How to Get a NATE Certification

In any technical industry, certain education and experience is needed. The HVAC industry is competitive and NATE certification can be a useful tool to help technicians succeed in the job market. While this certification is not required for employment in the industry, a growing number of HVAC companies are requiring that their technicians be certified or giving preference to applicants with this certification in addition to professional training and experience.

If you want to earn top dollar in your field, you need to set yourself apart from other applicants. One effective way to do this is by getting the proper training, experience, and NATE certification. There are three main specialties and a variety of testing options to obtain certification.

What Is the NATE Certification?

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification is one of the HVAC industry’s most recognized certifications. Obtaining certification helps project a professional image and allows you to build a successful career in the HVAC industry. There are advantages to this certification whether you are just starting out or have worked in the industry for years.

Is There a Need for NATE Certification?

There is currently no requirement for certification. As a result, many new technicians wonder if it is worth the time and effort required to prepare for and take the certification exams. If you are currently working in the field, it can seem like a lot of extra work and you may feel that the extra effort is not worth your time. Although certification is not required, there are several benefits to obtaining NATE certification.

Benefits of Certification

The HVAC industry is highly competitive and effective marketing is essential to success. Many HVAC companies advertise that they employ NATE certified technicians to give them an edge over the competition and may require that their techs be certified. In a highly competitive job market, NATE certification can give you a significant advantage in the hiring process.

In addition to helping you land a job, NATE certification can help you earn more money. Employers often base starting pay on several factors, including the level education, years of experience, and skill level. NATE certification is one factor that many employers consider when determining a technician’s starting pay.

The certification process can help you increase your professional knowledge. Whether you have educational training or job experience, studying increases your level of understanding and knowledge of any subject. Due to the continuous advances in the technology, the industry becomes increasingly competitive and new technologies are always emerging. Obtaining NATE certification enhances your knowledge and helps you learn about advances in the industry.

How to Get NATE Certification

In order to become NATE certified, you will need to meet the requirements and pass the exams. Start by determining the type of certification program that you want to pursue.  

Choose Your Nate Certification Program

There are multiple NATE certifications offered in the installation technician, service technician, and senior level technician categories. In order to earn the certification you want, you can take the core test and one specialty test.

NATE certification exams are based on Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise (KATE). These knowledge areas represent subject matter information that is relevant to technicians, contractors, educators, manufacturers, and utilities. The KATE outlines provide reference material for information that is on the test.

The first step in the certification process is to pass the core exam. This is a test of general knowledge and understanding of construction and HVACR specific areas, such as safety tools, basic construction and electrical knowledge. The test also includes an understanding of basic science, achieving desired conditions, and measuring temperature and humidity.

After passing the core exam, the next step in the NATE certification process is to pass the specialty exam. Specialty exams are taken after you have passed the core examination and there are several exams available in three specialty areas, including installation, service, and senior level.

Preparation for NATE Exams

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Although there are no requirements for education and work experience to qualify for certification, NATE recommends formal training at a technical school, educational institution, or through an employer prior to taking the exams. They suggest at least one year of experience for installation technician exams, two years for service technicians, and five years of experience for senior level technicians.

NATE Examination

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You must take the exams needed to fulfill your NATE certification requirements. While the exact requirements can vary depending on the area of specialization, you will most likely need to pass both the core exam and your chosen specialty exam. The specialty certifications are available in Installation, Service, or Senior categories.

The core exam tests knowledge in several areas, including safety, tools, basic construction, achieving desired conditions, using basic science, temperature and humidity measurements, and basic electrical knowledge. In addition, the specialty exam will test knowledge of the installation, service, maintenance, and repair of HVACR systems. The core exam consists of 50 questions and you must score at least 70% to pass the exam.

Specialty Exams

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Once you have completed the core exam, you will take an installation, service, or senior exam. Each specialty test consists of 100 questions. There is a time limit of two and a half hours to complete the test and 70% is a passing grade. To effectively prepare for the exam, you will need to study the material that is covered in the specialty exam you plan to take.

Once you have determined if you want an installation, service, or senior level certification, you will select an exam in your chosen area. The options for the installation exam include air conditioning installation, air distribution installation, gas heating and air installation, and heat pump installation.

If you want to attain the service level NATE certification, you have several specialty exam options, including air conditioning service, air distribution service, heat pump service, and gas heating service, oil heating service, hydronics gas, hydronics oil service, light commercial refrigeration service, and commercial refrigeration service. The air conditioning service, heat pump service, and gas heating service exams are also available in Spanish.

The senior level is the highest level of NATE certification. You must pass two of the NATE specialty exams to qualify for this certification. After passing the core exam and two specialty exams, you will be required to pass the HVAC Efficiency Analyst Exam for senior level NATE certification. The information tested at this level is more advanced, which is the reason they recommend at least 5 years of industry experience before taking the test.

The HVAC Efficiency Analyst Exam tests the technician’s knowledge of load calculation, equipment selection, indoor air and environmental quality, system performance, air distribution, hydronic distribution, and planned maintenance. The test consists of 100 questions and there is a 4 hour time limit to complete the exam.

Accessing Materials for Exam Prep

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To prepare for the test, you will need to study the material that is tested in the specific exam you will be taking. You can start by obtaining the KATE information from the NATE website for each area of the test to read more about what is covered in each of the test areas. You can also look for other sources of information about the exam and practice tests to help you prepare for your exams.

There are a wide variety of online study programs, practice books, and other study materials available for the NATE certification exam to help you get ready for the test.

Once you have prepared for the exam, you can register online for the testing session and specific exams that fit your needs. Testing dates are offered throughout the year at NATE testing center locations throughout the United States. If you do not pass an exam the first time, you may take it again after a 30 day period, which is intended for additional study and training. You have two years to pass all the exams required for NATE certification.

After you have passed the required exams, you will receive your NATE certification credentials. You will be sent an official NATE certificate and wallet card, and a NATE patch and specialty Chevron. These can be worn on a uniform to tell your customers that you are certified.


The HVAC industry is highly competitive and technology is rapidly changing, so it is important to stay abreast on emerging technologies to enjoy a long and successful HVAC career. NATE certification tells prospective employers and customers that a technician has invested time and effort in training and becoming certified. Consider your current skill level and career goals when considering the areas of specialty and levels of NATE certification for installation, service, and senior level technicians.

There are a few steps to attaining NATE certification and the benefits of becoming certified will follow you throughout your career in the HVAC industry. Choose your area of specialty and invest the time required to effectively prepare for the NATE exams to obtain your certification and start on the path to a higher earning potential. After your initial certification, you can take other specialty exams and eventually pursue the senior level technician certification.

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