Day One observations of the 2009 AHR Expo.

I’m always thrilled when ASHRAE hosts the AHR Expo in my hometown of Chicago. It gives me a chance to wake bright and early, battle traffic, and head toward the city’s lakefront to enjoy a leisurely walk through the entire show.
,br>This year I spent two whole days of the three-day show wandering the aisles (North and South buildings) of the latest heating, cooling, refrigeration (and some plumbing) offerings. And while this show obviously leans to the commercial side, I’m more than happy to switch hats and just take it all in. But I’ll do my best to make this 2009 show blog relevant to all my readers.

John Siegenthaler is at the head of the class when it comes to solar design.

8:30AM "

Plumbing & Mechanical played host to its popular PM Live Series early on Jan. 26 where attendees listened intently to PM Hydronics Editor John Siegenthaler on the subject of solar heating. While bringing the room up to speed with the latest technology for solar domestic water heating, he said today’s current market is “déjà vu all over again.” There’s a rising cultural tide of “green” thinkers; a stagnant economy and rising fuel costs; concern over tax credits and their longevity "

Greg Cunniff announces Taco’s new LoFlo Radiant Cooling system.

9AM "

I couldn’t stay for all of John’s presentation because I had a date with Taco. Since the company’s announcement in December that it purchased Innovex Technologies, I was curious to see how this new partnership would manifest itself in Taco’s product offerings.

Greg Cunniff introduced members of the media to Taco’s new LoFlo Radiant Cooling system that utilizes the LoadMatch single-pipe circulator system and a modified injection pumping Taco Radiant Mixing Block. Greg says the system works in conjunction with radiant chilled ceiling panels and passive/active chilled beams along with a 100% dedicated air system (DOAS) to supply latent cooling.

Currently the system is installed in Taco’s new Canadian headquarters outside of Toronto. “It supplies both cooling and heating for the 30,000 ft. interior containing office space and manufacturing/warehousing,” he says. “And it works fantastic.”

John Barba makes his guests feel at home as he introduces Taco’s FloPro Design Software.

Then the mic was handed to John Barba who introduced Taco’s FloPro Design Software, aimed at contractors and wholesalers, that configures heat load and heat distribution easily. Through the program’s “boiler wizard,” full materials lists can be produced and it gives boiler piping schematics from the mechanical room piping out.

And did you know you can gain free access to FloPro Designer? All you have to do is join Taco’s FloPro Team. (To become a member, go to FloPro.taco-hvac.com.)

Later that day, John made attendees comfortable in his Taco “living room” (at right) and showcased many of the software’s functions and features, while Gregg introduced Taco’s Design Suite software to visitors on the other end of the booth.

Finally, Mark Chafee was proud to underscore the flexibility the purchase of Innovex Technologies has brought to Taco’s line of packaged systems. New venues into solar products brings an update to the X-Pump Block. With its redesign, it offers the ultimate in control and installation of solar thermal systems, combining a variable speed solar differential control, collector circulator, storage tank circulator and heat exchanger into a single unit.

Mark says the key is the variable speed controller that increases system performance by up to 20%. With only four pipe connections for quick installation even in tight spaces, the Solar X-Pump Block (SXPB) clearly illustrates Taco’s new slogan that “Easy Just Got Easier.”

The crowds gathered early and soon made their way through the AHR Expo doors.

10AM "

Besides having great access to the press office (conveniently located between the North and South venues), I also had the advantage of an exhibitor’s badge, which got me onto the show floor before the mad rush at 10AM. I snapped a picture of the crowds anticipating the opening bell. They were shoulder-to-shoulder out there in the hall, and each seemed to have a plan of attack.

Through the crowd, I spotted a familiar face. Robert Bean of HealthyHeating.com still had his coat on, but I managed to say hi before he was swallowed up by the throngs.

I asked him what he was hoping to see presented at the show, but he confessed he rarely gets to browse the aisles of the AHR Expo; he’s always attending to ASHRAE business or donating his time to committee meetings. He was actually on his way to just such a meeting (thus the jacket) when we met.

Robert had some positive things to say about the organization’s push toward collaborative efforts with other associations. In terms of research, these tag-teams can eliminate duplicate efforts and redundancy, and better serve the industry, since consensus can be made a lot quicker.

Michael John Florio from American-Marsh and Dave Rominger of Thrush cement their partnership by exhibiting together at the AHR Expo.

11AM "

Hope you can keep up, ’cause my exploits on the floor go by fast!

First I met the folks at Thrush Company Inc. This pump manufacturer has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with American-Marsh Pumps, which allows Thrush to become, “the most comprehensive resource for HVAC pumps, package systems and solutions in the world.”

Dave Rominger (who really deserves a vacation) was excited about what this partnership means for the immediate future of Thrush, and he introduced me to the new Pressurizer-VS with variable speed system control. This eco-smart product controls electrical consumption, power spikes, and its environmental impact. Horsepower sizes from 1-15 hp and tank sizes from 1-15 gal.

And since American-Marsh has its own foundry, the delivery time of Thrush products can be measured in days, not weeks. No doubt this company is poised to take on its market competitors.

There's a FLIR camera for every business and price point.

FLIR was in attendance at the show, and Brent Lammert gave me an overview of the infrared cameras available to determine heat loss and other leaks. The i5 Series has a price point of under $3,000 and can store information on a standard flash drive to show clients results quickly and easily. The new FLIR b-Series offers a higher camera resolution with picture-in-picture capabilities, a built-in laser pointer, a dew point and insulation alarm, QuickReport™ software, a 1 GB micro SD Card, and more. The b-Series is also available at an affordable price point (it varies with model, but remains under $8,000).

