Manufacturers of HVACR products routinely have booths at trade shows displaying their products. Organizers of the AHR Expo claim their event is the world’s largest HVACR product show held every year. Attending the AHR Expo, as well as other HVACR product shows, provides opportunities to learn about the latest developments in the HVACR industry. Attendees gain knowledge about products that can help improve business while networking with associates, clients, and industry professionals.

Many in the industry, both individuals and companies, may be reluctant to commit the time and spend the money to attend these events. This may be due to a belief that the time and expense does not provide value to the attendee. Perhaps the reason why their past experiences did not live up to their expectations was because they were not prepared to optimize the experience.

This article is designed to answer the question: “How does an attendee optimize the time spent attending a trade show in order to be more knowledgeable about the products being specified for his or her projects?”

Be Prepared

The organizers of the 2023 AHR Expo indicate there are approximately 770 product categories represented at the product exposition, including air-side products similar to those shown in Figure 1.

FIGURE 1: The AHR Expo allows manufacturers of various product categories to showcase their innovations. Image courtesy of Pottorff

More than 1,700 vendors are registered to attend the AHR Expo. Before traveling to the event, it’s important to spend time considering what products or emerging technologies an attendee would like to learn more about, so he or she can better serve his or her customers. The event’s website offers a search feature that allows attendees to draft lists of the booths they’d like to visit so as to optimize their time on the product floor. Having a vendor “route” planned in advance will save time while avoiding having to walk thousands of extra steps up and down the aisles, searching for products and vendors of interest. The same can be said for the 270-plus technical and product presentations.

Visiting the Proper Vendors

When planning a route around the trade floor and selecting the educational sessions to attend, an attendee should consider the types of projects he or she is working on and what the “basis of design” is for these projects. ASHRAE defines “Basis-Of-Design“(BOD) as follows: “A document that records the concepts, calculations, decisions, and product selections used to meet the owner’s project requirements and to satisfy applicable regulatory requirements, standards, and guidelines. The document includes both narrative descriptions and lists of individual items that support the design process.”

The key point here is “records” (documents) the process. Documentation of the product selection process is essential for many reasons throughout the building design, construction, and operation process.

In deciding where to go and who to talk to, consider what you want to learn about the products and technologies you are interested in. One approach would be to look at the products in light of the four-step product selection process, in order to gain the product knowledge you will need to specify it on a current or future project.

Product Selection Process

Product selection is not as easy as it sometimes seems. It is good to follow the “Keep It Simple” (KIS) principle; however, professional engineers should also understand the “Keep it Defendable” (KID) principle is more important than ever as they work within a project design team to not only make product selections that provide value for the facility owner but also meet all applicable codes and standards.

FIGURE 2: Evaluating HVAC product logic. Image courtesy of SPPECSS Consulting LLC

Both ASHRAE and Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) have resources that can be used to help in documentation of proper HVAC system and product selections. It would be beneficial for professional engineers to consider obtaining their Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) certification. A CCS certification helps ensure a professional engineer not only has his or her professional engineering credentials through formal education and training but also has a working knowledge of understanding contract documents, which include the drawings and specifications included in the owner-contractor agreement.

The product selection process is generally a four-step process consisting of:

  1. Determining if a product has the right functional requirements to meet the design intent;
  2. Determining product availability;
  3. Evaluating the product; and
  4. Incorporating the product into the system design using the contract document specifications as the mechanism to communicate to others.

Asking the proper questions at each product manufacturers’ booth as they relate to each step of the product selection process can provide an attendee with valuable information to consider when selecting the “right” products for his or her project design.

When does product selection begin? The answer can be found in ASHRAE’s definition of “design intent,” which states: “… an initial version of the operating manual developed in the conceptual design stage. It contains a description of the building functions for which the design is intended, lists the design parameters of systems to perform these functions, and provides a brief description of the operating routines that are to be followed to comply with the functional requirements of the building.”

