Even the Blues Brothers were roaming the aisles of the AHR (International Air-Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigerant Exposition), held in Chicago. Being where The Blues Brothers movie was filmed, seeing Elwood and Jake impersonators was perfectly normal and made people smile. The AHR was held in at the McCormick Convention Center on Jan. 22-24, 2024. It was clear to anyone filling the halls on Monday morning of the show that attendance was strong, welcoming 48,034 attendees there to interact with the 1,875 exhibitors spread across North and South Halls. Maximizing 527,520 square footage of space for booth displays, attendees gained access to all the latest the industry has to offer, including new products, technology, skill learning and demonstration.

Like any broncobuster, we had to plan our booth visits to rope in new technology, products, controls and innovations that were in abundance. No way to corral 1,875 exhibitors, so careful scheduling was required in advance or you would wander aimlessly bedazzled by the eye candy presented.

One of our first stops was in the Burnham/US Boiler booth where they had a product so new, it was not even released to the public yet, but was in production: 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.

We met with Sri Deivasigamani in the Intellihot booth where their displays don’t shy away from Legionella bacteria issues. CO2 refrigerant tankless heat pump water heaters — yes I said tankless — are standard fare for Intellihot. Sri takes inspiration from everyday life experiences for some of the designs. For example: the iE6 modular heat pump is installed outdoors and simple fluid lines connect to the iB3 thermal battery. For your contractor customers, each heat pump cube is its own self-contained module that can be removed or installed without breaking into the refrigerant circuit, so no refrigerant handling license is required. Sri’s inspiration for this design came about because his son wanted a gaming computer. Sri declined to buy one outright, but told his son he would provide the parts if his son would build the computer. The final result looked much like the iE6 and that, as they say, was that.

Nearly every exhibitor had new and improved heat pumps in their stables. Of course, ground source heat pumps were present, but not always a physical presence. Climatemaster had a spacious booth with large flat table-like active screens where visitors could select videos and the same videos linked to huge flat screen tv’s high on the surrounding booth walls for unobstructed views when the table-top video screens became crowded. Ingenious idea.

If you weren’t sure about decarbonization and electrification before visiting AHR, there was no longer any question our industry is charging down the home stretch with 1,000% commitment towards the future. So to is the move to CO2 refrigerant, which has a GWP of just 1 whereas R410a has a GWP of 1,890. R744 (CO2) is dirt cheap compared to current HFC refrigerants, but has much higher operating pressures and is suitable for new systems only at this point. Going to need a CO2 leak detector too, so for contractors it’s a here-we-go-again expensive experience. The upside? No refrigerant license required, at least not at present until regulatory agencies realize they’re missing out on another revenue stream. Contractors will need and appreciate guidance and education and that fosters customer loyalty.

AHR had plenty of plumbing products on display besides just water heaters. Intellihot had their Legionator point-of-use electric water heater connected to two pedestal sinks and grabbed my full attention because it incorporates an Ozone generator to eradicate bacteria from the water, pipes and faucets.

Jomar valve had a really sharp-looking booth and new products just now coming to market. The Jomar ball valves with lockable handles are outstanding.

Watts had a front-and-center backflow preventer display that was very familiar because I tested several hundred every year. New and improved, many now feature freeze protection for those areas where backflow preventers will often be installed outdoors above grade — like Texas and Florida — where sudden unusual cold-snaps can — and often have — damaged these expensive safety devices. Like virtually all the products on display this year, once connected to the building’s systems, the sensor will notify those on the programmed list of the freeze danger.

I stopped for a visit with the folks manning the Fernox booth – just in time for a yummy piece of cake. That served as lunch because there was just too much to see and do at AHR. Boiler manufacturers are beginning to require a hydronic water sample before providing a warranty heat exchanger replacement, especially modulating/condensing boilers. They will be looking at TDS (total dissolved solids), pH and hardness. Fernox F1 is running through the veins of my home’s modcon and radiant system. Are you stocking boiler treatment chemicals and promoting the use to protect your customer’s customer’s hydronic systems? Test instruments are inexpensive and pH test strips are not nearly as accurate as chemical test kits. pH & TDS digital testers are reliable and accurate once calibrated.

There’s another side of modcon boilers and high-efficiency water heaters that needs to be addressed and that’s the acidic condensate generated. Up to 1 gallon for every 100,000-Btu/h of gas combustion. Neutra-safe was set up displaying their acidic condensate neutralizers that use calcium carbonate that self-regulates to discharge neutralized condensate at 7-pH. I recently installed one for my mod-con: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0wkr2I4gIE.

Coffee with Caleffi was a welcome stop to recharge with caffeine. Caleffi has generously supported the Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence and hosted a Next Gen All Stars Interview Carlson Holohan Honorees — A thoughtful discussion. As the first recipient, it was an honor to share the stage with Dan Holohan and Robert Bean, then by threes, other recipients of the CHIAoE were interviewed. Caleffi manufacturers a wide range of plumbing and hydronic products of exceptional quality and the coffee was outstanding too. Download the idronics booklet too for great info on heat pump water heaters.

AHR, at times, feels like a family or high school reunion because many great industry friends are present as well as manufacturer associates who have become great friends over the decades I have been attending AHR. Given the huge 527,520 square feet of space and 48,034 attendees, it’s always surprising how many close friends you encounter. The manufacturer friends are stationary and, therefore, easy to visit — unless they’re out roaming the halls — and a visit with Jan Andersson, president — and great friend — of Mr Pex, was not to be missed. While in the booth, we were given an in-depth tour of their latest and greatest controls system, which — quite frankly — can control darn near anything by simply adding modules. Crazy as it seems, I have bumped into Jan at every ISH trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, I have attended, which is much larger than AHR and had over 150,000-attendees last year.