Denver, CO HVAC Trade Schools

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Denver, Colorado (CO) has long been known as the Mile High City due to its elevation. Four distinct seasons define the weather, but local geography affects conditions in some neighborhoods. In general, the summers are hot, with temps in the high 90s. Temperatures in the dry winters frequently dip below freezing and residents often cope with up to five feet of snow.

“The Metro Denver region’s economy is strong and growing,” according to city officials in a recent report, and they point to the “strength and diversity” of the economy as an indication of continued growth. They make note of several large-scale construction projects underway or planned, including renovating the airport. Millions of square feet of new office and industrial space will keep construction activity strong. Denver’s economic base has grown from agriculture and mining to industries that rely on technology, including telecommunications, information, healthcare, and professional and scientific services.

Denverites rely on heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort in their homes and workplaces. The city is home to a variety of museums, historical sites, and entertainment venues—all of which often require commercial-scale refrigeration (HVAC/R) services as well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2017) reports that 3,540 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood are. State and local chapters of industry organizations that provide training and support to the technicians include:

  • Associated General Contractors of Colorado (AGC)
  • Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors (CAMPC)
  • Colorado Contractors Association (CCA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of Colorado (PHCC)
  • Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE)
  • Sheet Metal Workers Local 9
  • UA Pipefitters Local 208

Additional support and resources for workers and their employers are available from national industry associations that include:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA)

These organizations coordinate with others in the industry and with government organizations to establish educational and licensing standards. They serve all aspects of the HVAC and HVAC/R industries, including safety, performance, and promotion.

Read on to discover the salary prospects and occupations outlook for HVAC professionals in Denver, including information about accredited training programs and credentialing.

Occupational Demand for HVAC Technicians in Denver, CO

Demand for HVAC technicians is growing nationwide. According to the BLS (2018), openings for technicians are expected to increase 15 percent nationwide between 2016 and 2026. That is much faster than the average of 7 percent projected for all occupations in the U.S. Furthermore, the demand for technicians in Colorado is growing at more than twice the national average. Projections Central predicted a 38.3 percent statewide increase in HVAC jobs for the same decade.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC industry. The primary factor is the increasing sophistication of climate control systems and the need to replace, retrofit, or upgrade older systems. Also, industries that depend on technology, such as those in Denver, frequently require specialized systems to keep electronic equipment in operation. Additionally, the contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution is another factor leading to the installation of new equipment and systems.

HVAC Salaries in Denver, CO

The BLS (2018) reported that HVAC and HVAC/R mechanics and installers nationally receive a median salary of $47,080 annually. Technicians in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood area receive an annual median salary of $57,940.

Here are national, statewide, and local salary comparisons for HVAC professionals according to the BLS:

United States Colorado Denver – Aurora – Lakewood, CO
Number of HVAC workers 307,060 5,430 3,540
Average annual salary $49,530 $57,070 $60,000
10th percentile $29,120 $33,810 $35,000
25th percentile $36,150 $42,740 $44,420
50th percentile (median) $47,080 $55,790 $57,940
75th percentile $60,270 $67,690 $71,580
90th percentile $75,330 $81,950 $87,080

Accredited HVAC Schools in Denver, CO

HVAC technicians traditionally began their career as helpers and learned the trade through on-the-job training. These days, aspiring HVAC professionals now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeships include around 2,000 hours of hands-on job training and 144 classroom hours annually for three to five years. Build Colorado provides information on trade apprenticeships through a Workforce Development Program sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of America and the Colorado Contractors Association. The site lists available apprenticeships, training sponsors, and schools offering the required classroom work.

The Colorado Skilled Trades Education Program (STEP) provides a union-based pre-apprenticeship opportunity in several trades, including HVAC. Enrollees learn basic skills such as CPR and first aid; financial responsibility; construction math; blueprint reading; industry awareness; and receive basic hands-on training in their chosen trade. The classes are free and are available during the day and evenings.

The Denver Plumbers Local 3, the Pipefitters Local 208, and the Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 all participate in STEP. They also offer full-length apprenticeship programs through their joint apprentice training centers (JATC) in the Denver area.

Details are available on their websites.

Other aspiring HVAC workers in Denver enroll in accredited degree or diploma programs. Accreditation is a process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of an educational institution’s program. When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and which organization granted accreditation.

Two industry organizations evaluate HVAC programs: the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), which has awarded accreditation to Front Range Community College in Fort Collins, CO, and HVAC Excellence, which has accredited Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, CO.

Please note that all programs below either have accreditation from one of these two entities or another valid regional accreditation.

Both of these schools are included in the profiles below due to their accreditation although attending either requires Denver students to commute.

