New building materials save hotel developers time, money

High-tech construction materials are making it easier and less expensive for developers to raise a building—even during cold winters. They can also save an operator money in the long run by improving the building’s thermal retention, keeping the spaces cooler in summer and warmer in winter while using less electricity.

Cross-Laminated Timber

In November, Lendlease, the developer for the United States Department of Defense’s Privatized Army Lodging portfolio, started construction on the second-ever hotel in the country built with cross-laminated timber, or CLT. By March, the timber installation was completed, and the Candlewood Suites hotel on Fort Drum in Watertown, N.Y., was moving quickly toward its opening.

“CLT is several layers of pressed wood or lumber board that are stacked in alternating directions,” said Gretchen Griffin, SVP and GM of Lendlease’s lodging program. “They are very large panels that are flown into place, which allows you to build a building quicker. You’re dealing with larger pieces of the puzzle when it comes to construction, as opposed to wood studs and conventional construction. It allows us to do it quicker from a modular and panelized standpoint.” 


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The product offers strength and durability along with sustainability and conservation benefits, Griffin said, and it increases the thermal envelope of the building, lowering the overall cost of heating or cooling the space. The material can also stand up to cold temperatures, which allowed the construction team to keep working during the intense cold snaps upstate New York experiences in winter.

The first hotel in the U.S. to use CLT was the Candlewood Suites on Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., which Lendlease opened two years ago as part of the Privatized Army Lodging portfolio. The Fort Drum hotel will have nearly 100 rooms, and will incorporate CLT for the floors, roof, exterior walls, shaft walls and select interior walls. The product is not yet in use for any other mainstream IHG hotels, but Chuck Sourbeer, head of operations at InterContinental Hotels Group Army Hotels—which will operate the Fort Drum Candlewood Suites—suggested that this may change as CLT proves its value to the company’s bottom line.

“The benefits of CLT will help us [open] newer hotels faster to support our mission of taking over the Army’s lodging facilities,” Sourbeer said. “The efficiency of the building and the acoustics—they’re amazing. You can tell when you walk in the building how soundproof it is and how well-built it is.” The hotel’s location on an Army base meant that it would have to comply with the Unified Facilities Criteria Anti-Terrorism Force Protection requirements for blast performance and progressive collapse—which necessitated a more durable material than a traditional wood frame. “This is a very durable building that I think will sustain the longevity of the project,” Sourbeer said. 

While she couldn’t share the cost per square foot of CLT timber, Griffin did say that it can offer a rapid return on investment by reducing the time it takes to construct a building. “You can get the structure built quicker,” she said. “You can open the hotel quicker and you can start serving guests and the community much quicker.” The larger pieces also require fewer construction workers to handle, and Sourbeer said that the construction crew on the Fort Drum project was only 10 people strong.

“It gives developers another option and another resource in construction planning [as opposed to] traditional construction,” Griffin said. 

Insulating Concrete Form

While CLT is only present in two hotels so far, insulating concrete form construction can be found in numerous hotels already. ICF uses hollow foam blocks made of rigid thermal insulation that are are stacked to make the exterior walls of a hotel. The hollow insulated cavities are filled with rebar and concrete, which then become part of the permanent walls of the building. Design firm Base4 has used ICF on several branded hotels, including Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and Springhill Suites.  

“ICF blocks are lightweight and require less labor,” said Blair Hildahl, principal of Base4. “Compared to [concrete masonry unit construction], ICF walls can reduce construction schedules by four to six weeks.” Like CLT, ICF walls can be built in the winter at lower temperatures without the need for insulating blankets or a heating source, he continued, which leads to extended build periods in cold climates.

ICF can be used for both exterior and interior walls, Hildahl explained, due to its insulating and structural properties. Walls that do not require insulation and do not bear loads do not need this product, giving a hotelier more options of what material to use where. The product is also useful for modular design, he added. “Inserting new utilities is as easy as cutting channels or grooves directly into the foam using an electric hot knife. Openings can also be cut into the wall to accommodate any required rough-ins.”

Once the hotel is built, ICF can significantly reduce heating and cooling costs due to the product’s insulating properties, Hildahl said. ICF walls have high R-values (the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow) and thermal performance, which lead to lower air infiltration and reduced energy bills. The product can also reduce or eliminate the need for extra soundproofing due to its high sound transmission rating. 

Generally, Hildahl acknowledged, ICF is more expensive than traditional construction methods at about $7 to $10 per square foot more than wood-frame walls, but that number can vary greatly depending on geographical location and current labor prices.