The AHR show is one of my highlights each year, and this year was no disappointment. If you are in the business or connected to the business, it would be time well spent to make the trip and see what the fuss is all about. The first time I went, I was so amazed. There were so many products on display that I hadn’t even heard about. I spent my time wandering up and down the aisles with a perpetual grin on my face, just soaking it all in. I was happier than a fat kid eating cake.
Not much has changed in the way I view the show, only now I am so busy meeting people and such that I don’t get as much time to check out all the new products. That’s always one of my favorite parts — the people. You get to meet the people behind the curtains; the brilliant minds that are come up with and build all these products that we use every day in the field. Having a one-on-one conversation with them is worth the trip alone.
This year the show was held in the Windy City. I have frequently traveled through Chicago but have never stayed.
It is a city of purpose.
I stayed in the downtown area in a hotel that was surrounded by high-rise buildings. I come from a place where farmers’ silos are the tallest structures around. They would have been dwarfed by these skyscrapers. I stared at the buildings with a far-away look in my eyes. I was trying to see behind the surfaces.
How many engineers must it take to design these buildings? There has to be so much planning. All the pipes that are hidden behind those walls must be carefully sized and placed so that each area in the building has access to all the necessary amenities. Not only that, but the height of the building must be considered as well. When you stack a column of water that high, the bottom of the column will be under tremendous pressure. Having the same water pressure at the faucets on the bottom of the building as on the top takes a lot of behind-the-scenes engineering and careful product selection and sizing.
These are the things I think about when I look at these buildings. I wonder if anyone else does, or do they just pass through and take it all for granted?
One morning my friend and I decided to walk down the street to grab some breakfast before heading to the show. He knew of this little breakfast diner where all the locals go. I soon understood all the hype. The food was delicious. The scrambled eggs were so light and fluffy, they floated off my fork. I was a little uncertain about the toast though. It looked like I might break a tooth on it. I decided to risk it. The delicacy of the eggs encouraged risk-taking. One bite and I was convinced.
After the delicious breakfast, we headed back to the hotel; me with my travel bags in tow. I was busy ducking in and out of the oncoming crowd of people headed to work. I wished I had left my bags at the hotel, as it made my maneuvers more difficult and increased my risk of getting trodden by the impenetrable crowd. I caught glimpses of all the faces as they briskly walked by. They all had a purposeful look. It was as if they were silently but forcefully encouraging everyone to get out of the way. They had things to do and places to be. There was no time for nonsense. Even the people standing on the corners with their tin cups had a look of purpose on their faces. All this was occurring while the skies were a somber, dark gray, and a few flakes of snow wisped their way down between the tall buildings. The contrast was startling.
Chicago is unlike any other city I have experienced.
One of my favorite booths is Axiom. They manufacture hydronic products that no one else has thought of, and they are great people as well.
In the hydronics industry, the question has been asked by an industry friend and writer. Should the system fill valve be left open or closed? There are pros and cons on each side of the argument. Each argument is a valid one, and it appears there would be no good answer.
He writes about an unusual circumstance where leaving the fill valve open allowed a boiler to explode. The system had a leak that the fill valve disguised. One day, the utility shut off the water supply while they were working on a street main. During this time, all the water leaked out of the boiler, and the boiler continued firing, turning the sections to a brilliant cherry red. Then they turned the water back on. All that cold water came rushing back into the red hot boiler and flashed to steam in an instant. The boiler exploded like a bomb, leaving devastation in its wake.
On the other hand, if the fill valve is left closed, one can expect multiple no-heat calls after installing a new system. As the water heats up, it releases trapped gasses, which in turn get vented from the system through the air separator. This drops the system pressure, eventually to the point where the low-water cutoff device shuts down the boiler, and you are back out there to re-pressurize the system yet again.
So what is the answer? Maybe we have to change our way of thinking and explore a new option?
Axiom had a new system feeder (DMF150) on display that in my mind solves the fill valve argument. In fact, it does away with the fill valve and backflow preventer altogether. It is packed with cool features that I thought were noteworthy.
Here’s how it works. You add your conditioned system fluid or plain water to the reservoir in the front. It has a digital control that you use to set the desired system pressure. It has a little pump built in that pumps the fluid into the system at the exact pressure you want. As air is vented from the system, the feeder adds a little built more fluid to the system. In the event that the system gets a leak, the feeder has a low-level alarm that will indicate when the reservoir runs low and the system pressure drops.