Front Range Community College

Front Range offers four HVAC/R certificate programs and one degree program. The certificate programs include the following:

  • HVAC/R fundamentals – 15 credit-hours
  • Residential HVAC – 35 credit-hours
  • Light commercial HVAC – 37 credit-hours
  • Commercial refrigeration – 28 credit-hours

The HVAC/R fundamentals certificate includes an introduction to HVAC, basic refrigeration, basic electricity, and electrical components. The other certificates build on these basics. The residential HVAC certificate adds coursework in advanced HVAC; international residential mechanical and fuel gas codes; hot water heating systems; troubleshooting; customer service; and communication skills. The light commercial certificate replaces hot water heating systems coursework with commercial heating and adds industrial controls. The commercial refrigeration certificate replaces the heating coursework with commercial refrigeration.

The HVAC/R degree program includes all of the coursework required for the certificate programs. In addition, students must complete an internship or capstone project, as well as general education coursework in English, mathematics, science, and an elective. They complete 60 credit-hours to earn their degree.

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO (Loveland Center, Larimer Campus)
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); PAHRA
  • Tuition: $181.56 per credit hour
  • Program length: Certificates, varies from weeks to two years; degree, two years

Emily Griffith Technical College

Emily Griffith Tech, a vocational college, offers an HVAC/R undergraduate certificate program. Students receive hands-on training in a state-of-the-art lab in addition to classroom lectures. Coursework is scheduled during the day as well as during the evenings.

The curriculum includes safety training, electricity and electrical components, basic and advanced refrigeration, the fundamentals of gas heating, hot water heating systems, residential and advanced air conditioning, HVAC and HVAC/R troubleshooting, HVAC and HVAC/R systems service and repair, piping, building automation, digital controls, and refrigerant recovery.

Students complete a total of 58.5 credit-hours to receive their certificate. The school is one of the local institutions providing the classroom instruction required by various apprenticeship programs.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Tuition: $9,132
  • Program length: 13 months

Lincoln College of Technology

Lincoln Tech offers an HVAC/R certificate program with both day and evening classes available. The program includes coursework featuring green technology and energy auditing that is designed to improve the marketability of technicians.

Students learn through hands-on training in fully-equipped labs and classroom lectures. The curriculum includes introductory studies in climate control systems, electricity, basic HVAC and HVAC/R, HVAC and HVAC/R system design and layout, warm air heating, and energy efficiency. Graduates are qualified to take industry exams, such as EPA Section 608 certification, and seek entry-level positions as technicians.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Tuition: $22,703
  • Program length: 40 weeks

Pickens Technical College

The college offers a certificate in HVAC/R Technology that prepares students for entry-level positions as residential technicians. Coursework is taught using state-of-the-art computer simulation programs, hands-on training in the lab, and classroom lectures.

The curriculum includes basic electricity, HVAC and HVAC/R troubleshooting, service, and repair, gas heating, heat load and duct design, basic refrigeration, forced air systems, piping,n refrigerant recovery, OSHA compliance, customer service, and an independent study project.

Students complete 35 credit-hours to earn their certificate and are qualified to sit for industry exams, including the Industry Competency Exams (ICE).

  • Location: Aurora, CO
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Tuition: $5,262
  • Program length: One year

Pikes Peak Community College

Pikes Peak offers HVAC technology certificate programs and a degree program. The industry upgrade certificate is designed for employed technicians who want to upgrade their skills to include modern technology and equipment. Students complete 18 credit-hours over a period of 30 weeks of varied coursework that is continually updated.

The residential HVAC/R certificate program qualifies graduates to seek positions as helpers or apprentices. Coursework takes 45 weeks to complete. The curriculum includes basic refrigeration, air conditioning, electricity, gas heating, piping, refrigerant recovery, HVAC controls, load calculations and duct design, customer service, and the mechanical code. Students complete a total of 35 credit-hours to earn their certificate.

The direct digital controls certificate program qualifies students for entry-level employment as environmental control technicians for HVAC systems in commercial and industrial facilities. Applicants for the program must have four years of work experience or a degree in HVAC or facilities management technology. Students complete 15 credit-hours in electronics and building automation.

The HVAC degree program includes the same coursework as the certificate programs with the addition of the following: commercial heating, hot water heating systems, advanced HVAC/R, heat pumps, an internship or sheet metal fabrication, computer applications or computer literacy, communication, technical writing, math, and workplace psychology.

Students complete 68 credit-hours to earn their degree.

