NEW ORLEANS — The first standalone convention and trade show in a number of years held by Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association was a big success. Contractors were treated to a variety of informative seminars, and exhibitors at the small but well-attended trade show were happy with the quality of their interactions with contractors.

“It was the best one I've attended for years,” is how one contractor described it, while an exhibitor said, “It was a home run.”

Featuring business-building educational seminars, an intimate and focused Product & Technology Showcase and a rewarding Day of Service, CONNECT 2009, PHCC's first convention on its own since 2001, delivered on its promises. Approximately 750 people attended the October event. That number included 400 contractors, surpassing contractor numbers in recent years.

Next year's convention and show in Las Vegas is predicted to be bigger and better.

“Next year will be even better as we add the excitement of a Quality Service Contractors' Power Meeting to the overall convention experience,” said PHCC Executive Vice President Ike Casey.

Bradford White continued its industry support by again donating $15,000 to PHCC-NA. This year $7,500 went to the PHCC Educational Foundation and another $7,500 was earmarked for the association's National Auxiliary. Bradford White awarded the donations during the annual PHCC-NA breakfast meeting. Bradford White was also a Diamond Sponsor of the Connect 2009 and co-host with InSinkErator of the opening reception at the show.

Delta Faucet Co. announced the 2009 Delta Plumbing Apprentice of the Year and Contractor of the Year award recipients at a luncheon. Andrew Firestine and Les DenHerder were recognized for their outstanding accomplishments in the plumbing industry.

DenHerder, president of HPS Mechanical in Bakersfield, Calif., earned this top honor for the second time. He won previously in 1997.

DenHerder has been dubbed a progressive thinker with an unassuming presence. His business acumen and commitment to the industry and civil service are commendable. Since purchasing the family company in 1976, he has grown the business more than 3,400%. He takes a personal stake in driving the success of his employees and generously supports non-profit organizations.

Delta also issued Contractor of the Year runners-up awards to John Roeber of Roeber's Inc., Castro Valley, Calif.; and Jo Rae Wagner of CTO Inc., Harlingen, Texas.

Apprentice winner Andy Firestine entered the plumbing trade in search of an occupation he could be proud of. Firestine graduated from his apprenticeship program in May 2009 after earning the respect of his instructors and peers for his confidence and can-do attitude.

Federated Insurance presented its third annual “Safety First!” Contractor of the Year Award to Dan Foley of Lorton, Va. Foley accepted the award on behalf of Foley Mechanical Inc., the 18-employee company he founded in 2002. Federated noted that it was Foley's proactive loss control methods of effective hiring practices, motor vehicle record checks, drug testing, and safety meetings that elevated him among his peers.

Among the seminars offered, prominent plumbing and hydronic heating contractor Rich Trethewey attempted to cover solar rules of thumb, principles, panel types, layout and design in 45 minutes, although he had enough material for a daylong seminar. Trethewey believes that eventually 65%-75% of domestic hot water production will be done by solar and two panels on every house will be the norm. Trethewey noted that the 30% tax credit is still in place, the technology is easily repeatable, and there are plenty of vendors. At the time when he spoke, oil was at $80 a barrel, which makes both photovoltaics and solar thermal attractive.

Contractors should consider solar for any laundromat or restaurant, he said, and gas will probably no longer be an option for heating residential swimming pools. Trethewey gave the contractors tips on when it's best to use either flat plate or evacuated tube collectors, on how collectors should be placed and on where to get more information.

Hot water expert Gary Klein, Affiliated International Management, laid out a variety of “plumbing systems” by putting colored duct tape on the floor of the seminar room to show the contractors the implications of various system designs on hot water delivery. Klein explained to the contractors how much water is held in different diameter pipe and how long it would take to deliver hot water from the water heater to a fixture.

As low-flow fittings and smaller pipe diameters become more common, Klein explained, it will take longer to get hot water to fixtures. Homeowners will run more water down the drain waiting for hot water and might complain about the long waits to their plumbing contractor.

Klein advocates recirculating hot water systems that pump water on demand with either a push button activation or a motion sensor in a bathroom. All of the pipe must be insulated. A well-designed system can deliver hot water to a fixture quickly, wasting only one cup of water.