In January, I attended the AHR Expo, co-sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. While most consider it oriented toward the HVAC and air side of the profession, the trade show, held Jan. 25-27 in Orlando, Fla., had many plumbing, hydronic and boiler products on display. Simply stated, the show is huge and there is room for everyone.

One part of the show I especially enjoyed were the tool displays. Tools are the toys we like to play with in the profession. A number of new tools were being shown and demonstrated; I always get a kick out of using a tool that can do the job in a fraction of the time.

A tool that really turned me on was the PEX expander for 2- to 3-in. tubing. It is a hand-operated battery tool that is rather light by comparison to what it is doing. Let’s face it, when expanding a 3-in. PEX tube, there is a lot of power going into that operation.

The first time I saw a tool for expanding large diameter PEX was at the ISH Frankfurt trade show in Germany about 15 years ago. That tool was huge. The sales representative made it sound simple to use, but as I watched, I thought it was rather complicated. Hence, most of the PEX in the United States has been 1 1/2 in. or less in size. The hand tool introduced at AHR will probably change that size limitation. If you haven’t seen the tool, check out the ad in the magazine and give it a test run.

Another tool I admired was the new right-angle drill for drilling holes up to 6 in. in diameter. The manufacturer was demonstrating the cutting of holes for a 4-in. DWV pipe. It went through the wood like butter. Plus it was easier for the operator. Again, just another tool that was neat to observe and use.

Press connection and push-fit fittings seemed to be on display more than I have ever seen in the past. I couldn’t believe how many different types of copper, steel and plastic press fittings were displayed at AHR. In addition to the fittings, there were many valves, pumps, etc., with press-connect ends available. New tools for press-fit fittings also were demonstrated. The same can be said for the number of push-fit fittings.

It is hard to believe that if you attended an industry show 17 years ago, there would not have been any press-fit or push-fit fittings on display. In a short period of time, new joining technology has really taken hold.

Two press-connect fittings were shown for copper refrigerant tube. This type of service has a significantly higher pressure than plumbing water piping systems.

One of the refrigerant press-fit companies promoted the fact it has a UL listing for refrigerant service. The other company did not have a similar claim. I attempted to ask someone if they have a listing for refrigerant systems. Unfortunately, it was to no avail. No one seemed to know the answer.

The ASHRAE standard and mechanical codes require press-connect fittings for refrigerant systems to be listed for refrigerant tube. Underwriters Laboratories is one of the few agencies that lists refrigerant fittings. So, if you are involved in that side of the business, make sure any press-connect fitting is third-party listed for refrigerants before using it.


Stepping into the future

Being an AHR Show, energy and energy efficiency was rampant. From the plumbing side, pumps and water heaters were a big deal. You cannot imagine the variety and number of instantaneous water heaters. A few years ago, there were just a handful of models that all seemed alike. That has changed with many new offerings and a variety of features.

Tank-type water heaters also were on display. Some were promoting their pulse combustion gas-fired water heaters. Others were showing the convenience of the vent through the wall. What stood out was the difference in the size of the water heaters to accommodate the new federal energy requirements. They definitely are larger in size and diameter.

With pumps, many plumbing contractors have told me you can’t do much more as far as energy goes. However, it is not true. Now that the Feds are adjusting the energy requirements, the pump manufacturers are responding with very efficient pumps.

In one booth, I was speaking to a sales representative who said everything is going to variable-speed pumps. The technical name is variable frequency drive, but everyone nicknames them variable-speed pumps. I immediately questioned why he thought the plumbing profession would be switching completely to VFD pumps.

In typical fashion, he threw it back at me. Knowing my involvement in a number of high-rise buildings, he asked, “Would you do a high-rise building today without a variable-speed pump?”

Of course, I had to respond that anyone would be a fool for designing a high-rise without a VFD pump package system. He smiled and said, “See! What difference does it make between a high-rise and a low-rise building?”

He did have a point, but I asked if the manufacturers are going in that direction. He estimated that, in the next five years, most pumps in the plumbing profession will be VFD pumps, which seemed to be a bold assertion. But then again, it is a good direction to go.

VFD pumps are the future. Constant-speed pumps are the past. We will always have the past, but we need to move into the future. If you have never used a VFD pump, you are in for a delightful surprise. I love having a pump that can supply a constant pressure at any flow rate. It makes designing a water distribution system easier. You don’t have to worry about wild swings in pressure. Check out the VFD pumps being added to the market.

If you missed the AHR Show, consider signing up to attend the ASPE Biennial Show to be held in Phoenix at the end of October. You can find out more about the show at Phoenix is a nice place to visit in October. Plus, the show is the largest plumbing-oriented show in North America. I hope to see you there.