Orange County - now popularized by the teen drama, "The O.C." -- has always been a major hotspot in Southern California. This year, more than 38,000 HVACR professionals from across the country invaded the place to show off and learn about the latest and greatest products and services offered in this industry. The question is, will Anaheim ever really be the same? My friend Mickey says the doctor is still out on that one.

In the 56th edition of its annual event, held in the Anaheim Convention Center in January, The International Exposition Co. boasts that the 2004 Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Exposition set new West Coast records for number of exhibitors (1,652) and net square feet of exhibit space (324,590).

More than 22,476 registered attendees crowded the aisles, while 16,143 exhibitor personnel manned booths to answer questions, network, and sell.

Despite being located near the Disneyland property, and the temptation to take Mick up on his offer of fun in the sun, the HVAC industry came to town and they came to work.

On opening day the aisles were jammed with people, the booths were busy from opening till closing, and the evening hospitality suites and dinners kept the networking going till the wee hours of the morning.

Concurrent with the AHR Expo, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) held its usual busy slate of activities at the association's Winter Meeting.

In addition to the usual seminars, forums, and other educational courses, this year's Winter Meeting once again hosted a public session, which covered residential energy efficiency.

This session served as a nice follow-up to the highly successful public session about mold that was held at the 2003 Winter Meeting in Chicago.

The editors of Contracting Business landed at LAX, escaping a brutal winter back East, and hit the convention floor and meeting rooms of the convention center running.

Here is the report as to what we found:

2004 XML Symposium. Wait, this sounds like a different show. In a way, it was. The XML Symposium was held in conjunction with AHR -- a one-day event that focused on a new technology for the building automation aspect of the HVACR industry. The seminar addressed how to use information technologies (including Internet and web services) as a medium for controlling buildings.

Though not a new technology, its application to the HVACR industry creates new opportunities for integrating building automation systems to the Internet and other business applications. The technology isn't meant to replace BACnet or LonWorks technology, but to enhance their ease of use while tying together various business management systems.

Sponsored by the Continental Automated Building Association (CABA) and CLASMA, Inc., attendees learned how the HVAC industry can use Internet standards for interoperable facilities management. Stay tuned on this one. It may just revolutionize the way buildings are controlled and operated.

For more information, go to the following websites: www.xml-symposium.com or http://www.caba.org, and/or http://clasma.com.

Speaking of controls, PSG Controls introduced the HotelStat-RFS, a complete, wireless room system for hotels. It features a radio frequency controlled keycard holder, digital HVAC temperature control, switch, and accessories such as outlets. When the guest enters the room and places the keycard in the holder, located right by the door, the key sends an RF signal.

The thermostat is then placed into occupied mode and defaults to the comfort set points. The lights, television, and any other devices connected to the system are activated as well. Any of these components can be adjusted and turned on or off while active. When the guest leaves the room and removes the card, another RF signal is sent, placing the thermostat in unoccupied mode and shutting off the lights and other devices connected to the system.

According to PSG, this system is easily installed and can save up to 45% in energy costs, providing payback in 12 to 18 months. For additional information, contact PSG Controls, Inc. at 215/257-3621 or visit www.psgcontrols.

The Humidity Control Unit (HCU) 3000 from Munters combines the benefit of a desiccant dehumidifiers with the cooling of a DX air conditioner to pre-treat make up air before it's brought into a building.

Munters notes that typical DX equipment doesn't run unless there's a call for sensible cooling. However, in many climates there is no sensible load during more than half the hours that dehumidification is required.

The HCU provides humidity control even when the DX portion of the unit is not required. It provides dry make-up air without overcooling, which eliminates the need for reheat. The HCU 3000 provides a supply air nominal flow rate of 3,000 scfm, and a moisture removal rate of 88.2 lbs/hr. at 90F dry bulb/77F wet bulb. For more information, call 800/229-8557 or visit www.muntersamerica.com.

From controls to acting, the York Unitary Products Group (UPG) played into the Hollywood aura of Los Angeles by holding an evening premiere to announce the launch of its latest product line -- the Affinity Series air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces. Nearly 125 people attended the event and heard UPG President Tom Huntington and Sales and Marketing Vice President Matt Peterson deliver the keynote remarks.

