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California Refrigeration Contractor Licenses Explained

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Being a refrigeration contractor can be a lucrative career. After all, how many people do you know who don’t have a refrigerator? It’s a contracting job that comes with steady work, which makes this type of licensure widely sought after. Find out more about what refrigeration contractors do, as well as what it takes to get a refrigeration contractor license in the state of California. 

What Is a Refrigeration Contractor?

A refrigeration contractor is defined by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) as a licensed contractor who constructs, fabricates, erects, installs, maintains, services, and repairs refrigerators, refrigerated rooms, and insulated refrigerated spaces, temperature insulation, air-conditioning units, ducts, blowers, registers, humidity and thermostatic controls for the control of air, liquid, and/or gas temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius. 

Refrigeration contractors are some of the most in-demand contractors since the majority of homes and businesses depend on some type of refrigeration. This type of contracting work requires its own license type, which we’ll cover below. 

What Does a Refrigeration Contractor Do?

A refrigeration contractor has a wide range of duties pertaining to refrigeration. Examples of their primary duties include:

  • Installing and repairing gas, sewer, and water lines and water heaters
  • Fabricating and designing refrigeration systems
  • Finding and repairing leaks
  • Repairing ducts and motors
  • Installing walk-in freezers, fans, and thermostats
  • Maintaining electrical wires, fans, and piping
  • Troubleshooting refrigerator systems

In addition to these direct duties, refrigeration contractors must also maintain safe job practices and be familiar with all areas of the trade. They generally handle project bidding, estimating, accounting, invoicing, and bookkeeping as well. 

What License Does a Refrigeration Contractor Need in California?

Refrigeration contractors must be properly licensed by the state of California to legally operate. This type of contracting work falls under the CSLB’s Class C license, with this subclassification being called a C-38 license. Class C licenses are for specialty contractors. A specialty license is for construction work that requires special skill and for principle contracting businesses involving the use of a specialized trade, which is why a refrigeration license falls under this classification.

Heating and Cooling Contractor License vs Refrigeration Contractor License

Heating and cooling contractors and refrigeration contractors do similar work, but their different specialties and areas of focus require them to be licensed differently, though both require C-classification licenses. Both types of contractors work on HVAC equipment, but refrigeration contractors work on more commercial refrigeration systems designed for low-temperature cooling, whereas heating and cooling contractors work on the more common types of HVAC systems that provide heating and air conditioning to homes and other buildings.

What Are the Requirements for Getting a California Refrigeration Contractor License?

To obtain a C38 license, applicants must first ensure they meet the basic prequalifications. They must have performed, within the last 10 years, at least four years of refrigeration-related work at no less than journeyman level or as a foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or owner-builder. They must also meet the bonding and insurance requirements below and pass the written Law and Business exam and specific trade exam.

Upon meeting basic prerequisites, applicants must then get properly bonded and insured. All contractors must have a $15,000 contractor’s bond on file with CSLB. An additional $12,500 qualifying individual’s bond must be filed for all contractors that are qualified by an RME. All LLC licenses are required to have an additional $100,000 employee/worker bond of file with CSLB for the benefit of workers employed by or contracted to work for an LLC.

Workers’ compensation is required for contractors who employ people. This Certificate of Insurance must be issued in the business name shown on the application. 

Lastly, all LLC licenses must have liability insurance between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000, determined by the number of personnel of record on the license. For five or fewer personnel, the amount is not less than $1 million. For each additional member of personnel, the amount increases $100,000, up to a maximum of $5 million.

After pursuing the proper bonds and insurance, applicants must then schedule and prepare for their specific trade exam, which will be overseen by the CSLB. Studying for and passing this exam is a vital step in obtaining licensure. Upon passing the exam and meeting the requirements described above, applicants can then receive their C-38 license. Learn more about how to apply for a refrigeration license, as well as what to expect from the exam and how to study.

You can also learn more about how to get a refrigeration license on the CSLB website. 

Getting licensed is a big accomplishment for a contractor. It’s not an easy process, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Our team at Surety First expertly helps contractors and applicants tackle one part of the journey: getting bonded and insured. We know the process can be confusing, and we’re here to walk you through each step of getting properly bonded and insured so you can get up and running in the state of California. Contact our bonding professionals today to get your surety bond questions answered or to receive a quick bond quote.

About the Author:

Shortly after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelors degree in economics, Jeremy founded Surety First Insurance Services (formerly Schaedler Insurance), a Northern California based insurance agency specializing in surety bonds for California construction professionals. Jeremy is happily married and the proud father of two young boys. In his free time, he enjoys camping, fishing and shooting the breeze with friends and family.


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