Photo by Oscar Einzig Photographers.

The AHR Expo this month in Orlando, Fla., may be a sign that things are starting to turn around in the beleaguered heating and cooling industry.

At least that's what organizers and exhibitors are hoping.

The annual HVAC super show takes place Jan. 25-27 at the Orange County Convention Center. The last time the expo came to Orlando in 2005, the U.S. economy was much, much healthier. This time, the country is mired in its worst recession in decades, Americans have seen the values of their homes plummet and unemployment is topping 10 percent - the highest number in a generation.

Still, show managers the International Exposition Co. say their polling shows pent-up demand for new HVAC products and services. In August, they released the results of a survey of 1,000 manufacturers that said 70 percent expected the first quarter of this year to be stronger, with 72 percent saying more of their customers would be buying.

“The timing of the 2010 AHR Expo should be very beneficial to the HVACR industry,” said International Exposition Co. President Clay Stevens. “In so far as it coincides with a significant revival in the demand for equipment, systems, components and services. We are expecting thousands and thousands of industry professionals from around the world to converge on Orlando in January to find the newest and most efficient products available anywhere.”

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said customers have been delaying purchases and believe there is building demand for their products. In a survey of expected AHR Expo exhibitors, 24 percent said they predict sales will increase 10 percent over 2009 levels and another 30 percent said increases of 5 percent to 10 percent are likely. Just under 25 percent said the increase would be 1 percent to 4 percent. Less than 5 percent expect sales to decline in the first quarter.

Stevens said the Southeastern U.S. remains a growing region with a strong interest in the type of green products that will be on display at the expo, which should help attendance.

Most attendees of the annual AHR Expo live within a few hours drive of the location.

Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute President Steve Yurek, whose group is made up of the largest HVAC equipment makers, said many members consider the expo an annual must-attend event.

“Value has become the watchword of the day,” he said. “As consumers have less money to spend, they are looking for the best value for their dollar. The best value might not be the least expensive, and attending the expo can help those who install HVACR products identify products or groups of products that can provide the best value for consumers. The ability to speak one-on-one with manufacturers all in one place makes the expo itself a great value.”

More than 1,600 exhibitors taking up 310,000 square feet of floor space are expected to show their wares to 45,000 attendees at the event.

Besides the trade show, the expo will have a large number of educational sessions and seminars for attendees on topics such as building automation and indoor air quality. And as is the custom, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers will hold its winter meeting during the expo, and will offer dozens of seminars and group discussions on industry issues.

ASHRAE’s winter meeting runs Jan. 23-27 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando.

Reflecting the weather of its central Florida location, the society’s technical sessions this year will focus on IAQ and humidity issues, said Dennis Wessel, chairman of the conference.

“The technical program presents state-of-the-art concepts and design techniques on a wide range of hot topics,” Wessel said. “The technical program features a mix of presentations and papers concentrated in 11 tracks, including the impact of ASHRAE standards 90.1 and 62.1, sustainability, and a combined energy conservation and alternative energy solutions track, the largest track.”

Here is a list of some of the scheduled sessions and seminars. For updated information,

Photo by Oscar Einzig Photographers.

Photo by Oscar Einzig Photographers.

Sessions at 8 a.m. Jan. 25 include:

“Sustainability Case Studies in Hospitality and Food Service Facilities.” The only green in restaurants doesn’t have to be in the kitchen or at the salad bar. This session will feature several restaurants that have made energy efficiency a priority.

“Standard 189.1P Overview: Part I.” This session will cover ASHRAE’s upcoming green-building standard, due to be released in June. Part II will be at 9:45 a.m.

Also at 9:45 a.m.:

“Effective Design and Operation of Thermal Energy Storage Systems in Hot and Humid Climates.” Systems used in the Sunshine State will be the focus.

“Sustaining the Building Envelope During High Wind Events.” This session will explain how to prevent the HVAC system from becoming a source of water infiltration during windstorms.

“Solving Moisture Problems Caused by Energy Retrofits” will be at 11 a.m. The typical ways to improve energy efficiency in existing structures, such as adding insulation and sealing leaks, cause their own problems with moisture. This session will explain how to improve efficiency without causing mold issues.

At 2 p.m. will be the open session “Construction Management.” System commissioning and how mechanical contractors and engineers can work together will be the focus of this hour-long presentation.

