Construction is a major contributor to Colorado's economy, playing a vital role in the state's employment and wages. Two of the critical subsectors of the construction industry are the mechanical and electrical trades, including HVAC -- heating, ventilation and air conditioning. HVAC is a $2 billion dollar industry in the state and research from Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade shows the mechanical and electrical trades account for 28 percent of total construction employment in the state, more than any other construction sector.
In the state, HVAC industry is comprised of 2,137 businesses that are engaged in installing, servicing, and repairing heating and air conditioning equipment in both residential and commercial buildings. Of HVAC businesses in Colorado, 77 percent are residential-focused and 23 percent served non-residential clients. A majority of companies in the industry have four or less employees, while only 3 percent have 50 or more employees. The industry in the state continues to grow says Taufiq Raihan, President of Royal Bengal Mechanical, an HVAC contractor in Aurora, Colorado that offers service, repairs and installation of HVAC systems. "Due to the increasing population and improving housing markets, every building has a demand for HVAC systems," says Raihan.
HVAC education and training in Colorado
There are multiple paths to becoming an HVAC technician in Colorado, including two of the most common:
- Postsecondary education
- On-the-job training
Raihan notes that in his company most employees are trained on the job, but there are numerous employees with associate degrees that pursue management positions. Additionally, there are various certifications that can be earned by HVAC techs.
Apprenticeships and on-the-job training
Apprenticeships are traditionally offered by local unions, and can last up to five years and require apprentices to complete approximately 2,000 hours of supervised training. Intensive and practical on-the-job training equips apprentices with the knowledge and skills required to become successful HVAC professionals.
Postsecondary or associate degree
The postsecondary path may be pursued at any time, including prior to, during and/or after an apprenticeship. Formal education through a certificate or associate program is offered by technical institutes and community colleges throughout the state, including:
- Emily Griffith Technical College (Denver)
- Pickens Technical College (Aurora)
- Redstone College (Broomfield)
- Front Range Community College (Westminster)
HVAC associate degrees are typically designed as two-year programs that include both general education and career-focused coursework in HVAC-related areas of study. Through a blended approach of classroom-based instruction and hands-on training, students develop the basic skills required to pursue entry-level employment in the field.
HVAC licensure and certifications in Colorado
Individual HVAC technicians in Colorado are not required to hold a license to work in the state. However, technicians are required to pass Section 608 examinations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Section 608 certification allows technicians to handle refrigerant. Technicians take exams based on the type of equipment and appliances they install, service, and repair.
- Core: Technicians must pass the core exam prior to taking other examinations
- Type I: For technicians working with small appliances
- Type II: For technicians working with high-pressure appliances
- Type III: For technicians working with low-pressure appliances
- Universal: For technicians that successfully pass all Section 608 examinations
Beyond Section 608 certification, most HVAC employers -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) -- encourage their employees to complete voluntary certification programs from the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) organization. NATE tests professionals in different knowledge areas of expertise through a core examination and a range of specialty examinations. Specialty examinations cover three areas of practice: Installation, Service, and Senior-Level. Example specialty exams include:
- Gas Heating (Air) installation
- Air Distribution Installation
- Air Conditioning Installation
- Heat Pump (Air to Air) Service
- Air Conditioning Service
- Hydronics Gas Service
HVAC career outlook in Colorado
The HVAC industry employed more than 4,400 individuals in Colorado in 2014, according to BLS data. As one of the state's fastest growing career fields, the industry is projected to grow by 35.2 percent and create more than 1,400 jobs between 2012 and 2022, according to employment figures from Projections Central. Career opportunities vary by location and the top employing metropolitan regions in Colorado in 2014 included the following:
Colorado Metropolitan Area
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
Bureau of Labor Statistics salary data shows the state-wide average salary for HVAC technicians was $49,610 in 2014. Like employment opportunities, salary and career earnings vary by location, experience, and employer. At the local level, the top paying metropolitan areas included Greeley, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. The table below outlines the average earnings for HVAC professionals in each of the major metropolitan areas in Colorado in 2014:
Colorado Metropolitan Area
Average Salary (2014)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
It's a wonderful career, according to Raihan.
"Anyone that can stick to it through the first five years can develop their skills, build experience, and complete certifications can improve their earning potential." A major benefit is the job cannot be outsourced, Raihan continues. He notes that once someone builds their seniority and experience, they become increasingly in demand and they can withstand downturns in the economy. As a growing $2 billion dollar industry, spurred by recovering economy and uptick in construction projects, the outlook for HVAC technicians is bright in Colorado.
Ask an expert: How to become an HVAC tech
How is the HVAC industry faring in Colorado?
Very good at this time. Denver's construction economy is going strong. We like to joke that there is a crane on every corner. Also, the legalization of marijuana has brought in an influx of people and real estate is being built out to accommodate grow facilities.
What do you look for when hiring HVAC professionals?
Mainly experience, competence, licensing and certifications. Technicians must have an EPA card and preferably a journeyman's license. Another big consideration is a clean background check and a good driving record.
What advice do you have for students considering an HVAC career?
Students need to understand that when they get out of school, there first job is a form of continuing education. In fact they should continue to be students of their profession throughout their life. There are so many scenarios in HVACR that everyday there is something new to learn. Also, during their career they should be looking to improve themselves by taking as many classes as possible that are offered through the manufacturers and distributors.
The most valuable technicians are the ones who know all types of equipment and controls (e.g. roof tops, splits, chillers, cooling towers, heat pumps, air handling units, and building automation controls). Additionally, some often under taught subjects for students is how to interview, dress and look professional, send a follow up thank you for the interview. They should also be taught what not to talk about in an interview. Bad mouthing a previous employer would be a good example. Also, and interview is not a good time to talk about their personal life and personal issues.
Also, a very important piece of advice for students is not to job hop. That is absolutely the first thing I look at on a resume. Nobody wants to invest time and money into an employee that won't be with the company in a year or two.
Are there any emerging trends occurring in HVAC in the state?
Energy efficiency has and will be a concern for the future. It has a direct impact on the financial returns of a building or business. For example, Petsmart told us that they spend $80,000,000.00 per year on energy.
Is a formal education an absolute must or can professionals gain on-the-job training through apprenticeships?
I personally would like to see a degree or certificate. It's important that technicians learn mechanical theory prior to learning how to fix equipment. They should know things like super heat, subcooling, pressures and temperatures, electrical, and so on before they begin hands on repair. The problem with a pure apprenticeship is that they might be tough bad habits or incorrect information by the person teaching them.
Rick Dassow is the CEO and owner of CMI Mechanical in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from DePaul University - Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.
- Interview with Rick Dassow, CMI Mechanical, 5/29/2015
- Interview with Taufiq Raihan, President Royal Bengal Mechanical, 5/28/2015
- Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency Association, http://www.acca.org/
- IBIS World, Heating and Air Conditioning Contracts in the US: Market Research Report, http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=1945
- North American Technician Excellence, http://www.natex.org/site/386/About-NATE/What-is-NATE
- Projections Central, Colorado, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- Environmental Protection Agency, Section 608 Technician Certification Programs, http://www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/608/technicians/608certs.html
- Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, http://www.ahrinet.org/site/1/Home
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC Mechanics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes499021.htm