There are many aspects, characteristics, features, and attributes that can be considered when evaluating products’ potential use on a project. Whether they are cognizant decisions or not, the criteria by which a product is selected, specified, evaluated, and provided is decided upon and documented in the contract documents. Ideally, all products that are installed in a building have been evaluated with respect to how they integrate into the whole building and how their functions affect the rest of the building.

HVAC engineers need to take into account many considerations:

  • Engineering principles and theory – design calculations;
  • Codes/standards/regulations;
  • System and equipment types and manufacturers/models;
  • Documentation of design intent through plans and specifications;
  • Budgets/estimating;
  • Construction details/installation;
  • Maintenance requirements;
  • Product disposal at end of life; and
  • Multiple discipline awareness, including structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, lighting, security, telecommunications, architectural, interior design, etc.

As one visits various booths, it’s good to keep the aforementioned pointers in mind and discuss them with the manufacturer’s personnel at each booth.

Product Function Requirements

Getting what an attendee specifies depends on whether or not a product can meet the desired functional requirements and be obtained at a cost within the allowed budget. If the required function is clearly defined and there is a realistic budget, then getting what one specifies should be no problem. If, however, a product can’t meet both of these criteria, then one of the criteria must change until a product can be found to meet the criteria.

FIGURE 3: Product evaluation matrix – a control damper example. Image courtesy of SPPECSS Consulting LLC

It’s important to understand what is meant by “required function.” The required function is not only the performance characteristics of the product once it is installed in the building, as it also takes into consideration the requirements of the project, including space efficiency, first cost, energy cost, etc., which are also taken into consideration in the product evaluation step. All of these attributes (parameters, criteria) must be clearly prioritized and communicated to the owner/client during the design phase of the project in order to ensure the design meets all of the project’s goals.

Product Availability

Product availability can be looked at in a couple of ways. Ideally, there are one or more manufacturers who already have a product that can meet the functional requirements. Although likely more expensive, it may be necessary to have a custom product made that meets the functional requirements. Although the latter is not the norm in commercial- and institutional-type facilities, it may be necessary in some industrial applications. The engineer must consider availability during the product selection process to ensure the most cost-effective solution is provided. As one of the steps in the product selection process, it’s important to discuss with the manufacturers if their products are standard products or if there are options to enhance a product to meet the functional requirements desired.

Product Evaluation During Design

There is a logical process in evaluating a product as indicated in Figure 2.

Thus, the product selection starts at the beginning of a project design and is an integral part of the overall HVAC system selection process.

Identifying and evaluating systems and products must be done on a basis of satisfying the needs assessment of the functional requirements. Once a needs assessment has been conducted, then and only then should the product evaluation start. The evaluation process takes into account many factors such as, but not limited to:

  1. Product functional requirements;
  2. Product manufacturer history, reputation, and representation;
  3. Warranty and guarantee;
  4. Installation, operation, and maintenance;
  5. Costs (first, installation, maintenance, energy use, disposal, etc.); and
  6. End of product life disposal environmental impact.

One tool that has been used by some engineers to document HVAC systems and product selections is a feature/benefits analysis matrix. This can be used either as subjective evaluation of a product, an objective evaluation, or a combination of both. The tool allows for early discussion, conversation, and brainstorming with the facility owner client and facility managers to ensure everyone’s concerns are addressed from the beginning of a project. A product features/benefits analysis matrix can be setup for each product within the system similar to that shown in Figure 3. It can also be used as documentation, showing that a thorough engineering process was completed to make the final system product selection and documentation thereof in the contract document drawings and specifications used in the owner-contractor agreement. This tool also shows the value engineering analysis during design and can be used during the post-bid, cost-cutting evaluation, should one be needed.

Product Specification

The knowledge gained at a product trade show, like the AHR Expo. can be used to select products and document the product selection in the contract documents. The contract document drawings include floor plans showing locations of products and also basis-of-design product schedules that communicate the design intent to the contractors bidding on the project. A product performance criteria and characteristic should only be noted in one place in the contract documents so as not to have a conflict of information.

