The 2006 AHR (Air-conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration) Expo that was held at McCormick Place Center in Chicago last January 23-25 was the largest in history. And although such brands as Carrier and Trane continue to be notably absent, one of the first companies to stop attending (Lennox International) was back in full force. Also, Carrier's ICP division had a full line of products on display, and the fact that the ICP press reception (held at the Adler Planetarium) replaced the traditional Carrier off-site press reception, seems to indicate Carrier's commitment of strong support to these product lines.

The big news, though, was the new 13-SEER residential air conditioner minimum efficiencies, for this seemed to have a greater impact on equipment designs and pricing than I had imagined. And while some companies appeared to be ready with new technology, others just made their equipment much larger, and few technical improvements were noticeable.

I went up to one booth to look at the manufacturer's new 13-SEER system and asked the company spokesman, “Is this your 5-ton condensing unit?” And I was shocked when he told me, “Oh no, that's our new 1-1/2 ton unit.”

Nobody wanted to discuss pricing though, and I got the distinct impression that everyone was waffling until they found out what everyone else was doing. Yet, one manufacturer did whisper that he expected about a 30% increase over the current price of 10-SEER units.

Two companies in particular were very proud of their small sized 13-SEER condensing units, York International (which I found out was just bought by Johnson Controls Corp.), and Fedders Corp.

York had two sizes of 13-SEER systems on display, one huge and one small, and the small one was the newsworthy technology. They are using a new type of all-aluminum condenser coil that looks similar to an automobile radiator. I first saw this type of coil and wrote about it some three or more years ago, predicting that we would soon see it in residential air conditioners, for it is not only more efficient, but the single metal design will retain its efficiency over a longer period of time.

The small size of the Fedders unit was thanks to more traditional technology. They use smaller coil tube sizes, more circuits, and more coil depth. However, as they pointed out, their price increase may not be as dramatic since they claim to have the only standard American-style condensing unit manufactured in China.

And once again, I was still shocked to see that most manufacturers were still using R-22 in their builder-model units, since the refrigerant will just be gone in nine years, leaving nothing to service them with. So, I asked the head of engineering for one of the manufacturers why this was so, and he replied, 'We have labored over this problem in many of our company design meetings. However, the biggest market out there is still for replacement condensing units using R-22. Most customers just aren't ready to bite the bullet and shell out to replace their entire system for one using R-410A, so we've decided to stick with R-22.”

What about drop-in replacements for R-22? I stopped in at the DuPont booth, for I noticed that they were touting an R-22 replacement (Suva® 407C), and was told by someone there that, yes, they indeed were offering a drop-in replacement for R-22 in residential air-conditioning systems. However, I wasn't satisfied, so I sought out a senior engineer and asked him about the problems I've reported on in this magazine in the past, of lower efficiencies (10%-15%) and poor oil return.

The engineer then talked about the problems, and when I asked whether I could quote him, he shocked me by saying, “Quote me as saying this: There will be no drop-in replacement refrigerants for residential R-22 air-conditioning systems. We can offer suggestions on what to do on a case-by-case basis, but the responsibility for success or failure lies in the hand of the person who is doing the work.”

In next month's issue, we will discuss some other very interesting new HVAC technology that we saw at the Exhibition.