Denver, CO HVAC Trade Schools – Degrees & Certifications

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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 2019) reports that 4,410 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood area. State and local chapters of industry organizations that provide training and support to the technicians include:

  • Associated General Contractors of Colorado (AGC)
  • Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association (RMMCA)
  • Colorado Contractors Association (CCA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of Colorado (PHCC)
  • 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

The demand for HVAC technicians is growing nationwide. According to the BLS (May 2019), openings for technicians are expected to increase 4 percent nationwide between 2019 and 2029 which is as fast as the 4 percent projected for all occupations in the U.S.

The rate of increase in job opportunities for technicians in Colorado exceeds national expectations. Projections Central (2020)—a data organization partnered with the US Department of Labor—reported that there would be a 29.7 percent increase in HVAC positions across Colorado between 2018 and 2028. With the predicted addition of 2,000 fresh HVAC positions in CO and 42,800 openings nationwide, there is ample evidence that this is a promising profession in CO and across the country.

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.

One of the easiest ways to view the scope of the HVAC industry is by scouting for jobs by using an online search engine. A search on Monster (Oct. 2020) for the term “HVAC” yielded 350 job postings in Denver, including those with companies such as Emcor, Applewood Plumbing, Ferrovial Services, The Judge Group, Jobot, and CBRE, among many others. A similar search on Indeed (Oct. 2020) yielded 331 results with businesses including Jeffco Public Schools, Denver Public Library, Sears Home Services, Homee, Trane Technologies, Frontier Mechanical, and Tesla.

HVAC Salaries in Denver, CO

Not only is HVAC a high-growth profession, but it is also relatively lucrative, especially for a profession requiring only one to two years of postsecondary training.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019), there were 342,040 HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide with an average annual salary of $51,420, and 7,610 HVAC mechanics and installers in Colorado with an average annual salary of $54,920. The BLS also stated that there were 4,410 HVAC mechanics and installers in Denver with an average annual salary (annual mean wage) of $57,400.

The table below is a comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

The BLS (May 2019) reported the following salary figures in Denver, CO:

United States Colorado Denver, CO
Number of HVAC professionals employed 342,040 7,610 4,410
Annual mean wage $51,420 $54,920 $57,400
10th percentile $30,610 $34,020 $35,750
25th percentile $37,660 $41,790 $43,790
50th percentile (median) $48,730 $53,080 $54,810
75th percentile $62,070 $64,470 $66,200
90th percentile $77,920 $78,110 $79,760

The national figures were a bit different according to another source of data, PayScale (Oct. 2020), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the HVAC workers reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the United States:

  • 10th percentile: $30,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,963
  • 90th percentile: $74,000

The average salary for HVAC workers in Colorado is slightly higher than that of the rest of the nation. As with any salary projections, taking into account the cost of living is also important. As such, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that CO was ranked 33rd in affordability, making it more expensive than the majority of states. For HVAC technicians this means relatively high salaries may still not go as far as lower salaries in other states, so that is something to keep in mind.

HVAC Apprenticeships 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.

Details are available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Denver, CO

Other aspiring HVAC workers in Denver enroll in an accredited degree or diploma program. 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 State 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 a total of 60 credit-hours to earn their degree.

Through the programs, students will learn how to handle refrigerants, operate a gas fuel torch used in soft brazing and soldering, troubleshoot HVAC/R systems, perform general servicing and maintenance of HVAC/R systems, become proficient in compliance with HVAC/R safety guidelines by OSHA and develop the highest level of professionalism and communication skills.

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); PAHRA
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS degree (four semesters); residential HVAC (three semesters); light commercial (three semesters); commercial refrigeration (three semesters); HVAC/R fundamentals (one semester)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($153.35 per credit-hour); non-resident ($230.05 per credit-hour)

Emily Griffith Technical College

Emily Griffith Tech, a vocational college, offers an HVAC program providing students with hands-on training in a well-equipped lab, in addition to classroom lectures. Students learn a variety of skills in fabrication and piping, including soldering, brazing, threading, and PVC piping. Classes are available during the day and in 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 best local institutions providing classroom instruction required by various apprenticeship programs.

