With an increasing focus on decarbonization and electrification, the AHR Expo, dubbed HVACR’s largest event of the year, returns to Chicago’s McCormick Place Jan. 22-24. The annual event brings together manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and engineers to share ideas and showcase the future of HVACR and plumbing technology.
After several years of declining participation in in-person meetings and tradeshows following the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries are seeing a resurgence in attendance for these live events.
“Conferences and Trade Shows are growing around the globe as a place where like-minded people can meet, make connections, build networks and form meaningful relationships,” says John Mullen, director of technical services and research for IAPMO, in the 2024 AHR Expo Trends Report.
Since the AHR Expo’s last visit to Chicago in 2021, the HVACR industry has been recalibrating to the new norm following the pandemic, according to Nicole Bush, director of marketing for the AHR Expo.
“The last two shows, we’ve seen a strong resurgence in people getting back out there and capitalizing on the opportunity to meet in person,” she says. “We’re looking forward to seeing more of the industry taking advantage of the value of this experience.”
Bush adds that Chicago has sold out of exhibitor space for the 2024 event, with more than 1,835 exhibitors.
“Attending industry events is a great way to gain deeper understanding and knowledge of the industry, products and technology,” she says. “As a community, we share information in many ways throughout the year, AHR Expo is the one event where it all comes together along with everyone in the industry coming together.”
According to Bush, there are several new things on the docket this year, including a breakout of regional refrigeration updates.
“With so many changes happening across North America regarding HFCs, A2Ls and EPA deadlines, we are breaking our refrigerant update into regional sessions to offer the most pertinent information in the area you conduct business,” she says. “These three sessions will be hosted by Johnson Controls, Bosch and Copeland as part of our 2024 Panel Series.
“And, as always, we anticipate many exciting things from our exhibitors as they reveal new products, tech, application and innovation,” she adds.
Trends to watch for on the trade show floor
This year, the show will have an increased focus on decarbonization and electrification.
“As always there are so many conversations happening around the industry and it's fortunate we have the opportunity to meet in person and discuss these with our professional colleagues,” Bush explains. “There are a few that stick out leading into Chicago. Our exhibitors will be demonstrating products and technology relating to each, and we’ll have dedicated sessions in our education programming. Heat pumps on are one topic — though not new, there is a resurgence in the thinking behind heat pump adoption. We’ll cover this in our Panel Series in Chicago with the discussion Heat Pumps, Electrification and the Grid, among many others in the program. Additionally, we know decarbonization encompasses many things, and as result there will be many discussions covering everything from electrification to niche business opportunities. You can find sessions relating to decarbonization here.”
Michael Lloyd, product manager for Rheem Manufacturing, agrees that there are a range of rends impacting the industry from decarbonization to electrification to regulatory updates.
“We will be sharing insights on products that help to address decarbonization and align with our broader sustainability objectives,” he says. “With businesses and homeowners making a shift towards carbon-conscious choices we are increasingly innovating new solutions to meet and exceed those needs. Rheem is positioned as a leader in the shift toward decarbonization, from product development to manufacturing, to after-sale service, this change is one we’ve been planning for a long time and are ready to support our customers on all fronts. We are proactively investing in product development to meet new efficiency standards for both residential and commercial applications in the plumbing and HVAC industry. We also engage in rigorous monitoring of state and federal regulations to provide vital support to industry partners, aligning with the evolving regulatory landscape.”
Rheem was the 2024 AHR Expo Innovation Award winner in the plumbing category with its Triton Light Duty (50- and 75-gallon) product. Developed as a solution for small business owners seeking maximum hot water delivery, Triton Light Duty commercial units provide up to 97% thermal efficiency.
“Rheem is proud to receive top honors in the plumbing category,” Lloyd says. “Winning this award signifies Rheem's commitment to leading the industry with innovative, sustainable and smart products while providing unprecedented value in the commercial marketplace.
“Rheem Triton Light Duty (50-and 75-gallon) is an intelligent, high-efficiency commercial gas water heater,” he continues. “Boasting built-in smart monitoring and precise leak detection, the unit prevents downtime, is easy to install and keeps businesses running smoothly. The unit is designed to promote environmental responsibility and holds the potential to drive transformative changes in water heater design and manufacturing. Developed as a solution for small to medium sized business owners seeking maximum hot water delivery, Triton Light Duty commercial units provide up to 97% thermal efficiency.”
