New conference/expo events don’t come along all that often in the HVAC industry. If they do, they don’t just spring to life practically fully formed — three days of browsing and networking, five tracks of education, expert support from over 20 different and established trade magazines, and (of course) its own hashtag.

And yet, the inaugural AEC BuildTech event (#AECBuildTech), taking place April 30 through May 2 and presented by BNP Media, is doing just that. The three-day gathering for industry learning and networking takes place just a few minutes from O’Hare Intl. Airport, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. For those who have only made midwinter trips to the Chicago area for AHR Expos, AEC BuildTech’s spring timing invites attendees to work some different activities into their trip, like catching a White Sox game or avoiding frostbite.



Of course, the location is an asset — a quick ride from a major hub airport in the middle of the country — but location doesn’t matter if the content isn’t there.

For HVAC contractors, the value begins at the top, courtesy of keynote speaker Steve Jones. Jones is senior director of industry insights research at Dodge Data & Analytics. He is seeing a digital transformation that affects every type of company in the industry and all kinds of projects.

His keynote will follow the ways this evolution is flowing through the industry and what it is already meaning for specialty trades such as HVAC. A few of these areas include:

  • How contractors are engaging with building information modeling (BIM) and its related technologies, such as reality capture, augmented reality, virtual reality, and others.
  • The emergence of integrated digital workflows that are streamlining formerly disjointed processes between engineers, fabricators, and installers.
  • The rapid growth of prefabrication, especially for HVAC contractors, and its evolution toward site automation, mass-customization of multi-trade assemblies, and even complete design-for-manufacture buildings.
  • Best practices for gathering and analyzing field data to improve performance.
  • How technology is contributing to best practices for safety management on the job site.

Jones and his team stay in touch with actual conditions and developing industry trends professionally. His AEC BuildTech presentation will complement a foundation of research findings on technology, sustainability, risk, safety, and project practices.

Information on many other topics is available to contractors as free reports from Dodge by visiting



If keynotes are critical, educational tracks are where contractors can take deeper but manageable, customized dives into subject matter.

In fact, when asked, The NEWS’ own group publisher, Mike Murphy, picked one in particular from the solid batch of options.

“The HVACR/Mechanical Systems track features nine speakers,” he said. “It’s going to be tough getting to all of them, but I’m especially interested in Matt Huffman.”

Huffman is senior program manager at Resource Innovations, an environmental consultancy in Chicago.

His presentation, “Filling the HVAC Controls Gap Between a Yugo and a Lambo,” continues a long and successful tradition of using car analogies to discuss HVAC systems. More importantly, he emphasizes the need for controls options that are better than an old Yugoslavian import but more affordable than the controls version of a Lamborghini.

Advanced rooftop unit controls, light commercial building controls — these represent his target area. He will use multiple real projects as examples to show attendees what is needed and what is possible across the realm of energy savings opportunities.

“Many contractors have shifted into energy services,” Murphy observed in explaining his pick, “and many more will follow in the coming years.”



Another trend many contractors have followed, often to expanded revenues, is VRF technology. Yet there is a learning curve for contractors getting into that area, just as there has been an acceptance curve for the public. That’s where Paul Chaves comes in.

Chaves brings 30 years of overall HVAC and HVAC training experience to his job as technical training manager at Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS). His Thursday morning session, “Getting Started with VRF: Best Practices and Common Misconceptions,” is intended to do exactly what its name implies.

One piece of his presentation will work to steer attendees clear of common early mistakes and toward the most accurate information about working with the technology. Wiring, ACCA sizing guidelines, piping ... these are areas to build team competence and confidence in order to avoid unnecessary headaches and callbacks.

Chaves will also discuss how to make the case — to both contractor management and budget coordinators at customers’ homes — when it comes to evaluating the pros and cons of investing in VRF.

A primer on best practices for VRF applications and installation rounds out the opportunity here and keeps the session’s content grounded in present opportunities.

That kind of focus is exactly what event content development manager Derrick Teal has been working toward.

“AEC BuildTech is all about technology — not technology that will happen 20 years from now, but technology that’s entering the market right now,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are helping a wide range of professionals in this ever- changing industry stay ahead of the curve. That’s why one of our biggest goals when we created AEC BuildTech was to develop an event that had quality educational sessions. In addition to seeing these technologies on the show floor, we want attendees to see how they can put it to use.”

The rest of the HVACR/Mechanical Systems track includes (but isn’t limited to) sessions on workflow, electronic controls for commercial refrigeration, and BIM. The conference’s sessions will offer opportunities to earn continuing education unit (CEU) credits as well.



As one would expect at an event drawing on the resources of almost two dozen trade magazines, HVAC is not the only topic on the ticket.

Other tracks delve into plumbing, roofing, building envelope, flooring, and general contracting. So if HVAC contractors want to spend an hour boosting their familiarity with a cousin specialty within the buildings family, plenty of options await.

In fact, some of that content is still in the HVAC wheelhouse. Lecturer and author Dan Holohan will be taking the entirety of Tuesday afternoon’s plumbing track for what he has titled, “Dead Men’s Steam School.”

“If you have to deal with America’s older steam systems, you’re going to love this course,” Holohan said.

With that much time at his disposal, Holohan outlines quite a few steam-related topics, many of which one would expect in a technical course like this. However, a couple of more particular aspects on the agenda include proper near-boiler piping, curing water hammer once and for all, and balancing systems with properly sized air vents.

Holohan assures attendees that the sessions will make them much better troubleshooters.

“[With] plenty of good stories to pull all of this together, you won’t be bored!” he said.

What else can one ask for?

One answer could be a welcome reception on Monday and lunch included on the expo floor on Tuesday and Wednesday, adjacent to expo exhibitors numbering several dozen and counting as of press time. Those provisions are already on the schedule.



It is tough to follow food and beverages, but one other aspect of attending this year’s AEC BuildTech is worth mentioning: flexible options. Contractors can buy one-, two-, and three-day passes. So whether it’s a day trip, the full event, or something in between, people can tailor their experiences to match their schedules (or budgets).

A review of the keynote and track topics indicates what many already know: The building industry and building processes are getting less silo-oriented. BIM represents the latest development to push companies, disciplines, and customers further in that direction.

It is no coincidence that, as Murphy observed, “This is the only event bringing together influential contractors, engineers, and architects under the same roof.”


Registration for AEC BuildTech is available at

Publication date: 3/11/2019

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