It also makes system service easy. You know how every time you want to replace an expansion tank or perhaps a temperature gauge, you have to go get a bucket and short hose to drain the pressure off the system and empty the expansion tank? With this feeder, all you have to do is open a valve, and water drains back into the reservoir, relieving the system of pressure and preventing you from getting wet. That’s neat! Once the work is done, close the valve, push a button, and the feeder re-pressurizes the system. No loss of conditioned system water.
As for installation, no longer do you have to run a water line to the system for a fill supply. I have installed some boilers in shops where the fill water had to be piped for quite some distance. This feeder eliminates that expense along with the fill valve and back flow preventer.
As I was wandering down the aisles, I chanced upon the Slant Fin booth. Slant Fin is an old company that has been around for a long time. They are well-known for their baseboard heating products. They have been making the stuff since before it was even thought up.
I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to find any romance in baseboard. Unlike cast iron radiators that take on a classical appeal, steeped in mystery and romance of history never to be revealed, baseboard heating units typically find their way to the scrap pile once the homeowners can no longer bear to look at them. Their flimsy veneer gets beat up and dented over the years, while the paint fades into a chalky suggestion of actual color.
Slant Fin has set out to change all that. They had on display a sleek, glossy cover that changes the appearance of an old piece of baseboard in a fashion similar to what a tux might do for someone fresh out of a coal mine.
These new covers are made of extruded aluminum and have a glossy painted surface. They are available in multiple colors. And from the sounds of it, they will be a snap to install. Just pop off the front panel and the louver of the old baseboard, and this new cover snaps right in. Easy, right? And now you’ll have baseboard you won’t mind showing off. The best part is, the new cover does not affect the heat output, which means you can stay warm while you admire your new purchase.
Zehnder is a company that I know little about, but I caught a glimpse of its radiant cooling/heating panels as I was hurrying down an aisle on my way to visit one of my favorite boiler manufacturers. Being very interested and excited about radiant cooling, I made a quick change of plans. I made a U-turn, nearly getting trampled in the process, and ducked into the booth.
They had this perforated aluminum panel with heat transfer plates mounted to the back. The face of the panel was full of little holes.
What’s with the holes I asked?
“That’s for sound attenuation,” he replied. The solid panels don’t absorb sound well, and it makes for a very noisy room.
“Ahh, that makes sense,” I replied.
As we continued chatting, I learned that these panels drop right into the gridwork of a regular suspended drop ceiling. I thought that was pretty neat. But I was even more impressed when he showed me how to connect the piping to the panels. They have flexible hoses with push-fit connections that allow the pre-piped panels to be connected together quickly, while still allowing individual panels to be removed for plenum access.
It’s easy to see why these panels would be a good choice to provide radiant heating and cooling to a commercial space.
Uponor is another favorite booth of mine. I have been using their product since I started plumbing. I’m still waiting on my first leak from their product.
This year they had the Phyn on display once again. I didn’t recognize it at first. It has a sleek new look that anyone would find pleasing to the eye. It is designed to stop leaks and resulting water damage in people’s homes. I think that’s great. According to insurance companies, water damage claims are among the most expensive of everything they insure. I have seen water damage firsthand, and it destroys so much. If we can prevent that from happening, I think that will be a very good thing.
They also told me about the research they did on water quality in hydronic systems. If you have been in hydronics long, you understand that water quality is one of the biggest factors that determines the longevity and required service of hydronic components, including boilers. If you have bad water quality, the system will cost the end user a lot more money in maintenance and not last nearly as long. That’s not good for anyone.
Now Uponor’s pipe and fittings are for the most part impervious to the water that is being pumped through them. However, they have always sought to provide their customers with not just pipe but an entire system. So, they invested time and money to find out exactly what the parameters should be for water quality in hydronics. That impressed me lot because they are not selling water quality products, and the pipe they are selling is not affected by bad water. That just shows they care about their customers.
They have made this information available, and with every job they design, they send along the water quality parameters that you should target.
There are so many more cool products that I would love to write about, but I have to stop somewhere. I did notice that it seems the industry is focusing more and more on water quality products for hydronic systems. Even some European manufacturers are taking notice and bringing over their magnetic separators, cleaners and inhibitors. ADEY is one such company that I saw for the first time this year.
I am looking forward to watching the emphasis on water quality progress here in the U.S. It is much needed and long overdue.
I hope to see you at the next show!