CFC Certified vs HVAC Certified… What’s the difference?

Posted By: Andy Meador TAA News & Updates, the ApartMentor,

“HVAC Certified” is a term being used by both employers and job seekers as an important and essential job qualification in our industry. But, there is a big problem with the term because this certification doesn’t actually exist. At least, it doesn’t exist the way the term is being used. The use of this term was created by our own industry from a misunderstood perception of an existing qualification called “CFC Certification”. The biggest problem with this confusing play on letters is the intent of its use. People searching for candidates to fill maintenance positions think that applicants who possess a CFC Certification have the skills they need to repair air conditioning systems. Herein lies the problem, CFC Certifications have nothing at all to do with having HVAC repair skills!

Let me explain…

Inside the complex systems that make air conditioning systems work is a refrigerant gas. There are many different types of gases for many different types of applications. A long time ago, when an air conditioning system needed repairs or the system needed to be replaced, technicians use to just cut the tubing and let the gas expel into the air. At the time, these refrigerants were so affordable that technicians would use them to blow out drain lines or even fill golf cart tires! Little did we know that some of these refrigerant gases contained chlorofluorocarbons, otherwise known as CFCs. In the 1980s, scientists discovered that these CFCs have a negative impact on our planet’s ozone layer, particularly the chlorine component (Chloro). The ozone layer protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Without it, our earth would overheat causing crop loss and death. In the early 1990s, the government stepped in and began regulating the sale and use of these CFC refrigerants. This led to a new requirement that any person who wanted to purchase refrigerants or open a system for service needed to be trained and certified in the safe handling and disposal of these refrigerants. This was the introduction of the “CFC Certification”. For a technician to become certified (s)he had to learn about the harmful effects the gases have on the atmosphere and how to safely handle and dispose of them. It is presumed that any person wanting to obtain their CFC Certification already possesses the technical skills to perform actual repairs and the exam has nothing to do with actual repairs. It’s all regulatory information that can be learned in a day of studying.

Over the years, the CFC Certification morphed into the misleading term, “HVAC Certification”. I see employers use the term in job ads and I see candidates using the term on resumes. Even worse, it’s being used to determine the potential salary of our workforce. Employers are paying a large premium for someone who is “HVAC Certified”. In reality, that person may have never received any actual HVAC repair training, they may only have their CFC Certification. This lack of skills leads to misdiagnosed air conditioning units and unnecessary replacements that cost thousands of dollars.

The apartment industry coined the phrase “Jacks of all trades, masters of none” because it best describes our unique workforce. While we would all like to have master HVAC technicians, in reality, our technicians do much more than fix air conditioning systems. They perform many other tasks like electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and painting.

When searching for a prospective maintenance employee, your job listing should ask the candidate to be CFC Certified because it’s required for that person to purchase refrigerants and use them on your community. If a candidate claims they are HVAC Certified, ask them to provide a copy of it so you can ensure it’s not being confused with the CFC Certification. More importantly than this certificate, you should ask about their actual experience making repairs. Ask the candidates if they have had any skills training provided by trade schools, equipment manufacturers, or the Apartment Association. Ask the candidates the ages of the communities they’ve worked at and for an example of a particularly difficult HVAC repair and how they handled it. A candidate with 10 years of experience on an 80s vintage community might have more trouble-shooting skills than a candidate with 10 years experience on a new construction property, but you won’t know unless you ask!

This article was written by Andy Meador and published in the ApartMentor 2019 September-October issue.