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AHR in Chicago was exceptionally busy, and the sad truth is one never gets to visit as many manufacturers, take in enough of the education track or see everyone you had hoped to spend a few minutes with while attending. This year, 1,875 exhibitors spread out over the 527,520 square feet within the McCormick Place convention center with only 20 hours open-to-the-public over the three-day run, which would leave you less than one minute per exhibitor, and that doesn’t include the time walking! And that, my friends, is why preparing ahead of time with a schedule is vital. AHR makes that easy via their app and we had ours in print with highlighted booths that were a must-see for us.

I certainly expected to encounter more heat pumps this year than were present last year in Atlanta, but the mantra of decarbonization has leaped forward into reality, as you literally could not turn around without encountering another heat pump. Air-to-water, water-to-water, air-to-air heat pumps — and even tankless heat pump water heaters! Taco was a few years ahead of this decarbonization effort with their System M air-to-water inverter heat pump that was on display several years ago during the expo.

March 2024 Dave Yates column: AHR Expo Ambient Hydronic heat pump exhibit


Virtually every boiler manufacturer had new heat pumps on display and we visited the Burnham/U.S. Boiler booth to check out their Ambient Hydronic Heat Pump. Designed to be coupled to an indirect water heater/storage tank, and as is typical for hydronic heat pumps, the upper limit is 140° F.

Designers, specifiers, and contractors only need to alter their thinking to build/install lower temperature hydronic systems or use a hydro-air engineered to use lower-temperature water. Many years ago, I needed to retrofit hydro-air into a home because the existing oil furnace became bothersome after the owners invested a boatload of money to build their home theater. With no access to outdoor air, the door to the mechanical room had to be louvered, and every time they wanted to sit in their stadium seating watching their 4K 80-inch flat screen TV, either the furnace or water heater oil burner would start running. The solution was installing a modulating condensing boiler on the far side of the basement, run injection piping above the suspended ceiling tiles, install an air handler and an indirect water heater. I installed an oversized hydro coil to boost air temperature while using 140° F hydronic output so that the boiler would remain in condensing mode.

Low-temperature radiant and flat panel radiators are a perfect fit with hydronic heat pumps. Even cast iron radiators become wonderfully radiant at lower water temperatures. The Burnham Heating Helper has a chart (bottom of page 47) that provides the Btu/h output per square foot and on prior pages; you can find the square feet for various radiators. Compare each radiator to the actual heat loss on a design day and pinpoint the water temperature required.

AHR isn’t all HVACR, it includes plumbing via water heaters of every size, shape, and energy source, as well as valves and water leak detection systems. There were even a few plumbing fixtures to be encountered in the Intellihot booth for the Legionator point-of-use electric water heater with onboard ozone generator. Eradicates Legionella bacteria? More than OK by me!

March 2024 Dave Yates column: AHR Expo Legionator point-of-use electric water heater with onboard ozone generator


March 2024 Dave Yates column: AHR Expo Watts backflow preventer display


Watts had a very nice backflow preventer display and now offers freeze protection by way of blow-out plugs. I was drawn to the display because I personally installed and tested more backflow potable and fire-line detectors than all of the other certified testers in my area. Rather than ding customers with an exorbitant fee to test, I charged just our hourly rate. That bread cast upon the waters came flooding back, resulting in millions of dollars of revenue and dedicated loyal; customers. Foot-in-the-door approach.

March 2024 Dave Yates column: AHR Expo AO Smith Cyclone Flex commercial gas-fired water heater

A.O. Smith

AO Smith’s Cyclone Flex commercial gas-fired water heater was no surprise to encounter, but its new iComm connectivity app was, and now both customer and contractor can look in to see performance and be forewarned when maintenance is needed or an imminent part failure is pending. Reliability built in.

To be realistic, fossil fuels are not dead and moving forward will provide the bridge needed until the electric grid is vastly upgraded and new power plants become reality. We are decades away from the decarbonization and electrification of everything. Of course, AO Smith also had its heat pump water heater prominently displayed, but so too was its brand new Emerge commercial heat pump. New heat pumps everywhere! Also on display was the State Heat Pump Water Heater – wish they all had the clear-view casing! Easy pullout air filter for cleaning and, yes, the intake/exhaust can be ducted. Upgrades and connectivity reigned supreme with the AO Smith tankless gas-fired water heaters, too.

Even the old reliable Weil McClain had inverter heat pumps! “For Now: For The Future” was pictured on the flat screen above the condenser. They had prominently displayed a hybrid marriage between the inverter heat pump and gas-fired tankless unit for those times when supplemental heating is required. It was impressive, as a mechanical contractor, to see the level of astute engineering that has been built into these new-generation products. Clearly both consumer and contractor were front-of-mind during the design process. I know from personal experience that Weil McClain pays close attention to feedback from end user4s and contractors.

March 2024 Dave Yates column: AHR Expo Weil McClain inverter heat pumps

Weil McClain

Award winners

I was delighted to find that Interplay Learning won first place for Innovation because I am a small cog on that wheel. For the past year, I have been helping develop courses to train mechanical contractors as what they call a Subject Matter Expert because of my 48-years experience and prior teaching adventures, which included being an Adjunct Professor at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and an online Radiant Basics course via the Radiant Professionals Alliance.

March 2024 Dave Yates column: AHR Expo Innovation award winner Intellihot Sri Deivasigamani

Sri Deivasigamani

Intellihot also garnered an Innovation 1st place award and, to me, that’s no surprise. Sri Deivasigamani, who has to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, uses everyday events as inspiration for the incredible products on display. His son wanted Dad to cough up the funds for a gaming computer, but Sri told his son “I’ll get you the parts, but you must build it yourself.” After his son completed the gaming computer, its overall look inspired Sri to build a modular heat pump with modules a contractor can easily swap out as needed without needing a refrigerant license.

Of course, CO2 refrigerants with a 1 GWP were ever present. Here we go again! When R410a was coming on strong, we had to get new gauges, new vacuum pumps, and get all employees certified. No local wholesalers jumped on board, and the mini-split line we were loyal to did not make the change from R22 to R410a, so we went with a brand that had completely switched over. Higher efficiencies and at the same price-point, so we changed and never looked back. Today, they, and others, are embracing CO2 as the refrigerant of the future. Well, that is until our government decides otherwise!

NIBCO’s booth is always a must-visit for me. I’m a plumber at heart with HVACR playing second fiddle. Same goes for Uponor, and we even had some time to talk with Cool, a company that has very robust press fittings and is contemplating building a manufacturing facility here in the good old USA. After visiting ISH in Frankfurt and seeing press fittings there in 2005, I couldn’t wait for RIDGID to bring a press tool to the U.S. market. The timing was perfect because we had a Cheeseburgers in Paradise restaurant job with 2-inch down to 1/2-inch copper potable water lines to install. Not one single leak. That first generation RIDGID press tool was like a Sherman Tank — big, bulky, corded and heavy. Still works to this day, but I purchased multiple cordless compact and lightweight models when they became available. Also purchased Zoomlock heads to press refrigerant lines rather than braze in church attics that looked just like Notre Dame before it burned, only on a smaller scale.

That’s the advantage of attending AHR. See emerging trends; gauge new products and decide if they will enhance your offerings; speak with and become friends with manufacturers’ people-behind-the-products; enjoy all the product eye candy; increase your knowledge; and wear out another pair of shoes! Sadly, I was not able to visit all the booths I would have liked and missed getting together with several old very good friends who were at AHR because there simply was not enough time. It was an amazing show.