Saving time and money, and getting the job done more efficiently in order to move onto the next job is another important industry trend, notes Ashley Martin, president and COO of NIBCO.
“With the shrinking labor force in the trades, this is more important than ever,” she says. “Plumbing and HVAC contractors are looking to find better ways to execute their work with greater speed and efficiency without compromising on quality. We see continued adoption and growth of press connection technologies in fittings and valves being used across multiple applications.
“NIBCO will be highlighting products that help HVAC and plumbing contractors save time and money to get their jobs done more efficiently,” Martin continues. “Our ‘Big Five,’ is our collection of patented or patent-pending products that do exactly that. These include: PressACR, BenchPress and BenchPressG, PressG, Wrot Racer push fittings and 585HP high-performance ball valves. We will also be featuring our LD3000 and LD7000 high-performance butterfly valves, and additional sizes and configurations of our Webstone Y strainer and T-valve lines. NIBCO is always working on developing innovative product solutions in response to industry trends and we continue to make investments in solutions based on our customers’ feedback.”
David Budzinski, president, global residential and light commercial, Johnson Controls, notes that today’s homeowners and building owners expect more than comfort — they want energy efficiency.
“Demands for efficiency, electrification and digitalization, combined with refrigerant and decarbonization regulations, continue to drive product innovations,” he explains. “The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which mandates an 85% reduction in hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases by 2036, has remained top-of-mind for contractors, dealers and manufacturers alike. The initial phase of the policy had a negligible impact on refrigerant availability, but the next phase — scheduled to take effect in January 2024 — dictates the most significant step-down to date and will reduce HFC production by 30%. This next phase is poised to create a significant impact on the availability of common HVAC refrigerants, including R-410A, but contractors and dealers who prepare now can minimize disruptions and the risk of stranded equipment. It is important that all involved parties understand the safe handling, storage and transportation of mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants and have a plan in place for R-410A recovery and reclamation.”
From a commercial perspective, IAQ and building health transparency continues to be a hot topic, Budzinski adds, especially as many employees return to in-person or hybrid work.
“For many building professionals, simply enhancing or replacing the HVAC system may not be enough to bolster occupant confidence and satisfaction,” he says. “Smart building technologies that utilize occupant-facing apps make building data transparently available and enables communication with facility personnel about building and room conditions such as temperature, lighting and occupancy.
“Additionally, heat pump adoption has continued to grow, thanks in part to evolving efficiency and decarbonization regulations and incentives such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA),” Budzinski continues. “At Johnson Controls, our heat pump technology is quickly evolving to meet the needs of a wider range of applications and climates. We are proud to announce a strategic plan for accelerated U.S.-based heat pump production. This was made possible through a recent partnership with the Department of Energy that will enable the rapid expansion of manufacturing at three our plants. Once complete, we estimate these facilities will be able to produce approximately 200,000 heat pump units per year — an increase of 200% — helping to bring these future-ready systems to the market faster than ever before.”
Johnson Controls will be highlighting its York YVWH Water-to-Water Dual Variable Speed Screw Heat Pump — the first screw heat pump in North America to use ultra-low GWP refrigerant R-1234ze; the York YMAE Air-to-Water Inverter Scroll Modular Heat Pump, featuring new-to-market electronic vapor injection (EVI) scroll compression technology that enables it to reach hot water temperatures as high as 140° F in ambient conditions as low as 13° F using low-GWP refrigerant R-454B; convertible, single-package units like the YORK Sun Pro Heat Pump Rooftop Units (RTUs) that are designed to help streamline the low-GWP refrigerant changeover, with features including an R-454B refrigerant leak detector and hot gas reheat; and, from a residential perspective, the YORK YH2F 15.2 SEER2 Heat Pump and Y92E Two-Stage Furnace Hybrid System, which effortlessly alternate between two heating sources to achieve the lowest carbon footprint possible based on the ambient temperature.
Joshua Goncalves, product marketing manager, Ariston Group, also agrees that heat pumps remain the biggest trend in plumbing and HVAC in 2024. “The government and utilities are backing this technology with huge incentives nationwide including tax rebates. Along with HPWHs, we see demand response trending specifically on the west coast, but also in other pockets of the USA.
“Ariston Group is responding by unveiling new products that speak directly to the need for efficiency and sustainable solutions,” he adds. “At AHR 2024, we will be exhibiting a 65-gallon hybrid heat pump water heater and a demand response unit under the American Standard Water Heaters brand, an HTP demand response water heater and a heat pump from NTI.”