Upon successful completion, students will be able to take up roles such as HVAC service technician, building engineer, maintenance technician, service management, temperature control technician, and facilities management.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: Commission of the Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Nine to ten months
  • Estimated Tuition: $9,879

Lincoln College of Technology

Lincoln Tech offers a diploma in air conditioning, refrigeration & heating technology with day, afternoon, 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 of this 47 credit-hour program 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 the EPA Section 608 certification, and seek entry-level positions as technicians.

At the end of the program, students will be able to successfully troubleshoot, repair, and service residential and commercial indoor HVAC air management systems. Students learn about the recovery of refrigerants and recycling techniques. Students who gain additional experience after graduation will also be able to pursue independent work opportunities, set up their own HVAC business, or supervise a team of technicians.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 40 weeks
  • Estimated Tuition: $22,122

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. Students in this industry-focused program will also be able to earn the EPA certification, Universal.

The heating block consists of courses such as basic electricity, intro to service tech training, fundamentals of gas heating, residential load/duct design, servicing forced air systems, and 10HR OSHA voluntary compliance. The air conditioning block consists of basic refrigeration, piping skills for HVAC, refrigerant recovery training, troubleshooting & customer service, A/C systems service and repair, and independent study.

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)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $6,152

Pikes Peak State College

Pikes Peak offers HVAC technology certificate programs and a degree program. The certificate programs are as follows:

  • Air Conditioning & Heating Certificate
  • Direct Digital Controls Certificate
  • Industry Upgrade Certificate
  • Residential HVAC Certificate

The air conditioning and heating certificate is made up of 10 credit-hours involving courses such as Introduction to the automotive shop, basic automotive electricity, starting & charging system, and heating & air conditioning systems.

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 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 which includes courses such as heating for commercial, direct digital controls, advanced refrigeration, advanced air conditioning, residential heat pump service, and an internship.

The residential HVAC/R certificate program qualifies graduates to seek positions as helpers or apprentices. 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 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 degrees.

On successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as HVAC installer or repairer, HVAC contractor, business owner, or HVAC instructor.

  • Location: Colorado Springs, CO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); HVAC Excellence
  • Expected Time to Completion: AAS degree (2 years); Certificates (1 to 3 academic terms)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident rate without COF ($193.35 per credit-hour); resident rate with COF ($153.35 per credit-hour); non-resident rate ($629.25 per credit-hour)

Red Rocks Community College

Red Rocks Community College offers various certificates and an associate of applied science (AAS) degree program in HVAC. Providing students with skills for entry-level employment in the HVAC/R industry, the programs are updated with the latest industry requirements.

The AAS degree program consists of 62 credit-hours and includes courses such as piping skills for HVAC, fundamentals of gas heating, air conditioning systems, heating controls, basic sheet metal, servicing forced air systems, refrigerant recovery training, electricity for HVAC/R and mechanical codes, among others.

Apart from the associate of applied science degree program, the College also offers the following certificate programs:

  • Air Conditioning – AHRA Certificate (37 credit-hours)
  • Refrigeration – AHRR Certificate (31 credit-hours)
  • Refrigeration Level I – AHRR Certificate (11 credit-hours)
  • Refrigeration Level II – CTHO Certificate (23 credit-hours)
  • HVAC Fundamentals – AHRF Certificate (15 credit-hours)
  • HVAC Control Technician – CTHM Certificate (18 credit-hours)
  • Forced-Air Heating – AHRFH Certificate (30 credit-hours)
  • Hydronic Heating – AHRHH Certificate (30 credit-hours)

Graduates of these programs can find employment in roles such as air balancing technician, facility maintenance, air-conditioning technician, heating technician, service representative, and refrigeration servicing technician.

  • Location: Lakewood, Colorado; Arvada, Colorado
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies (one to four semesters)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($148.90 per credit-hour); non-resident ($610.90 per credit-hour)

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 a 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.

Once the certificate is received, the business may then apply for a contractor’s license. Applicants must submit documents of 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.

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith was introduced to the HVAC industry when she worked as a bookkeeper and secretary for a small air-conditioning contractor. She eventually became a CPA and started her own practice specializing in small business taxes and accounting. After retiring from business, she began writing articles for newspapers, magazines, and websites. She also authored four books. Sandra makes her home in the mountains with a rescue dog that naps on her lap as she writes.