BY ROBERT P. MADER

Of CONTRACTOR’s staff

CHICAGO — Despite frigid Chicago weather and a tepid U.S. economy, this year’s AHR Expo 2003 set all-time attendance and exhibitor records. The numbers from this year’s event are the highest in the 73-year history of the show. The show, commonly referred to as the ASHRAE Show, was held Jan. 27-29 at Chicago’s McCormick Place

More than 58,000 HVACR professionals (more than 38,000 registered visitors and 20,000 exhibitor personnel) from 117 countries filled the aisles during the three-day event to see thousands of the latest products and technologies from 1,860 exhibiting companies. Of the total listed number of exhibitors participating at the 2003 AHR Expo, 1,408 were contracted exhibitors and 452 were co-exhibitors. Additionally, the more than 38,000 registered visitors are the largest ever to attend an AHR Expo.

At more than 400,000 sq. ft., the 2003 show set a record for exhibit space. Records were established for the number of foreign exhibitors, 286 (233 contracted exhibitors and 53 co-exhibitors), and number of first-time exhibitors, 297 (261 contracted exhibitors and 36 co-exhibitors).

All those people had plenty to see.

Many progressive hydronic and radiant contractors are including some type of air-to-air heat exchanger or heat recovery ventilator in their projects. Broan-NuTone has taken the concept to a higher level with its GuardianPlus Air System that includes a HEPA filter.

The company was showing a family of HEPA filters at the show that includes models with filtration-only, filtration-fresh air and filtration-fresh air-heat recovery. Stale air for all three types is typically drawn from the highest level of the house. The stale air is exhausted, fresh air is blended with interior air, then passes through the pre-filter and then the HEPA filter. The fan-powered unit has a capacity of 270 cfm of HEPA-filtered air. The device also comes with a low-voltage control that shows the unit’s operating status and LED filter alert light to indicate a filter change is needed.

Victaulic was promoting its Construction Piping Services, which aims to make it easier for contractors to use Victaulic products on building projects. The Construction Piping Services division offers free and some fee-based services such as pre-bid cost studies, software drawing tools, project coordination, pre-planning and materials scheduling. CPS, for example, can produce drawings, bills of materials, pipe cut sheets and procurement documents, then deliver bagged and tagged components matching the drawings. The company boasts that it can cut piping costs by 30%.

Taco Inc. President John H. White Jr. told an AHR Expo press conference that the company would just be selling cast iron by the pound unless it provided value-added features. White, consequently, unveiled the firm’s Hydronics Systems Solution or HS2 software. Taco boasts that the software can cut system design time in half. The Windows-based software uses symbols in a schematic layout that look just like the equipment being specified.

Lochinvar Corp. introduced its brand new TurboCharger sealed-combustion, tank-type gas water heater. The TurboCharger features fully condensing direct-vent design and can vent vertically or horizontally with up to 100 equivalent ft. with 3-in. pipe or 150 equivalent ft. with 4-in. pipe. The 100-gal. unit has a submerged combustion chamber and fires at 200,000 Btuh, and its triple-pass flue produces efficiencies up to 98%. Lochinvar also showed its next generation Copper Fin II. With independent dual ignition systems and multiple gas valves, fans and burners, the Copper Fin II us actually two units in one, reducing the likelihood of a total system failure. Moreover, the setup allows the units to be staged and sequenced for precise control of water temperatures.

Reps for Gearworks, the Minneapolis-based maker of wireless service management software, were bragging about landing Roto-Rooter’s business (February, pg. 38). The company’s 1,500 service techs will use the wireless software on their Nextel phones. Gearworks reps also noted that their wireless service management system might be offered as a bonus to buyers of some GMC service vehicles.

Instead of a factory guy, Danfoss had contractor Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical in Alexandria, Va., promote the Danfoss Zone Control Panel. The ZCP is pre-engineered, pre-fabricated and pre-wired, Foley noted, eliminating problems of creating custom panels such as direct labor, troubleshooting, warranties, leak testing or waiting for that one back-ordered component. Foley said the Danfoss ZCPs save 40% of his installation labor because they eliminate so much of his field wiring and all he has to do is hook up the thermostats and plug them in.

KamCo Products was showing a line of corrosion-resistant gas pipe. The firm’s Gas-Tec product is a yellow polyethylene-coated copper tubing that provides added corrosion protection for liquefied petroleum gas and natural gas. The tubing is continuously line-marked for clearer identification of contents, size, ASTM specifications and is traceable back to the origin of manufacture. President Brad Sigouin said that the company will release a tin-lined copper pipe this year.

Syracuse, N.Y.-based ICM Corp. was showing its SimpleComfort line of thermostats, in particular its SC 3801 model. The SC 3801 can be configured for many different applications, including heat pump, heat/cool, programmable (with seven-day programming available), non-programmable, single-stage or two-stage. The new SC 3801 thermostats can also be configured as an auto or manual changeover. ICM points out that a technician can carry a single thermostat to handle almost any residential application.

Laars Heating Systems showed a variety of new boilers, including the Summit, a low-mass condensing boiler with a stainless steel heat exchanger that achieves efficiencies up to 96%. The direct-vent, sealed-combustion boiler weighs 275-lb. and can be hand-trucked by a single installer. It produces NOx levels less than 14 ppm and output capacities up to 231,000 Btuh.

Solaronics Inc. introduced its SunTwin two-stage infra-red radiant heater. The SunTwin features two-stage operation to save energy, operating on 50% capacity most of the time. The second stage comes on as needed, and can be triggered by a thermostat, opening or closing of doors, exhaust fans coming on or by humidity measurements. A driving range has it come on when a golfer steps on the tee mat.

Finally, numerous manufacturers were showing gas fireplaces, and the Vent-Free Gas Products Alliance of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association made sure that everyone knows that un-vented gas fireplaces do not cause excessive humidity and mold growth. The alliance hired an independent research laboratory to conduct a study, and the lab conducted 200,000 computer runs simulating various heating products, room types and operating conditions. More information on the study may be found at www.ventfreealliance.org.

The 2004 AHR Expo moves to Anaheim, Calif., at the Anaheim Convention Center, Jan. 26-28.