The contract documents also include specifications. What is a specification? According to ASHRAE, a specification is a“statement of a set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, system, or service that indicates the procedures for determining whether each of the requirements is satisfied.”

Specifications are commonly formatted in these parts: Part 1, General; Part 2, Products; and Part 3, Execution (sometimes called installation).

Part 1 usually describes the administrative, procedural, and codes and standards relevant to the specific product section. Part 2 typically describes the product materials of construction and performance criteria. Part 3 describes the installation of the product, including any preparatory action required; references to the manufacturer’s installation instructions; and post-installation requirements, such as testing and commissioning.

There are multiple methods of specifying according to the CSI. It would be of value to every professional engineer, contractor, and facility owner manager to understand these methods. They are descriptive, performance, reference standard, and proprietary (open and closed). These methods of specifying can be used individually or in combination within a set of contract documents and even within one section of a product specification.

Benefits of Attending Product Trade Shows

An attendee who has spent time preparing for an HVACR product trade show will find that the investment of this time and money spent will result in many of the following benefits:

  • Become educated on the HVACR industry so that an attendee can better support clients and make better, more educated decisions;
  • Get a competitive business advantage with knowledge of products and applications;
  • Gain knowledge about new and emerging technologies, industry trends, and products;
  • Get immediate answers about products, applications, and experiences;
  • Meet others in the industry through networking and generate potential business leads;
  • Participate in free educational seminars by manufacturers and industry associations;
  • Understand product capacities and limitations;
  • Learn limitations regarding current codes, standards, and regulation; and
  • Research for current and future project application.

Trade Show Questions Checklist

Developing a checklist of questions to ask at product display booths will be helpful in optimizing the time spent at the trade show. It is wise to take notes for review after returning home from a trade show and for discussing with peers and even clients during a project design phase. Keep in mind, one goal of product research is to understand the benefits an end user will get from using specific products.

Consider the four steps of the product selection process and the three-part product specification and drawings in the contract documents, the list below provides some ideas for discussion topics and questions when at each product display booth. Realize that some of these may fall into more than one product selection step. An attendee likely has “other” topics to add to this list based on applications.

Step 1 — Functional Requirements (Specifications Part 2)

  • Performance capacity ranges and limitations
  • Materials of construction
  • Product durability
  • Acoustics
  • Operation and controllability
  • Other

Step 2 — Product Availability (Specifications Part 1)

  • Manufacturer location and end-user customer support
  • Standard construction, options, and customization
  • Local product representation and end-user customer support
  • Channel(s) of distribution — factory-direct, local, online direct purchasing
  • Design phase support with product selection and specification resources
  • Other

Step 3 — Product Evaluation (Specifications Parts 1, 2, or 3)

  • Components and features of the product
  • Compliance with state and local codes, standards and industry regulations
  • International Green Construction Code (IgCC)
  • LEED criteria
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions considerations
  • Decarbonization considerations
  • Overall environmental impact of product production, use, and disposal
  • First cost, operating cost, maintenance cost, and end of product life disposal cost
  • Reliability, flexibility, adaptability, and maintainability
  • Safety and protection of life and property
  • Interface with other building systems
  • Application risk(s) considerations
  • Past problems and resolutions
  • Multifuel compatibility, including renewable energy sources
  • Operational skills required
  • Commissioning procedures and measurable performance metrics and methods
  • Other

Step 4 — Product Incorporation Into Contract Documents (Specifications and Drawings)

  • Space requirement considerations for installation and maintenance
  • Interface with and integration into other HVACR and building systems
  • Documentation in specifications, plans, and equipment schedules
  • Other


There are many reasons to attend a product trade show that justify the business expense of time and travel when the attendee goes to fulfill a purpose. Preparing ahead of time gives the attendee the advantage of optimizing the time. It’s good to attend with an open and inquisitive mind yet have a set agenda of learning goals to utilize the knowledge gained to select, evaluate, and specify products. Sharing what is learned with others adds additional value to the company when sending individuals to HVACR product trade shows.