"To compete effectively means winning the attention and pocketbooks of savvy consumers in the residential replacement market. And to do that today requires -- as never before -- clear product differentiation," Huntington told the audience.

The result: York embarked upon an extensive product development program, including customer focus groups, and spent nearly $20 million in new tooling, created 12 assembly lines to accommodate the new Affinity product line, arranged capacity for R-410A systems, constructed a new sound lab, and designed the manufacturing facility with capacity to meet future demand.

This new generation of products includes a complete family of central air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces. Cooling products range from 1.5 to 5 tons of refrigeration capacity, with efficiencies from 12 to 18 SEER. Heat pump efficiency is as high as an HSPF of 8. Furnaces will be offered from 60,000 to 120,000 MBH in 80 and 90+% AFUE models.

Aesthetics differentiates the Affinity Series in another groundbreaking way. Affinity products are available in a palette of colors, including Champagne, Stone, Terra Cotta, Bermuda, Gun Metal Blue and Jet Black. Homeowners can choose the color that bests fits with their decor. To learn more, visit www.yorkupg.com.

From unitary equipment to testing instruments, Analytical Index Technologies (AIT) showed off its AIT-SmarTecÆ liquid refrigerant identifier. This portable, suitcase-type unit accurately identifies single component refrigerants and refrigerant blends to ARI 700 requirements (99.5% purity levels) in one step. The SmarTec identifies refrigerants onsite in their liquid state rather than their vapor state.

It can identify most common refrigerants and blends immediately; when an application calls for a greater library of gases, additional information can be downloaded remotely from AIT's website.

Furthermore, the results can be printed for confirmation and auditing purposes.

For more information, call 469/916-6542, or visit www.AITuniversal.com.

If the refrigerant instrument isn't enough, Tecogen, Inc. introduced its TecochillÆ RT Series CH/CU 25 packaged, air-cooled chillers.

These units combine variable engine speed operation with compressor cylinder unloading to provide capacity modulation from 20% to 100% of the load. Microprocessor-based controls and a remote monitoring control system permits remote real-time monitoring, data acquisition, and system control.

For more information call 781/466-6400 or visit www.tecogen.com.

Now let's talk about commercial refrigeration. Earthship USA featured its Airs(TM) 50, which the company says is the first commercially available air cycle refrigerant system on the market. The refrigeration system, which can go as low as -76F/-60C, uses only air and is both CFC- and ammonia-free . It produces supersaturated air at chill temperatures, to provide cost savings when rapid chilling, while maintaining product quality.

The Airs(TM) 50 also uses few parts and rotational turbo machinery for reduced maintenance and repair costs. Because the system doesn't use any CFC-related or other substitute coolants, it's perfectly safe if any leakage occurs, according to the company.

The Airs(TM) 50 is a stand-alone unit that doesn't need to be placed in the refrigerant warehouse, thus keeping a stable temperature.

Applications include frozen food/ product warehouses, rapid freezing, grocery delivery centers, medical labs, pharmaceutical, transportation vehicles for refrigerated products, and clean rooms.

For more information, call 510/659-0641 or visit http://www.earthshipusa.com.

And finally, CertainTeed introduced Isopure(TM) filter media, a fiberglass insulation used to produce pocket filters for commercial rooftop units. The product is chemically neutral, non-flammable, and doesn't contain corrosive agents.

According to CertainTeed, the patented process through which the filter material is created allows for consistent performance over the life of the filter, and provides an excellent pressure drop/efficiency ratio. CertainTeed says several OEM manufacturers are going to be equipping their factory units with the Isopure filters, so it's only a matter of time until service technicians begin to encounter them in the field.

For more information, call 610/341-7000 or visit www.certainteed.com

There were literally hundreds of other products introduced at the 2004 AHR Expo, but unfortunately there isn't enough room to print them all here. The products highlighted here represent just some of the innovations that are keeping the HVACR industry a vital, progressive place to be.

Next year, the meeting moves from The O.C. to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, February 7-9. My friend Mickey will once again be in attendance (I hope), so mark your calendars now.

For more information on the 2005 AHR Expo and ASHRAE Winter Meeting, contact the International Exposition Company at 203/221-9232, or visit www.ahrexpo.com.