration systems), which means the technician is considered to be certified as a Universal Technician.
In either case, the “certified” term can be earned by taking an exam related only to the EPA rules and regulations relative to safe and legal refrigerant handling practices.
I’m aware that NATE has implemented a media program to let consumers know that they should be asking about technician certification when they call for service on their HVAC equipment, and I’d like to see comments from others about the issue of certification, credibility, etc…
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