blog post about how to get the c-38 license for refrigeration contractors in California

C-38 License: Refrigeration Contractor’s Road Map

Table of Contents

  • Refrigeration Contractors are some of the most in-demand tradesmen in the construction industry 

  • Refrigeration protects the bottom line of businesses within the food, beverage, and meat packing industries and is also used by millions of homeowners

  • In this article we will cover everything you need to know to get C-38 Refrigeration Contractor License!

What is a C-38 Refrigeration Contractor?

a black male refrigerator contractor fixing a refrigerator

A refrigeration contractor 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 fifty degrees Fahrenheit (50 ), or ten degrees Celsius“- CSLB.GOV

  • The C-38 license is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on refrigeration installation, repair, or maintenance projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Jobs you can do with the C-38 License!

Duties associated with the C-38 License

Refrigeration Contractors generally engage in a wide variety of duties including: 

a male contractor fixing a refrigerator

  • Installation and repair of gas, sewer, water lines, and water heaters
  • Fabrication and design of refrigeration systems
  • Isolating leaks and general repair
  • Repair ducts and motors
  • Installation of walk-in freezers, fans, and thermostats
  • Maintenance of electrical wires, fans, and piping
  • Troubleshooting refrigeration systems
  • Bidding, estimation, accounting, creating invoices, and book-keeping
  • Safe job site practices
  • To get the C-38 license, you will be tested on installation, maintenance, and repair.
  • It will be essential to your success to become familiar with all areas of the refrigeration trade.

Refrigeration Subcontractors

Laboratory freezer

In many cases, refrigeration contractors work directly with homeowners, restaurants, or supermarkets.

However, they may also function as a sub to a General Contractor executing refrigeration duties over an extended period of time. 

General Contractors oversee that the refrigeration subcontractor has done their job up to code and in adherence to environmental standards.

Learn more about the General Contractor License!

Online Practice Exams and Study Guides


Logo of the contractors state license board. illustration of a paint brush, saw and cement truck

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California.

Their responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for refrigeration services is qualified and registered with the state of California. 

The C-38 License is issued to refrigeration contractors by the CSLB. 

The State Board:

  • Administers Exams
  • Processes Applications
  • Maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers 
  • Sets up Sting Operations targeting unlicensed contractors

EPA Certification

logo of the united states environmental protection agency

Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The most profitable refrigeration contractors are the ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgeable and helpful to their clients. 

Becoming EPA Certified can help you expand your business and can be completed in a one-day 8-hour course.

Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also to the safety of your customers.  

Learn how to get an EPA certification, in 8 hours!

Blue Print Reading Course

image of a orange chair, black ruler and some brown books. principal image for a blog post about blueprint reading. refrigeration contractors looking to get the C-38 license should know how to read construction blueprints

Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesmen but is especially important for those looking to get the C-38 license. 

See our Free Blueprint Reading Course!

Construction blueprints communicate important information about how a structure must be built as well as what materials are necessary for its construction.

It is critical for plumbing contractors to be able to read blueprints or at least be able to recognize lines and symbols.

California Refrigeration License Requirements

To get a C-38 license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years of journeyman-level experience and pass a two-part state exam with the Contractor State License Board.

To qualify for an exam date you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Certifier to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journey level experience?

a walk in freezer. Experience fixing and installing various types of refrigeration equipment is required for the C-38 license in california

Journeyman-level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full-time for a refrigeration company, or for a contractor that holds the C-38 License.

  • A journeyman can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as a Certifier to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-38 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-38 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Filling out the C-38  License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skill set.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example:

If all you write is: 

“Ed is a great guy, he has fixed many refrigerations” It won't be enough.

The CSLB will want to see:

Ed has installed walk-in coolers, motors, thermostats, and fans. He has maintained motors, freezers, fans, electrical wiring, and done troubleshooting for various types of refrigeration systems”.

The description written by your qualifying individual will need to include the core skills required a refrigeration contractor.

C-38 Application Secrets!

Work Experience for the C-38 License

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have.

The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

C-38 License Application Processing, Fees, and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year.

Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and somewhere they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

Application Costs for the C-38 License

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractor's License with a Felony in California?

cuando estas aplicando para una licencia de contratista es muy importante ser honesta si tienes una histora criminal

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-38 License.

I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses. The key is to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

See the CSLB's verbiage below:

Just because you have been convicted of a crime does not automatically mean
your application will be denied. CSLB's Criminal Background Unit (CBU) reviews
all criminal convictions to determine if the crime is substantially related to
the duties, qualifications, and/or functions of a contractor. Since no two
conviction records are the same, they are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The
criteria used by CSLB include whether the crime shows the present or potential
unfitness of an applicant or licensee to perform the functions authorized by
the license in a manner consistent with the public health, safety, or welfare.
In addition, CSLB reviews and considers any evidence of rehabilitation
submitted by the applicant or licensee. Please see the above link to the
California Code of Regulations sections 868 and 869 for more specific
information on the criteria for determining substantial relationship and

more about the Background Check Process here:

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis.

Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public.

In my experience, they are primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with Fraud, Embezzlement, or Forgery

C-38 License Exam

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions of Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions of Refrigeration
  • 3 hours to complete each portion
  • Multiple choice exam
  • Done on a computer
  • Closed Book

For more information on what will be on the Contractor, LAW exam click here

Recommended Resources

Content of the Examination the Refrigeration (C-38 license) Examination is divided into five major sections:

1. Planning and Estimation (24%)

  • Planning refrigeration projects
  • Estimating refrigeration projects

2. Installation of Refrigeration Systems (29%)

  • Rough-in refrigeration systems
  • Install refrigeration equipment
  • Start-up refrigeration systems
  • Install specialty refrigeration systems

3. Repair of Refrigeration Systems (24%)

  •  Troubleshooting refrigeration systems
  •  Perform refrigeration system repairs

4. Maintenance of Refrigeration Systems (13%)

  • Maintain refrigeration systems
  • Code compliance activities

5. Safety (10%)

  • Employee safety
  • Job site safety

CSLB Test Locations

a calculator and pencil laying on top of a piece of graph paper. The cslb administers exams for the C-38 license for refrigeration contractors all over the state of california

The CSLB has exam centers all over the state of California. Once your
application is approved you will be given a list of locations you can go and
take the exam based on your zip code.

These are proctored facilities with cubicles where you take the exam on a
computer. The computer will have a calculator for your use. You will not be
able to bring in a phone, notes, or personal calculator to the exam center.

  • You get 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.
  • $100 per retake

Learn more about Contractor License LAW

C-38 license study guides and practice tests

Man fixing a refrigerator

Some things to remember:

  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large-scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade

I have helped people from all over the country get a refrigeration license in California. Many are startled by how strange the questions on the exam are.

Be as prepared as you possibly can.

Studying just 10 minutes a day consistently can dramatically increase your chances of passing the test on your first try.

Refrigeration Apprenticeships

a supermarket refrigeration unit stocked with vegatables

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman-level plumbing experience to get a C-38 license, your journey begins here.

Generally, someone looking to get into this trade would begin by finding a union or plumbing apprenticeship program

For a detailed explanation of this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman!


Getting the C-38 License can be a huge step up in your career if you are looking to start your own refrigeration company or become an RMO

The key is to take action and follow these steps from beginning to end. 

If you have found this article helpful feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to check back for updates!