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(707) 539-4533 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

Updated 4/01/24

While the North Bay certainly is not the hottest nor the coldest region in the country, those of us who’ve lived in Sonoma County or Napa County for a while know that temperatures here can be extreme. And that is why so many of us have HVAC systems in our homes.

So, what is HVAC? 

Simply put, HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. This system is responsible for heating and cooling your home and includes products like furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps as well as ductwork, thermostats, and other home comfort controls.

And HVAC systems require certified and licensed experts to be installed, repaired, and maintained properly.

However, if you do not know the difference between an HVAC license and certification, and why it should matter to homeowners, you are not alone. 

In this article, we will look at the primary differences, the importance of both, and how they can know if the HVAC professional they hire has the necessary qualifications.

What is an HVAC Certification?

An HVAC certification means that a technician has the necessary skills to install, service, and repair air conditioning/heating systems. However, a certification alone is not sufficient for a technician to start an HVAC service. For that, a license is required, as well. 

Typical HVAC certification programs train students in temperature control, equipment design, equipment construction, installation, repair, and maintenance. 

Those who pass the certification process will be able to build and modify systems in compliance with energy conservation standards. Upon completion, the HVAC technician will also have the skills needed to maintain, install, and repair HVAC systems.

What is an HVAC License?

The HVAC license can be obtained after a technician has completed a training program and obtained a certification or degree. An HVAC license can be thought of as a type of HVAC post-graduate study. 

License candidates must have four years of warm heating experience. Those who meet the relevant criteria are provided with the opportunity to take an ICC examination. These exams lead to an ICC certification which is an endorsement from the International Code Council that a technician is qualified to inspect a certain type of construction or building.

Once the candidate passes the license exam and meets all the other requirements, he is legally eligible to work as an HVAC technician either as an owner of an HVAC business or as an employee for someone else.
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Look for Both a License and Certification from Your HVAC Provider

While the state of California does not require that HVAC technicians be certified to work in the field, reputable HVAC firms will ensure that all their technicians are properly certified. In addition.

In California, a C-20 HVAC License is required for performing any HVAC jobs over $500, but not for smaller ones. A C-20 HVAC License is a Class C Specialty Contractor License issued by the state of California and is required to conduct legal operations in air conditioning projects, heating ventilation, and other climate control projects.

What this means for homeowners in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Napa, Calistoga, and elsewhere in the Redwood Empire is that you can hire an unlicensed contractor for minor maintenance work that will cost you less than $550. However, most HVAC contractors in Napa and Sonoma Counties are licensed as this gives them the ability to perform larger jobs.

While you might encounter many who will claim that they can help you with your HVAC systems, you should always double-check their qualifications. The last thing you want is for someone to increase the damage further and leave you having to get a qualified professional after the fact anyway.

Ask the people in question about their qualifications and proof thereof if you want to. There is nothing wrong with requiring reassurance from a professional – and those worth their mettle will never hesitate to show the proof.

Do not do business with HVAC service providers who lack either the HVAC certification or the license. Providers should have both credentials as this proves they have experience in the field and the necessary knowledge to help you with your problems. The best HVAC professionals will always be more than formally qualified and will certainly not ask you to ‘trust’ that they can do the job instead of sharing the information regarding their qualifications with you.

You should further note that the best HVAC professionals will remain up to date with the latest industry trends and will always try to further their knowledge where they can. Make sure your HVAC professional keeps informed and uses reliable technology.

If you have any questions about an HVAC license, or you want to learn more about our residential or commercial services for maintenance, repair or installation, reach out to us, and our professionals will help you immediately.

Beyond Certificates and Licenses: Contractor License Bonds

Contractor license bonds are similar to other business insurance instruments. However, while general liability insurance is meant to protect the business from lawsuits or other liability issues, a contractor license bond is meant primarily to protect the customer.

According to the state of California, all licensed California contractors are required to carry a $25,000 contractor license bond. This includes HVAC contractors. 