  • Location: Colorado Springs, CO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); HVAC Excellence
  • Tuition: $148.90 per credit-hour
  • Program length: Certificate programs as noted above; degree two years

Red Rocks Community College

The college offers the following certificate programs:

  • Air Conditioning – 37 credit-hours
  • Building Efficiency – 9 credit-hours
  • Introduction to Construction Management (HVA Emphasis) – 14 credit-hours
  • Level I Refrigeration – 11 credit-hours
  • Refrigeration Level II – 23 credit-hours
  • Refrigeration – 31 credit-hours
  • HVAC Fundamentals – 15 credit-hours
  • HVAC Controls Technician – 18 credit-hours
  • Forced-Air Heating – 30 credit-hours
  • Hydronic Heating – 30 credit-hours
  • HVAC Energy Efficiency – 23 credit-hours

The curriculum for each certificate varies, but all are designed to teach the fundamentals relevant to the particular skills in the program title. Not every program is available at all times, and other programs may be offered at different times. The Refrigeration Level II certificate requires prior completion of the Refrigeration Level I program.

HVAC and HVAC/R degrees include:

  • Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration – 62 credit-hours
  • Refrigeration – 60 credit-hours
  • Air Conditioning – 60 credit-hours
  • Hydronic Heating – 60 credit-hours
  • Heating – 60 credit-hours

The curriculum includes the coursework in the certificate programs, with the addition of advanced studies as well as general education courses. The HVAC/R and Hydronic heating degrees require completion of the relevant certificate programs prior to enrollment.

The curricula for the certificate and degree programs are updated as needed to incorporate evolving energy efficiency requirements. All programs prepare graduates for employment in the HVAC industry.

  • Location: Lakewood, CO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $144.55 per credit-hour
  • Program length: Varies from weeks to two years depending on the selected program

Spartan College (formerly Redstone College)

Redstone College was acquired by Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in 2016 and took the Spartan name in 2017. Spartan is a for-profit institution that offers HVAC diploma and degree programs. Coursework is presented in classroom lectures and in a fully-equipped lab for hands-on training.

The diploma curriculum includes the following: HVAC/R fundamentals, air duct fabrication, mechanical codes, electricity and controls, forced air systems, system design, heat load calculations, and pneumatic controls.

Students complete a total of 50 credit-hours to earn their diploma. Graduates are qualified to work on both older and newer HVAC systems.

Enrollees in the degree program complete the same technical curriculum as required for the diploma program. Additional coursework includes: supermarket refrigeration and ice machines, building automation systems, hot water and solar heat systems, chilled water systems, computer applications, business writing, mathematics, and customer relations.

Students complete a total of 92 credit-hours to earn their degree. Classes are available in evening sessions only. Graduates are qualified for entry-level employment as HVAC technicians.

  • Location: Broomfield, CO
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Tuition: Diploma $387 per credit-hour; degree $365 per credit-hour
  • Program length: Diploma 10 months; degree 17 months

HVAC Certification & Licensing in Denver, CO

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain EPA Section 608 Certification. Certification requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. The four certifications are:

  • Type 1: small appliances
  • Type II: high-pressure refrigerants
  • Type III: low-pressure refrigerants
  • Technicians who will be working on all types of equipment are required to obtain Universal HVAC certification.

Practice exams are available.

Technicians may obtain additional HVAC training and certifications from industry organizations. These include, but aren’t limited to, the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and HVAC Excellence. These and others offer Section 608 testing and certification.

As a final note, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) does not require licensing of HVAC technicians or contractors, but there are some requirements for contractors, particularly in Denver.

The City of Denver requires contractors to obtain licenses. A self-employed technician is generally regarded as a contractor. Plumbing and electrical contractors must first obtain state contractor licenses. All other mechanical contractors, including HVAC and HVAC/R, must obtain supervisor certificates or employ a person who has a certificate. They have several categories of certificates, including: HVAC journeyman, HVAC Class A supervisor or Class B supervisor, HVAC residential only; hot water supervisor; refrigeration Class A or Class B supervisor, refrigeration journeyman, and refrigeration operator.

Each category includes clear definitions as to the scope of work that may be performed. For example, an HVAC journeyman contractor may not work on water heaters that exceed 100 Mbtu input or wiring that exceeds 48 volts.

Applicants must pass the relevant International Code Council (ICC) exam, as well as submit notarized proof of work experience and an affidavit of lawful presence in the U.S. Each category has specific work experience requirements. For example, the HVAC Class B supervisor certificate requires six years of residential experience, four of which should be as a journeyman mechanic and two of which must be as a designer, draftsman, or supervisor. Fees are $40 for a journeyman certificate and $60 for a supervisor certificate.

Once the certificate is received, the business may then apply for a contractor’s license. Applicants must submit document their legal business status, such as articles of incorporation or trade name registration if a sole proprietor, and provide proof of their identity. Contractor licenses must be renewed every three years. License fees are $250.