How large and small hotels approach laundry sustainability

If you own a hotel and want to trim operating costs, finding ways to cut down on utilities and energy use should be top-of-mind. It was for Jacques D’Rovencourt, GM of the 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston, who had the hotel install a water-recycling system.

According to D’Rovencourt, the system was installed in September 2015 for $166,000, and through October 2017 the system saved the hotel $763,217. The system cleans wash water so that it can be reused in the laundry up to five times.

“It wasn’t a hard sell because the payback was fairly quick and we did our homework to ensure the rollout would be a success,” D’Rovencourt said. “The longer we have it, the better the savings.”

But what about smaller hotels? The 126-room Limelight Hotel Aspen in Colorado takes a unique approach by offering coin-operated laundry machines for guests and keeping three small commercial machines in its back of house to handle towels and rags. The rest of the hotel’s laundry is shipped off property.

When asked why the hotel opts to handle specific wash loads on property, Donn Williams, director of engineering, said the hotel’s operators decided the hotel’s needs didn’t warrant the cost of completely outsourcing.

“We have smaller PAR levels [Periodic Automatic Replenishment], and we also wanted to provide a convenience for guests,” he said. “Lower PAR levels simplify a lot of this, and the way the property is set up, we wanted a means to handle what we can and provide in-house services for guests.”

For some hotels, water savings is a necessity. Rafael Avalos, director of housekeeping at the Hilton Santa Fe (N.M.) Buffalo Thunder, said his resort recycles 500,000 gallons of water daily that is then transformed into grey water and used to irrigate the resort’s golf course.

“The water is used, cleaned and reused before it is diverted into the grey-water system,” he said. “Grey water goes through all 27 holes, and it doesn’t go anywhere else.”

The Limelight Hotel Aspen. Photo credit: Aspen Skiing Company

All Washed Out

If your hotel is large enough to need an industrial tunnel washing machine, hope that it doesn’t break down. According to Rafael Avalos, director of housekeeping at the Hilton Santa Fe (N.M.) Buffalo Thunder, machines breaking down is one of the largest challenges hotels face when maintaining a consistent and effective laundry operation, and maintenance issues continue to give him pause.

“Machines breaking down is a big deal, especially with a large tunnel washer,” Avalos said. “It does 85 percent of all our laundry. Without it, you start to worry a little bit.”

In order to stay on top of maintenance concerns, Avalos suggested maintaining close contact with chemical companies to stay informed of what is going into these machines and what sort of effects to expect. This also helps to maximize the machine’s efficiency.

The Hilton Santa Fe (N.M.) Buffalo Thunder's golf course is watered using reclaimed grey water, and nothing else. Photo credit: Hilton

“Education is important, but some people let things be just because they are the way they’ve always been done,” Avalos said. “You want to be on the cutting edge, and vendors are there to help. If you ask them a question, they may not know the answer— but then again, they might. And the way I’ve learned everything is by asking, and talking to other hotels, too.”

When does it become necessary to install something like a tunnel washer, or build an in-house laundry facility, no matter how small? Donn Williams, director of engineering at the Limelight Hotel Aspen in Colorado, said location is a factor, and one that the hotel took into consideration when installing its modest facility.

“One thing hotel operators should consider, especially in isolated mountain towns, is their ability to receive their linens when they need them,” Williams said. “We send our major linens… a little under two hours away. If there is a storm or something else, we may not receive our linens for some time, and you can’t sell a room if you don’t have linen.”

Having an effective in-house laundry operation also allows hoteliers to be flexible with PAR levels, and gives them more control over costs in both the short and long term. Jacques D’Rovencourt, GM of the Hilton Americas-Houston, said that these facilities require a significant investment on the front end, but they have the potential to pay back in dividends, something the hotel realized as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Houston last year.

“When the hurricane hit, our attached convention center took in 10,000 people who couldn’t get to their homes. Eventually, the Red Cross asked us to launder their linens,” D’Rovencourt said. “We were wheeling bins of soiled linen nonstop for 14 hours a day, and then volunteers got to know the hotel over time and were able to help. We never expected it, but we’re glad we were there.”