According to Jeremiah Brodie, business unit trainer for Little Giant, the company has seen year-over-year growth in mini-split units in the HVAC segment, impacting the industry.
“We will be addressing this by introducing a new product in that category,” he says. “Little Giant will announce its new product launch at the AHR Expo in Theater C on Tuesday, Jan. 23, , at 11:15 a.m. We invite everyone to attend our session.”
There is also a trend of baby boomers retiring in the plumbing market and a corresponding push for younger people to enter the trades, Brodie explains. “We want to cater to those who may not have extensive experience and knowledge. To address this trend, we’ve developed our YouTube video tips series, product knowledge, and tutorials. We break down installations, giving them all the information they can use to make their learning experience more user friendly. Our YouTube “FranklinTECH: Tips” series, which has grown from 11 videos to more than 75 videos in less than two years.”
This year’s AHR Expo Educational Program will feature more than 110 free seminars, as well as a robust panel series lineup, new product and technology presentations, professional certifications and continuing education courses.
“As always, there are so many conversations happening around the industry, and it's fortunate we have the opportunity to meet in person and discuss these with our professional colleagues,” Bush says. “Our exhibitors will be demonstrating products and technology, and we’ll have dedicated sessions in our education programming. You can find information on just about any topic you’re seeking, whether it be business management, product application, trending topic, niche discipline, etc. Our program this year has more than 260 free sessions between our Panel Series, Free Industry Sessions and New Product Theaters.”
In 2022, the AHR Expo launched a panel discussion among leaders representing every sector of the industry. As the first large event following the pandemic, the panel served as a recalibration of all that was happening across the industry as a result. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the benefit to the industry led to open communication throughout the remainder of the year. In 2024, Bryan Orr, of HVAC School, returns to moderate the 2024 State of the Industry panel discussion with leaders from ASHRAE, AHRI, HARDI, NCI, ASHB etc., regarding the current challenges, opportunities, and forecasts for the year ahead in HVACR. Expected topics include changing regulations, the economic forecast including inflation and tariffs, the green transition, the supply chain, and more. Speakers on this panel include Scroggins; Dominick Guarino, president and CEO of National Comfort Institute; Greg Walker, CEO of ASHB; Steve Yurek, CEO of AHRI; and Talbot Gee, CEO of HARDI.
Another panel discussion, “Heat Pumps, Electrification, and the Grid,” will address how best to deploy heat pumps in retrofit projects while addressing two major barriers to electrification — electrifying at the building level without costly upgrades to infrastructure, and electrifying at the grid level without stressing out the grid by adding load in the peak utility demand periods. Speakers on this panel include Mark Frankel, chair of ASHRAE’s TFBD Heat Pump Working Group; Jon Heller, president at Ecotope; Rand Conger, Johnson Barrow; and Sean Jarvie, Flow Environmental Systems.
To view the full 2024 panel series, click here.
As previously mentioned, the 2024 show will also feature more than 110 free sessions led by industry experts. Sessions will range from one to two hours and address some of the industry’s most pressing challenges and exciting opportunities. Attendees are invited to attend general HVACR-related sessions, as well as those specific to professional practice areas.
“The Education Programming is a means to learn trends, tips, and growth strategies for the professional and the business,” said Kimberly Pires, AHR Expo Education Program director. “Our associations are in tune with what is current in their areas of the industry, and this program is the culmination of full industry learning. Our sessions aim to provide diverse perspectives from every professional and perspective in HVACR. The opportunity for shared insight supports healthy communication and growth within the industry.”
Click here to view the full program.
Additionally, AHR Expo attendees are encouraged to sit in on exhibitor presentations in the New Product Theater. More than 145 presentations lasting approximately 20 minutes each are planned across all three days of the show. These free seminars will provide brief overviews of new product announcements and technologies that can be found in exhibitor booths on the show floor. Attendees are invited to follow up presentations with a visit to the booth for a more in-depth explanation and 1:1 interaction with products and representatives. These sessions are set to take place in special theaters right on the exhibit floor. No fee or registration is required.
Don’t discount face-to-face engagement
The AHR Expo presents not only numerous educational opportunities to learn about new industry trends and solutions, but also to get hands on experience with new products and network with manufacturers face-to-face.