License bonds are long-term and are held between the contractor, a guarantor, and the state itself. License bonds typically don’t cover damage from mistakes or accidents. Instead, they’re concerned with damage arising from unethical or unprofessional decision-making. If the customer, state, or guarantor feels that a contractor has behaved unprofessionally, they can make a claim against the license bond.

This is a good thing for all HVAC customers in Northern California to know. If a disreputable or dishonest contractor causes damage to your house, you can file a claim with the state against their license bond to get your money back.

Having the proper bonds and insurance is one of the major differences between licensed contractors and unlicensed businesses or amateurs. While an unlicensed and uninsured contractor might have the requisite knowledge to repair your air conditioner, if something goes wrong, you’ll have little recourse when trying to get your money back.

A license bond is a reliable indicator of a professional and ethical business, and it is highly recommended to be wary contractors that cannot provide a bond for HVAC work. It’s important to make sure that you’re protected in the case something does go wrong, and contractor bonds are the best way to do that.
HVAC 101 Everything you need to know

Why Choose a Licensed Contractor?

There are several reasons why you should choose a licensed HVAC contractor.

With a licensed and certified contractor, you can be assured that they have proper training, years of experience, and have passed the licensing exams. That could be the difference between having your unit fixed correctly the first time and having to go back and hire someone else to undo the damage that an unlicensed contractor did.

Professional, licensed HVAC contractors can be relied on to do a proper job of installation, repair, or maintenance on your AC system. An inadequate installation by an unlicensed contractor, for example, can create serious issues for your system down the road, and even create health hazards for you and your family.

Licenses and certifications are also an assurance that an HVAC business is operated by genuine professionals who takes their work seriously. A good HVAC contractor will stay up to date on the latest trends and technology. You’ll often note an extra level of professionalism and care with properly licensed and certified HVAC technicians, which is extremely important.

As a homeowner, you need to be able to trust that your contractor knows what’s best for your home and your HVAC needs. For reliable and professional HVAC work, whether it’s simple maintenance task or the complete installation of a new system, you’re always going to be better off with a licensed contractor. 

Tips for Finding a Reputable HVAC Contractor

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to only properly licensed and certified contractors, you still have to figure out which one is best for you. If you live in Sonoma County or Napa County, you probably know that there are dozens of options available to you. 

Here’s a quick overview of what to do to ensure that you get the best possible service for your HVAC system:

  • Seek Referrals: The best way to judge a business is by its reputation. Ask your trusted friends and family. If there’s a name that comes up multiple times, that’s a great sign that you should investigate that company. When most people find a contractor they can trust, they tend to stick with them for years and years, so asking longtime homeowners is a good start.
  • Read Online Reviews: While online reviews can be a bit unreliable, they’re still a great way to get a general sense of a company’s reputation. You can usually ignore one-star reviews as they’re often written by malcontents but pay close attention to the two, three,  and four stars reviews. You’ll find that these are typically the most in-depth and even-handed.
  • Ask for References: Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a few firms, give them each a call and ask for references. As a general rule, any reputable contractor will have a large base of customers who are willing to talk about their performance. If a contractor refuses, that can be a red flag. After all, a business with a good reputation should be happy to provide references.
  • Request a Bid or Estimate: A professional firm will agree to offer an estimate from a thorough description of your HVAC issue or project. Generally, it’s recommended to get at least three estimates before deciding on a company. If a contractor is unable or unwilling to provide an estimate, this should be considered a red flag. Honest contractors will do their best to stay as close as possible to their estimate.


If you live in Sonoma or Napa Counties and you’re looking for a licensed, certified, and bonded HVAC contracting company, feel free to reach out to us at Valley Comfort Heating & Air

Our technicians are certified and have all the experience they need to take care of any HVAC needs you might have, and we’re always honest and upfront about our work. If you’d like to get an estimate, or you just have some questions you’d like us to answer, you can give us a call at (707) 539-4533 or get in touch with us through our website.

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