In Part I of Jim Wheeler’s coverage of the show, he discusses refrigerants and plumbing and bath products. More of his observations will follow in Jim Wheeler’s regular monthly HVACR columns published in SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES. You can contact Jim Wheeler, a 25+ year HVACR industry veteran, at

This year’s AHR Expo was held in Dallas, and it set records for the number of exhibitors and attendees for what we in the industry would refer to as an “off-year” show, with more than 30,000 in attendance from all around the world. Although I found some great ideas and new products that will interest many of you, I would like to start off with some important industry news regarding refrigerants.

The Future Of Refrigerants

I find that it’s important for me to attend this annual event not just to see what’s new, but also to have an opportunity to meet with some of our industry’s brightest minds to find out what is happening and where things are headed. The DuPont booth is always an important stop. What I really wanted to know this time is whether their best people are still holding to the story that there will be no “drop-in” replacement for R22, which will no longer be used in new equipment (here in the United States) in 2010, and will go out of production in 2020, with annual decreases in production from 2010 to 2020. The scientists I spoke with reaffirmed that an across-the-board drop-in replacement for every system and application is out of the question; and the refrigerants they have developed to replace R22 in HVAC applications can only be applied on a case-by-case basis. They say that their ISCEON 9 Series HFC refrigerant blends are more friendly to mineral oils than R410A as an example, but I’m still not convinced that will be any replacement refrigerant for many of the millions of R22 residential heat pumps and air conditioners that we are selling today.

The problem, of course, is that even if they can come up with an HFC/hydrocarbon blend that is a bit more miscible (mixable) with the mineral oil in existing R22 systems, these new refrigerants produce a drop in cooling capacity, which is made even worse in systems with enhanced tubing in the coils, and it is harmful to many internal seals.

However, that wasn’t the most striking refrigerant news, for the folks at DuPont and Honeywell were both talking about new refrigerants for use in motorized vehicle air conditioners for the European market. Why is a new refrigerant needed there? Well, some European countries are calling for a ban on HFC refrigerants in those applications because of their global warming potential (GWP). So, Honeywell has developed an azeotropic (mixable) blend of refrigerants (one of which is an HFC and the other is also an HFC-containing iodide) that has a much lower GWP than existing HFCs. And although DuPont won’t discuss the chemistry of their product, they say theirs is different and that it won’t contain the ingredient iodide.

Why is all this striking news? Well, is this the start of a Phase Three phaseout of refrigerants (Phase 1 – CFCs, Phase 2 – HCFCs, Phase 3 - HFCs)? Because, if Europe is already starting to ban HFC refrigerants (such as R134a) due to their GWP, won’t that eventually lead to a global phaseout of all high GWP HFCs, such as R410a? I think so!

So, I cornered one of those DuPont scientists at one of their receptions and asked him what the future holds if HFCs are eventually banned - if there is anything else that we can use as a refrigerant. And although just 10 years ago they were saying that the components for a new refrigerant would have to come from another universe, he said that the product they are working on for the European car market may be able to be designed to also serve the HVAC market. However, the details on potential efficiencies, etc., aren’t available yet.

Then what is the rest of the world doing? Well, it’s no secret that many developing countries have no plans to ban HCFCs (like R22), and some are still using large quantities of the ozone-layer-damaging CFCs like R11 and R12. However, more progressive countries are going toward inexpensive and plentiful alternative refrigerants such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, propane and even isobutane. Although ammonia, which has long been a staple of the commercial refrigeration industry, has issues with toxicity and flammability, we’re seeing a regrowth of its use for refrigeration purposes in Europe, where the cooling portion is located remotely and glycol is then used to transport the cooling to individual boxes. And there are also locations where the first cooling stage (ammonia) is then tied (cascaded) to a CO2 system. The Tecumseh compressor people are doing work on developing CO2 for use, but its low critical temperature and low efficiency prevent its practical application for HVAC purposes.

And what about the use of flammable and explosive hydrocarbons, such as propane and isobutene? Well, the secret here is using it in such small quantities that a leak would present little potential for damage; so these gases are finding their way into household refrigerators (in Asia) where only a few ounces are required.

Plumbing And Bath

Admittedly, my forte is the HVACR field. However, the fact is that many of your companies also handle plumbing, baths and water heaters, so there are many manufacturers at the annual AHR Industry Exhibition that feature such products. I found the latest changes toLochinvar’s Power-Fin boiler series interesting, because they really simplify matters. Yes, I’m an old-school technician who still remembers those days we had to come up with all sorts of time clocks and sequencers to stage boilers. But I noticed that Lochinvar’s new product not only has its own built-in 8-unit cascading sequencer, but they now have their own easy-to-read controls for status and diagnostic information, plus a 0-10V input to integrate with building control

Speaking of boilers, as I was walking by their booth at the show, the folks atTaco snagged me to show me their new electronic low-water cutoff. Being an “air head” (A/C guy) rather that a “wet head” (hydronics guy), I asked why they needed electronics to indicate low water when a simple float valve would do. And then it was explained to me that periodic blowdowns were required to keep mechanical controls functioning. Also, foaming in a boiler can fool mechanical controls. So their new cutoff senses an electrical loop when water is present, which it doesn’t sense in the presence of

I have serviced and installed a water heater or two in my time, since I held a gas license back when I was a contractor. And although I didn’t bring back any paperwork on it (I got to their booth before anyone showed up), I was intrigued byRheem’s new non-metallic water heater, which they say weighs half as much as standard metal water heaters. Why, if they had such things back in my time, I would have installed a lot more water heaters, because I hate lugging those big heavy things around. And I really like their non-fiberglass foam insulation (not as itchy)

Then, going by theBradford Whitebooth, I noticed another water heater that caught my attention, because I simply couldn’t understand why there were extra holes for piping to it. What I was looking at was their Combi2 Series of water heaters that are also designed to do space heating. Those two extra piping holes attach to an internal metal loop at the top of the water heater to provide a separate and independent circuit to send hot water to an air handler for forced-air heating, or to an under-floor heating system. Good idea!

I’ll have to admit that I just stopped by theGrundfosbooth to look longingly at their hot water recirculating “Comfort System” that I covered in my column last year. Yes, I would like to have hot water in my shower first thing every morning, and I like the fact that it can be timed to just start recirculating at bath time (not all day long). But then I noticed another very nice-looking device (it didn’t look like a pump) sitting next to it, that also had a pin-type timer on the top. That’s when I was told that this was that same sort of circulating pump, but for new construction. Called the UP10-16 ALC, it contains an aquastat, timer and check valve. Rather than requiring a valve at the farthest sink, it requires a return line to the water heater from the end of the water

Finally, let me tell you a little story about the writing business. Last year I was contacted by a consumer publication that asked me to write an article about how to properly size a bathroom vent fan. So I did all sorts of research and then I wrote the article. In the process, I learned a lot more about vent fans that I would have imagined. I had always thought of bathroom vent fans as just serving the purpose of removing foul odors, while making enough racket to cover their source. Little did I know of the indoor air quality problems they are designed to prevent and of the potential damage and cleaning problems that are reduced by fans after a hot shower or bath, and of how long they should run thereafter to remove all the excess humidity. Well, they ran it, but I didn’t get paid; but that’s another story. Anyhow, when I stopped by theBroan/Nutonebooth at the show, I was interested to find an attractive new bathroom fan with a built-in humidity sensor that keeps the fan running until the humidity in the room gets back to normal levels. It has three wall switches: one to turn a light on and off, one to turn the fan on and off, and one to activate the automatic dehumidification