“Climate Change: Implications for ASHRAE Engineers” is set for 8 a.m. Jan. 26. The effects of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and its implications for society members in their designs will be the subjects of this session.

At 9:45 a.m. these are scheduled:

“Achieving Required Humidity for Preservation Environments.” The unique IAQ and heating and air-conditioning needs of museums, galleries and libraries will be discussed by two experts.

“How to Access the Performance of Sustainable Buildings.” The owner’s expectations for a sustainable building before it is built versus the reality of its performance once opened are one of the subjects to be explored in this session.

At 11 a.m. will be:

“High Performance HVAC Systems in LEED-Platinum Projects: A Selected Showcase.” A handful of projects that have earned the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council are the focus of this session.

“On the Front Line of Comfort: Working with Building Operators for Sustainable Comfort.” How the society can work with building owners and managers to ensure sustainability will be the topic.

“Humidity Control Issues and Solutions for High-Performance Buildings.” Problems related to architectural and mechanical engineering design will be the subject.

“Issues Update: Climate-Change Legislation and International Policy.” The current U.S. status of the so-called cap-and-trade bill, as well as similar efforts abroad are the topic of this forum.

“What’s New About the New Indoor Air Quality Guide?” will be at 8 a.m. Jan. 27. This session will explore ASHRAE’s upcoming guide and how it ties into the society’s standard 62.1, which deals with IAQ issues.

Orlando area offers much to do besides theme parks

Orlando, Fla., may be the city “the Mouse” built - or at least transformed from swampland - but there is a lot more than just theme parks to it.

AHR Expo attendees will have a chance to see that for themselves Jan. 25-27, when the annual HVAC trade show comes to the Orange County Convention Center on hotel-heavy International Drive.

Prior to the 1971 opening of Walt Disney World, Orlando was mostly farmland, orange groves, swamps and tacky tourist traps designed to attract vacationers en route to established leisure spots such as Miami and Tampa.

The arrival of the first permanent Disney-brand attraction outside Southern California forever changed the city, region and state. Now more than 25 million people visit each year, and the area is packed with such world-class amusements as Sea World and Universal Studios’ two theme parks. Walt Disney World’s 40 square miles of land has been developed to include thousands of hotel rooms, four major theme parks, two water parks, a campground and more.

But if you think the city just offers family and child-oriented attractions, you’d be wrong. While a trip to Orlando would not be complete without visiting at least one theme park, regardless of age, the city offers a lot more.

Here’s a list of some of the possibly lesser-known attractions the Orlando area offers.

Nature parks

Did you know central Florida offers several parks with real trees and animals, unlike the robotic and plastic variety common in Disney World. Longwood, Fla., is home to Big Tree Park, which includes a bald cypress tree estimated to be 3,500 years old. Some believe it’s the oldest tree in the United States. The park also includes pathways through natural marshes and picnic facilities.

Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, Fla., is 4,000 acres of water-based activities, including fishing. The park includes camping and horseback riding, as well as deer, rabbits and alligators.

Tosohatchee State Reserve in Christmas, Fla., is good to visit any time of year. Plenty of migratory birds pass through each winter, making the spot popular with birdwatchers. Grey foxes, bald eagles, hawks, owls and squirrels are also common sights.

If you enjoy looking at plants, the University of Central Florida Arboretum may be for you. Within its 80 acres grow more than 600 plant species, including exotic ones. Guided group tours are available.

Kissimmee, Fla., is home to the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wildlife Preserve. You won’t find any vinyl leaves or plastic elephants here. The two groups partnered in 1993 to protect this 12,000-acre region. Hiking trails and off-road tours will show a number of rare animals.   

Off the path

It’s dwarfed - no pun intended - by the bigger themed attractions of Universal Studios and Disney World, but the Holy Land Experience is a hit despite critics who said it would fail. Recreated architecture showcases the ancient world and tells the stories of the Bible. The Scriptorium houses a collection of rare religious texts.

Gatorland has been around for decades, but it may not be as well known today as it once was. The entrance is an alligator’s mouth. You can see gators get fed and get close to them.

If you like NASCAR - and according to surveys, many people do - Daytona International Speedway may be worth a visit. Near the city’s famous beaches, it offers tours and stock-car racing. Daytona USA is a new NASCAR-themed interactive attraction.

A little over an hour from Orlando away is Kennedy Space Center. Visitors will see the launching pads and landing strips used for space shuttles and rockets for decades. Exhibits cover the history of the U.S. space program.