Updating guestroom PTACs cools the environment, bottom line

PTACs can last for decades in hotels, but that doesn't mean they should. Photo credit: Getty Images/coffeekai

Hotel guests aren’t sharing their personal data with businesses out of the kindness of their hearts; they want something in return, usually in the form of a more personalized stay experience. Floor and room preferences are the easiest to predict, but many hotels are adding temperature to the list of guest expectations.

In most cases, hotels track guest preferences using loyalty programs or branded apps. The data gained in this manner then is applied to a guest’s stay, selecting his or her desired room, floor, location and even guestroom temperature before arrival.

Douglas Mackemer, national director of parts, supplies and specialized equipment at Carrier Enterprise, said installing technology into hotel heating, ventilation or air conditioning system or packaged terminal air conditioners to automatically adjust a guestroom’s climate is feasible—in most cases. He said any PTAC that has been around more than 10 years may not have the components required to interact with the cloud, where most energy-management systems operate, but if it has a standard interior thermostat it should be possible.

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“It doesn’t take a large investment to use this technology anymore, and the [return on investment] in some cases can be as soon as six months,” Mackemer said. “A lot of municipalities also provide significant rebates for energy savings, as well, which can help pay for it.”

Mackemer said this technology also provides invaluable data to hotel operators looking to save on utilities costs. If a hotel can track a guest’s preferred temperature patterns, the property can reduce the amount of energy needed to provide a guest’s desired climate. Even if a hotel can set a temperature back just one or two degrees more, the savings can be monumental.

“When you set [temperature] across 200 rooms, depending on the age and condition of the equipment, even that little bit can matter,” he said. “If the equipment is low on refrigerant, or if its filters are clogged, it will increase that recovery time. This data can also be used to diagnose these issues. If one room recovers its temperature in 15 minutes and the room next door takes two hours, there is something going on there.”

According to Jerad Adams, director of commercial product management at Friedrich Air Conditioning, guestroom environmental controls are improving across the board thanks to efforts from large hotel companies such as Marriott International and Hilton to develop a fully working “connected room.” Eventually, he said, hotels want to allow guests to control every aspect of their stay experience before they set foot on property, and the data gained at this stage will assist in the process.

“Ultimately we will see control of guestroom lights, curtains, services, amenities and even climate connected through an app,” Adams said. “Along with that we will also see presets for all these selections chosen for each guest. That is something Marriott and Hilton are driving toward, and we are working close with engineering groups to make sure our PTAC equipment is fully in line with energy-management system requirements.”

PTACs require consistent airflow to function properly. Photo credit: Carrier Enterprise

Checking the Temperature

How long is a PTAC supposed to last in a hotel environment? This is a difficult question to answer, particularly if a hotel employs a skilled maintenance team. According to Adams, Friedrich was gifted the second-ever PTAC the company ever produced, and the device remains in working condition 50 years after it was built. However, not all devices can be lucky enough to survive that long.

“We follow, as all PTAC manufacturers do, a 15-year shelf life,” Adams said. “We see PTACs lasting on average about 10 years, but that doesn’t mean the machine is failing in that amount of time. Renovations, brand or ownership changes and product improvement plans often lead to a switch before the device gives out.”

Just because a PTAC can last that long doesn’t mean it should, at least without extensive maintenance. While PTAC filters should be cleaned monthly and the machines should be fully removed from their sleeve for a deep clean semiannually, there are some other factors to consider when planning future maintenance programs.

For example: Whether a guestroom faces north or west can have a profound impact on a PTAC’s life expectancy. West-facing rooms will receive the lion’s share of sunlight over time, and if these rooms lack reflective coating on their windows they will be receiving a higher heat load than other rooms. This will result in one room’s PTAC having to work harder for longer to produce effective results when compared to a nearby room. The same is true for rooms located on the top floor of a building because there is nothing above them to block the heat.

Mackemer said the greatest sin hoteliers commit when it comes to PTAC maintenance is not routinely changing filters. However, he also suggested cleaning the PTAC drain pan at regular intervals in order to eliminate odors or, at its worst, mold growth.

“These machines deal with a lot of water because they take the vapor in a room, condense it to liquid, then have it drain outside of the building,” Mackemer said. “If you don’t keep those drain lines clear they can back up and flood rooms, breed microbial organisms and cause guests to sneeze.”

Maintaining consistent airflow between a PTAC and the rest of the room also is very important, and Adams pleads with any hotel operator trying to hide the PTAC in—or behind—furniture to stop immediately.

“We’ve seen a lot of ‘clever’ ways around this; most of it involves adding on accessories or a furniture-type box designed to hang over the PTAC’s front grill,” Adams said. “The problem we have is that clever design does not allow for airflow!”