The ASHRAE Show returned to Chicago this year. You’ve probably already read reviews by the professional writers in this paper and have also seen the statistics regarding record attendance, booths, etc. That said, I don’t believe I saw a large number of HVAC contractors at the show. I can understand, to some degree. Many, if not most, of the products displayed are not those purchased directly by contractors. As a result, a contractor may have to look carefully to find products or services that may benefit his or her business. Since I suspect many of you contractors were not in attendance, I thought I would share some things I believe would be of interest to you.
In particular, two things stood out to me. The first is the amount of technology that has entered our part of the industry. Wi-Fi thermostats were everywhere. While they often specialized in different features, it’s clear that smart thermostats are the way of the future, just as smartphones have become the norm. Interestingly, we’ve found in our company that more and more customers are requesting these high-technology thermostats, while, at the same time, we are finding a much higher service-call factor to help customers understand how to use these new devices. From a contractor standpoint, I think the important thing is to educate your people on what is available, and make sure they are trained in the proper operation of the models you choose.
The second item that really made an impression on us was the number of mini splits or ductless air conditioning systems that are now available. We lost count when we reached 20 manufacturers showing ductless systems. In an area like St. Louis, where most homes have basements and ducted systems are the norm, these ductless systems seem unnatural to us. However, as we looked at the many applications manufacturers were targeting, it became clear that, even in our area, there are some situations where the mini split could provide an excellent solution. Not that those systems will be replacing our conventional systems, but, again, I think it’s important we as contractors make ourselves aware of all of the different options available to us.
In walking the entire show, we couldn’t help but notice how worldwide our industry has become. There were displays and booths from countries throughout the world. While most were there to appeal to manufacturers and/or distributors, I believe it’s important for us as contractors to keep our eyes and ears open to new ideas, products, and technologies coming from locations we may never have expected.
In a return to the 1980s and 1990s, several machinery manufacturers were showing their coil lines and plasma cutters. Some of the names are different, but, again, we as contractors need to make sure we are operating with the latest and greatest technologies available. In that regard, nestled together in one spot in the smaller (South) exposition hall were a number of computer software companies. They, too, are making improvements in their systems on nearly a daily basis, and we must stay abreast of their changes if we are going to keep up with our competition.
An interesting product for my company was a group of pipes and fittings that come with a rubber gasket duct sealer already installed. Even though almost all of our homes have basements, we are being required to seal our ductwork more stringently, including at the transverse joints on round pipe. The manufacturer we talked with has only recently begun offering self-sealing pipe, and we will be waiting to see what that manufacturer develops in the full line of gasketed pipe. In addition, we will need to gain approval from a local inspector before we begin utilizing the product. But, there are potentially thousands of dollars in savings available for us if the product works out.
Another item I saw for the first time was a corrugated polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, which, according to the manufacturer, can be used in the venting of 90 percent furnaces. While it can only be used in short pieces, it potentially could be extremely helpful in those areas where several elbows must be used in the venting system. On this one, we are waiting for our equipment manufacturer’s approval to be sure the product is acceptable in venting their equipment.
These are just a few of the things I saw that could have significant potential use for the contracting industry. I suggest, as a contractor, you put this show on your 2016 calendar. As an added incentive, next year’s show — scheduled for Jan. 25-27 — is in Orlando, where the weather in January is likely to be much better than it was in Chicago.
Publication date: 3/9/2015