How to save energy during winter months

Optimizing guestroom energy efficiency should be an important focus before winter sets in. (How to save energy in winter months)

Energy typically is the second largest operating expense in a hotel. When discussing energy expenses at an average hotel, depending on the type and size of the hotel, guestrooms can contribute more than 60 percent of the total energy cost for a hotel. With the winter months approaching, heating and hot water are the major reasons for the increase in energy expenses. HOTEL MANAGEMENT talked to energy experts on suggestions for hoteliers to implement to save on energy consumption.

Steve Senft, principal in CRU Real Estate Group, suggested hoteliers define the average temperature in the guestrooms. “This is essential to a clean energy solution for any hotel and controlling your energy cost during the winter months,” he said. “If the occupancy of the hotel declines during the winter months, why should all your rooms be heated to 70, 72 or even 78 degrees or more if no guests are occupying them? Hotels should set a defined average temperature in all guestrooms (which we typically keep at 67 degrees), and then train your entire staff, especially the housekeeping and maintenance team members, on what is the hotel standard operating procedures.”

By using a setback room temperature, hotel owners can reduce their energy bill 20 percent throughout the year, particularly in the winter months, said Michael Serour, VP of sales for Verdant Environmental Technologies. “There is nothing that will provide comparable energy savings than not heating — and cooling — a room that doesn’t need it,” he said.

When the system resides on a wireless network, seasonal profiles can be delivered remotely, said Chad Burrow, director of sales and marketing at Telkonet. Additional features such as property-management-system integration, allow the property to create sold and unsold profiles.

“When the room is unsold and unoccupied, these setbacks can be more aggressive, driving deeper energy savings without compromising guest comfort,” he said. “Other elements of automation can add incremental savings opportunities.”

Michael Asmussen, manager application engineering at Inncom, said drapes and sheers should be kept fully open during the day in all unrented and/or unoccupied rooms in the winter months. This reduces energy by taking advantage of the passive solar rays to help heat a room during the day. “Leveraging passive solar to reduce energy is most effective if the hotel has motorized drapery control tied to an energy-management system,” he said. “This enables drapes and sheers to be automatically opened during the day when the room is unoccupied and the temperature outside is below, let’s say 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This enables the sun to help the heating system to keep rooms comfortable.”

In the winter, guests frequently tend to overheat the room only to lower the target temperature later. This generates a ‘cool call’ to the air conditioning unit, Asmussen said. By implementing a smart guestroom thermostat, which considers and responds to outside temperatures, hotel operators can limit the amount of active cooling that the HVAC units provide. This saves energy by allowing the room to cool down naturally, instead of using energy, if the guests ask for a lower temperature on a cold day.

Senft also said that guestroom mini refrigerators can use a great deal of energy consumption. A best practice is to have all the units set to a low setting; for example, if the settings for the cooling of the refrigerators is 1-8 with 8 behind the coldest, set it at 1 or even 2. The refrigerator will be cool, not cold when the guest comes into the room. If the guest would like to use the unit, then place a card with instructions on how to make the refrigerators colder. “It is essential that this is part of the training for both housekeeping and maintenance as they are in the rooms most frequently,” he said. “This also has shown to extend the life of the refrigerator in our hotels.”

A preventative maintenance program can help with energy consumption, as well, said Senft. “Make sure your maintenance team has [performed maintenance on] each guestroom and all public space HVACs in the hotel before the winter starts,” he said. “Too many times if the filters and HVAC units are not property cleaned out, these units will run double time and increase your energy consumption as well as have a negative impact on the life of these HVAC units.”

Gardner said an active property winterization program also will help identify energy savings. Some of the basics are:

  • Check for window drafts and other types of air leaks and repair them.
  • Make sure air filters are in good shape.
  • Start room heaters before your guests do so they do not have to experience that first “burnt dust” smell.
  • More important, ask property staff about where they think energy inefficiencies are. Those team members know a great deal about their property and may be able to identify important low-hanging fruit that is easily corrected to create a greener hotel.

Case study on solar water heating

In an industry where water heating makes up almost a third of total energy use, hotel managers know that every bath, shower, kitchen and laundry counts toward their ever-increasing utility bill. “For a hotel, solar makes so much sense given the amount of hot water needed,” said Brett Miller, owner of Lakehouse Hotel & Resort in San Marcos, Calif.

Initial estimates for the solar water heating system seemed pricey until rebates from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) – Thermal Program cut costs almost in half and the project was eligible for a 30-percent federal investment tax credit for renewable energy and accelerated depreciation allowances.

The hotel has 142 guestrooms, a restaurant and two pools. The hotel installed three systems in 2014 with 32 solar thermal collectors that feed 2,050 gallons to storage tanks. The system cost $118,000 with the CSI-thermal rebate of $55,779 and the federal tax credit of $18,736. The annual energy savings is 3,900 therms (390 million BTUs) of natural gas. The simple payback will be six years, according to Go Solar California.

Over the lifetime of the system, the natural gas savings is equivalent to carbon sequestered by 424 acres of forest over one year or greenhouse gas emissions reductions equivalent to removing 109 cars from the road.

Loews Vanderbilt Hotel recognized for energy efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge recently recognized Loews Hotels for the energy efficiency upgrades made at Nashville's Vanderbilt Hotel through the company's showcase project. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, Loews has set a goal to reduce energy use across all of its hotels by 20 percent in 10 years. Over the past two years, the Vanderbilt hotel has improved its energy efficiency 22 percent and achieved a total energy cost savings of $328,250.

With updates to lighting and HVAC systems, guestrooms, and building envelope, the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel is demonstrating how building efficiency upgrades can preserve both comfort and affordability for its visitors.  

“Loews Hotels set a goal to reduce energy use across all of its properties by 20 percent in 10 years, so the partnership with the Better Buildings Challenge seemed like a natural fit for Loews Vanderbilt Hotel,” said Tony Phillips, GM, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. “Through this project we not only significantly cut costs and reduced energy waste, but we also improved guest comfort throughout the hotel.”

Loews upgraded all public-area lighting fixtures to LEDs, installed new direct-drive elevator hoist motors on seven passenger elevators, replaced outdated 750-ton centrifugal chillers with resized, highly-efficient 500-ton chillers, and installed a new, more efficient water system. The hotel also installed new variable frequency drives on the existing chilled water and condenser pumps in order to further enhance HVAC efficiency and replaced the water distribution media inside the cooling tower. By enhancing and insulating the hotel's façade and ballroom roof, the building's overall R-value [insulation effectiveness] was improved 20 percent.

In addition to facility upgrades, Loews recognizes leadership among its engineering managers in every hotel nationwide. The Gold Wrench Award incentivizes engineers to find energy-saving solutions proactively and contribute to Loews' sustainability goals. The award highlights employees in the engineering department who have gone above and beyond performance standards.
Through the Better Buildings Challenge, the Energy Department is partnering with more than 345 private businesses and public-sector organizations over the next decade to achieve 20-percent portfolio-wide energy savings and share successful strategies that maximize efficiency. These organizations represent more than 4.4 billion-square-feet of building space, include more than 1,000 industrial facilities, and have committed $7 billion in financing.