Brent believes there has been an increase of infrared camera sales largely because the cost of technology has come down so far. “I remember starting in the business 10 years ago with cameras costing $60K,” he recalls. Now contracting companies of all sizes can find a camera to fit their needs and budgets, and they no longer have to outsource this type of analysis to other businesses. Besides obvious heat-loss applications, Brent anticipates FLIR cameras being used for electrical applications as well.

Such a small tool got a great big response. Meet Rothenberger's PlastiCut PEX cutter.

Rothenberger’s booth featured several new pipe tools, including the PlastiCut PEX cutter for ½- and ¾-inch pipe sizes (at-right), which was getting a great response from the crowds. The company’s PEX Crimper is one tool that crimps two sizes (½- and ¾-inch), and its PEX Clamp Pincer is a ring removal tool that saves the fitting.

Gastite's Bob Konovsky (left) and Craig Barry are big on CSST safety.

After lunch I left the South side of McCormick Place, which had a slight chill to its air, and headed North where several space heating and infrared tub manufacturers managed to warm the place up. It was downright toasty over there, but I was glad to sit with the guys at Gastite to get the latest scoop about their safety initiative.

“We’re taking the lead on safety,” Craig Barry told me. “We’ve been working on the campaign for three years now trying to educate contractors that direct bonding is a big thing.”

Properly bonding and grounding corrugated stainless steel tubing (and any type of fuel gas piping) can reduce the risk of damage and fire from lightning strikes. Did you know that even a nearby lightning strike that doesn’t hit your structure directly can cause systems in the building to become electrically energized?

The Gastite team is working to certify (and re-certify) contractors at the wholesale level to ensure proper installation methods are practiced and meet the latest fuel gas codes. With millions of installations nationwide, that’s quite an undertaking. But if CSST wants to remain a market leader, it has to be safety first. Kudos to Gastite and their commitment.

Bill Johansen informed me that RAUGEO was recently approved by IGSHPA.

REHAU’s booth had the stark white feeling of a science fiction movie. And its products were aimed at the future as well. Bill Johansen spoke with me about the strategic move REHAU has made to focus “squarely on renewables.” Even though REHAU is known worldwide for its radiant heating systems, they couldn’t exactly be qualified as “renewable.”

“But it’s an important building block and a great foundation to build our renewables business,” Bill says. Specifically, the low-temperature/low-energy consumption systems of radiant blend well with REHAU’s latest RAUGEO geothermal package. Bill also informed me that the company’s ground loop heat exchange system was recently approved under a revision to the IGSHPA “Design and Installation Standards” guide, which now recognizes PEXa pipe and compression-sleeve fittings as an approved piping system.

We talked about the importance of offering complete packaged systems to contractors. “In the past, packages didn’t matter. But contractors wasted time trying to figure out if a system was going to work,” Bill tells me. Now a whole energy-efficient package is available, and benefits not only the distribution chain but the contractor and end-user as well. And to help contractors and building owners get further educated about renewable systems, REHAU has updated its Web site www.na.rehau.com.

New Rinnai America GM Phil Weeks (left) stands with Ansley Houston, tankless product manager, and one of the company's Energy Star-rated models.

3PM "

It’s late in the afternoon and the show closes at 6PM, but the aisles are still filled with attendees. I did my best to see these last few booths on Day One. Here are some highlights:

Rinnai, who announced six of its tankless water heater models as Energy Star certified this month, had a decent 2008 and was hoping 2009 would show continued growth. Now with 50% market share, Nina Knight told me the company is focusing on strengthening its relationship with its dealers. “We want it to be less of a conduit for consumer purchases and more of a partnership,” she says. And education plays a big part.

And since SuperBowl Sunday is a big day to debut TV commercials, Rinnai has one of its own! Beginning Feb. 1, the company will launch a consumer-focused tankless water heater commercial on HGTV. I got a sneak preview at the show, and it made me laugh: A woman wakes up to get ready for work, and proceeds to leave faucets running, blenders spinning, lights and stoves on, sprinklers going "

Weil-McLain is expanding its Ultra line this year with two models in late summer. They’ll feature high efficiency and the company’s UControl module that makes boiler set-up and operation easy. Also, a new “in-between” sized Ultra boiler will fit into the line rather nicely.

Andreas Wintzer explains to me all the finer points of a BAXI Solar Heating System.

Marathon International’s Andreas Wintzer explained the benefits of the new BAXI Luna 3 Comfort modulating wall-hung boiler. It has a new controller made by Bertelli & Partners to enhance boiler set up and performance. It can also be used as a thermostat that communicates with an optional external sensor. The boiler features a motorized diverter valve, and works well with BAXI’s solar water heating system. (That’s me at-right hearing all about solar from Andreas.)

These mantle-worthy a/c units from LG come in heat pump models as well for year-round comfort.

Day One Random Thoughts

  • I got a kick out of Stanley VIRAX’s slogan for its new industrial pressing tools: “I could solder. I could also ride a horse to work.”

  • LG merged form and function with its Art Cool™ duct-free air conditioning solution (right). Any drawing, photo or other graphic can be placed in the frame, and capacities range from 9K to 12K Btu a/c units as well as heat pump models for year-round comfort.

  • Building controls were EVERYWHERE! While the AHR Expo had aisles devoted completely to software, computer technology over-spilled to the floor with a slew of monitoring devices, energy analysis tools and system management integrations. It seems we’re able to monitor everything from heating patterns to lighting schemes directly from our cell phones these days.



    Thanks for reading though to the end! More from Day Two of the show in my next installment.