“The AHR Expo is a vital opportunity for Rheem to engage, adapt, innovate and reinforce its leadership and partnerships in the Plumbing and HVAC industries,” Lloyd says. “The Expo provides a direct avenue for stakeholder engagement, fostering relationships with customers and industry partners. Active participation at the Expo enables firsthand understanding of our customer needs, fostering collaboration to address any opportunities or challenges. I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to engage with our industry partners one-on-one and gain insights into how we can continue to support them in the coming months and years ahead. We are excited to showcase our innovative products from Rheem’s design team, including the Triton Light Duty and the ProTerra Heat Pump Water Heater series, and emphasize our ongoing commitment to sustainability in the industry. Every year I look forward to connecting with the industry professionals at the Expo, discussing everything from regulatory adaptations to updates in the industry.”
The AHR Expo also brings together a great cross section of industry end users, specifiers, customers and suppliers from across the globe, Martin notes.
“The AHR Expo provides a unique opportunity to meet people in person and to have a personal touchpoint to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones,” she says. “Additionally, AHR Expo is an exciting time to launch new products and to offer hands-on demonstrations of our products’ features and benefits, which is invaluable. It’s a great way to get a pulse on what’s going on in our ever-changing industry, gain valuable customer insights and then to bring this knowledge back with us, so we can continue to improve, invent and create.
“2024 is a milestone year for NIBCO, as it is our 120th anniversary!” Martin adds. “We have many exciting things to celebrate and look forward to sharing these with the industry.”
Johnson Controls feels it is important to attend the annual event so the company can be a resource to its customers and partners, Budzinski explains.
“It’s an exciting time to be a part of the HVACR industry,” he says. “The focus on electrification and decarbonization and the extensive investments that have been made in technological advancements are moving us closer to a world that is built on smart, healthy and sustainable buildings, and we are looking forward to seeing our partners and customers at AHR 2024.”
According to Goncalves, it is important for Ariston Group to attend the AHR Expo because the company is still considered a new player in the U.S. market.
“Although we have long enjoyed a strong presence in Europe, we are not as well known in the U.S. and Canada,” he notes. “AHR Expo gives us the ability to build awareness of our innovative products and brands at the largest gathering of HVAC industry professionals in the U.S. Our hope is to not only reconnect with our partners face to face, but to show potential partners the width and breadth of our brands and capabilities. NTI, HTP and American Standard Water Heaters manufacture high quality products, and each have their own unique competencies. Although we have exhibited at AHR for many years, we have only exhibited under the Ariston Group banner since 2020 and hope to continue to familiarize the industry with our innovative products backed by a global leader in heating and hot water solutions.
“NTI, part of the Ariston Group family, will be with HTP and American Standard Water Heaters on the show floor this year,” he adds “We are excited to bring all of Ariston Group’s North American brands to the expo for the first time. NTI offers a full range of residential and commercial products that strive to set new standards for high-efficiency gas boilers, water heaters and combi furnaces.”
Brodie agrees with Martin, noting the show’s popularity offers a terrific platform for exhibitors to launch new products and highlight and showcase past products that are new to some audience members.
“AHR Expo provides a unique opportunity to gather everyone in the industry in one place—manufacturers, distributors, manufacturers’ representatives, customers, media, influencers, and other experts — to connect, network, and learn from each other. It brings every part of Little Giant/Franklin Electric together and provides a venue where we can host events and connect within the industry, our partners, and our team. It’s really important to get out in front of those 50,000-plus industry members who walk through the doors of AHR Expo. Where else can you get that kind of foot traffic and personal interaction in the industry? AHR Expo provides the perfect opportunity to launch our new products and see everyone in the industry. We are most looking forward to being able to showcase our new products and engage with the industry!”
Bush adds that the variety of people, jobs and perspectives is really what makes the event so special. “It’s an ideal place to hear from other segments in the industry and gain new perspectives. In general, we hope that every attendee finds what they are seeking to improve their everyday job performance and their careers in general. It’s so powerful to hear from attendees who come with a pain point and walk away with a solution — be that a product, application or new professional contact in their network. Beyond that, we hope that everyone comes away feeling energized by the innovation and movement happening within HVACR. There are so many motivated leaders and professionals doing amazing things at the moment, and it's exciting to see, experience and participate as a member of the industry.”
For more information on the AHR Expo, visit www.ahrexpo.com.