Coal miner, Army soldier, park operator, machinist — these are just a few of the jobs Chris Compton has held over the years. But when Compton took his first refrigeration class more than 30 years ago, he knew he’d finally found his calling.

Now, Compton operates, an industry-accredited online training website he founded nearly two decades ago, when online learning was still in its infancy. “I love classroom instruction,” Compton said. “But, the reality is, you can’t be a classroom instructor to thousands and thousands of people. Online learning is an acceptable solution to one of our greatest needs as an industry.”

Compton’s passion and dedication to providing quality HVACR training for technicians and students worldwide is what makes him The NEWS’ 2014 Best Instructor runner-up.

An Accidental Career

Compton grew up in northwestern Montana, where he tried all kinds of things to make a living after completing his military service.

“I’d been laid off from a job in Montana, and, purely by accident, I got into HVAC,” he said. “I was shopping for a freezer to put away our food supply for the winter, and I stopped at a shop in Idaho. Then, just off the cuff, I asked, ‘Do you have any jobs?’ And, he said, ‘If I went to school, he’d hire me in a heartbeat.’ So I went.”

Compton used the remainder of his GI benefits to attend refrigeration school, which ignited his passion for the industry. “HVACR really turned my crank,” he said. “It was like magic to me to get into HVAC. All the concepts, mostly basic physics, are presented with a real-world application, and I just sucked that up. I thought, this is fantastic.”

After working for a while as a tech, Compton opened his own contracting company, which he operated for 12 years. However, Compton missed his home state, so he and his wife sold the business, packed up, and headed back to Montana.

During the move, Compton stopped by North Idaho College after hearing the school was seeking an HVAC instructor. Compton was hired almost immediately. “So, we moved, and I commuted 160 miles round trip every day.”

He hasn’t looked back since.

“I’m very passionate about teaching and the building-performance HVACR world,” he said. “I love talking to students. I love turning their lights on. It’s an addiction.”

Bringing HVACR Online

In 1997, Compton attended a conference on distance learning because “Scottsdale sounded like a great place to go in November,” he joked. “I had no idea what they were talking about regarding distance learning. But, when I got there, boy did I find out. It blew me away.”

He founded that year and soon received a $30,000 grant to develop it further. Two years later, he received another $45,000 grant, and the website really took off. “With that second grant, I hired my first employee, who is still with me today, and we were off and running,” Compton said. “It’s been a long, slow, uphill slog.”

Patricia Leiser, administration director at, said Compton is one of the most innovative, passionate pioneers of HVACR education and training she’s ever met.

“He understands the HVACR business and is working diligently to promote contractor and technician excellence through education and industry-recognized certifications all across this country and around the world,” she said. “Most technicians are working adults and need a flexible learning schedule. But, that doesn’t mean they want to compromise a quality learning experience. Chris found a way to incorporate all of that into his online courses.”

Compton has also driven’s accreditation efforts with HVAC Excellence and helped earn the four-year online HVACR apprentice training program accreditation from the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI’s) certificate accreditation program.

“Because of his vision and dedication, our students succeed and are the best,” Leiser said.

“Chris demonstrates a passion for workforce education,” said Phoebe Harker-Rivera, administrative assistant at “He channels that passion to craft courses and programs designed to help technicians gain the prowess to excel on the job. He reaches out to both educators and technicians in the belief that excellence can be achieved at one’s own pace, on one’s own time. Because of him, more are achieving industry certification, demonstrating learned proficiencies that contribute to greater global energy efficiency.”

A Passion for Teaching

Compton said his biggest goal is to help’s 12,000 registered users improve their HVACR skills and knowledge while also emphasizing the importance of implementing energy-efficient technologies and practices.

“In the last 10 years, technology in this industry has just exploded, and we’re not ready for it — not even close,” Compton said. “The goal is to get this industry out of the hole we’re in and get our workforce up and running so that it falls right in with the green movement. The green frenzy happening since 2004 is directly in line with what we need to be doing. We’re such energy gluts in the U.S. — the waste that we have because of a workforce that’s not prepared is terrible. That money could be applied somewhere else.”

Personally, Compton is also constantly working toward bettering his own knowledge of the HVACR industry. Soon, he plans to take the certified master HVACR educator (CMHE) exam through HVAC Excellence. “If I talk the talk, I’d better walk the walk,” he said.

In the end, Compton hopes to educate as many technicians as he can and help them further their careers. “That’s the bottom line,” he said. “If you don’t have successful students, you’re dead in the water as an educator.”

He added: “At the end of the day, I’m having fun. My dreams are starting to come true with this project. I see it every day, and I’m just tickled.”

Publication date: 11/24/2014

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