Best practices, products for energy-efficient hotels

With hotels carefully monitoring expenses and guests seeking environmentally friendly stays, hoteliers have good reason to be concerned about their energy usage. Fortunately, there are numerous ways hoteliers can lower their energy costs, from smart products to best practices that maximize efficiency.

Air Conditioning

TJ Wheeler, VP of marketing and product management at Friedrich Air Conditioning, estimated that second to lighting, climate control is the biggest energy drain for a hotel. “Energy efficiency is always a hot topic,” he said, noting that as technology advances, hoteliers are placing more demand on what it can do for in-room air conditioners. 

Updated variable refrigerant flow—also known as variable refrigerant volume—is one option available to hotels. This system circulates refrigerant to several indoor units, lowering energy consumption while leaving the units on and maintaining a comfortable temperature range. “The traditional VRF system is really complex and complicated and expensive,” Wheeler said. “It doesn't really fit lodging that well.” To create a VRF system that would work in a hospitality setting, Friedrich incorporated VRF elements into its packaged terminal air conditioners and vertical PTACs. “We have a line of variable refrigerant PTACs and vertical PTACs ... one that's called the FreshAire PTAC, and on the vertical side it's called the VRP—Variable Refrigerant Package in [a heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system.”

Friedrich also is seeing increased demand for combined HVAC and indoor air-quality systems that draw outdoor air directly into the PTAC. The company’s FreshAire PTAC combines an energy-efficient inverter compressor while bringing in conditioned make-up air from outside through a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value 8 filter. The HVAC unit, then, does not need to draw as much electricity to maintain the room’s temperature. The system eliminates the need for a giant energy-draining unit that on the rooftop, Wheeler said. “You're only drawing [electricity] when that air needs to be conditioned.”

Water Heaters

Scott Cohen, senior manager, marketing and training at Rheem Manufacturing Co., emphasized the need for sizing hotel water heaters correctly to maximize energy efficiency “depending on the number of rooms and the number of fixtures and the types of showers—if you're using low-flow or [it’s a] high-end hotel with multiple showerheads.” Making sure the heater also can accommodate commercial dishwashers, washing machines and any hot water needed for spa facilities also should be considered, he said.

Cohen cites his company’s Triton commercial gas water heater as a benefit for energy savings. “Triton is fully modulating, so it doesn't always come on at full blast,” he explained. “It just gives the amount of gas that it needs.” If a hotel has a 100-gallon water heater, and one guest takes a short shower, the water heater doesn’t need to use 200,000 [British thermal units] of power to heat the small amount of incoming water. “You can just do it very easily, and much more inexpensively,” he said. 

Ultimately, Cohen recommended hoteliers focus on long-term efficiency when selecting any kind of technology-related product for a hotel. “The easy thing to do is to replace [an older unit] with the same product as cheaply as possible,” he said. “But for those who are willing to invest a little and upgrade, they can save a lot of money in the long run.”


Minibar Systems has just launched the SmartFridge Eco, a Wi-Fi-enabled guestroom refrigerator that will connect to a hotel’s property-management system. “If the room is vacant, or checked out in a system, a signal gets sent to the room and the fridge is turned off,” said Walt Strasser, Minibar’s EVP in charge of sales and marketing. “And when the room is checked in, a signal gets sent and the fridge is turned on—or not. Even when the guest checks in, a signal can be sent to the room that tells the fridge ‘OK, there's a guest checked in,’ but it doesn't actually turn on until the guest opens the door.” If a guest does not need to use the unit, the refrigerator shuts off and does not consume any electricity. 

Strasser expects the line to reduce a hotel’s refrigerator-focused energy costs 85 percent. If a standard in-room mini-fridge costs a hotel about $30 per year in energy, he said, the SmartFridge Eco should cost about $4 per year on average.

At the same time, Strasser predicts that the life span of the SmartFridge Eco will be double that of a traditional refrigerator because its components will not need to be working when the machine is off—which he expects it will be for more than half of its life.