Influences on design
Published: 15 October, 2010
The MBS Focus panel discusses hotel buildings and examines how their design and operation are affected by owners, operators and guests.
After hospital buildings, hotels are probably the structures most influenced by their occupants. Office workers generally have to endure the state of building services, while the FM does his best to deal with complaints. But hotel guests wield a lot of influence; a complaint at the front desk can lead to the operator returning money. Whether you’re the Savoy or a Travelodge, this is never a good thing.
Hotel design and the operation of the building services are therefore key to business success. However, the budget brands and upscale hotels are now being equally affected by legislation on energy and carbon.
Ramsay Ritchie, senior associate at ReardonSmith Architects, a practice that specialises in the design of hotels, says: “There is a large amount of legislation that affects design. Part L 2010 is just one example. Clients look to the architects to offer advice on the design to meet these requirements, but I think to achieve a sustainable and energy efficient hotel building requires a collaborative approach.”
John Sayer, director at Compass Energy Consulting Engineers, agrees: “With the introduction of the next iteration of Part L, the building ‘as designed’ will have to demonstrate compliance before a start can be made on site.” Many people have said that the increase in legislation has made compliance more difficult to enforce. However, Sayer disagrees: “Greater complexity in the regulations has helped reinforcement, because Building Control is more likely to bring in experts to deal with it so there is greater understanding of the designs.”
One of the challenges faced by the design team is that there is a number of key influencers involved in hotel projects. Ritchie explains: “People talk about ‘the client’, but that could be the owner, which is often a consortium, or the operator. This does affect everyone from the designers to the specialist contractors. But legislation on energy use in buildings has brought the team together earlier on in the process. I believe this is a good trend because it means the construction industry has the potential to create solutions much earlier.”
The hotel sector is an international industry. Often ideas that work in one area will be used elsewhere. While this can have the advantages of standardisation, it does throw up some issues, as Warren Edwards of controls specialist VDA highlights: “Standardisation of the specification can make the introduction of new technologies difficult. We need to be in a position to inform international groups about what is new, but the tender process for a hotel building can be difficult to stop once it’s underway.”
“That is very true of the higher-end hotels, although the budget hotel brands tend to be more open to new ideas such as occupancy detectors, for example,” adds Sayer. Paul Marsden, UK sales manager of energy-efficient water heating specialist Lochinvar, agrees: “In the budget sector they certainly seem to be considering operating costs at least as much as capital costs.”
Mike Malina, director of Energy Solutions Associates says: “ I think that the legislation is making clients look more closely at the life cycle of the whole building. I have been involved in more design reviews where the client is looking closely at this issue.”
Harriet Evans, corporate sales manager for Mitsubishi Electric, agrees: “We are definitely now more involved in life-cycle costing, and not only in this sector. Clients are realising that lower-cost building-services equipment will not be at all cheap to operate in the long-run.”
One point that hotels share with many other commercial buildings is that speed of build often leads to a shortage of time at the handover stage. “Commissioning can simply be overlooked in terms of its importance, and handovers are often not well handled due to time constraints,” says Ritchie.
A poor handover can have long-term effects on the energy performance of the hotel, as Mike Malina says: “I have carried out many energy audits on hotel buildings, and on the whole energy performance is very poor. Lack of commissioning means that the operators don’t understand how the building should perform. This leads to controls being set incorrectly, for example time clocks being turned off. The problem with carrying out commissioning at a later date is that people don’t understand the value of it; they don’t see what they get for their money.”
Evans comments that Mitsubishi Electric always encourages its clients to understand their building services better: “They invest in a good system, but if they don’t fully maintain it the equipment will not operate efficiently. For example, if grilles are not cleaned the system will be significantly less energy efficient. A poorly maintained air-conditioning system is far less energy efficient than it could be.”
Edwards says that the focus of hotel management is not on the building services: “We need to inform and educate them to think about building services or the building-management system. Hoteliers are trying to operate on a tight budget, while giving the guest a good experience.”
“The psychology of hotels is that they are obsessed with front-of-house service,” says Malina. “They don’t want to close anything down for maintenance.” Minimising guest complaints is an important factor in how the building is operated. As Edwards points out: “Complaints lead to refunds.”
Building controls play an important role in reducing hotel energy use. They allow the operator to set general temperature limits, while giving guests some leeway for personal comfort. Warren Edwards has a lot of experience in making room controls usable for guests: “The challenge is that people don’t stay in the hotel for more than one or two nights. Most therefore don’t know or have time to learn how to use the controls. This means that their design is very important. It has to be intuitive.”
The type of control has to be carefully considered. For example, micro-switches for windows might be considered very desirable as they prevent the operation of heating or cooling while the room windows are open. However, John Sayer points out: “There is a problem of scale with hotels. They have a lot of windows so that type of project could be costly. Also, if guests don’t understand the system, they will call the front desk and ask why their air conditioning isn’t working. And more components such as micro-switches will reduce reliability, that could increase complaints and increase maintenance costs.”
Controls can make a positive contribution to other aspects of hotel operation. For example, linking the room’s key card to the building-management system can ensure that a room is kept at a lower temperature when unoccupied in Winter and higher in Summer. This sort of system can also help hotels identify patterns of use.
Ritchie says: “Patterns of use are very interesting to analyse. On the whole, you find that the hotel is virtually empty at 11am, yet the boilers are still operating for 75% occupancy. That is when you can see where waste is occurring.”
Malina agrees: “If hotels are generally very quiet between the hours of 9am to 5pm and midnight to 6am, then operators could consider reducing lighting in corridors. Even if they cut the lights by half, and installed occupancy sensors, that would certainly save energy.”
John Sayer agrees with this concept: “The hotel will view guest comfort as paramount. But it is possible for example to turn the temperature up or down a few degrees in Summer or Winter when guests are sleeping. An occupant would not notice, and you would be saving energy for around five hours most nights of the year. It is a cost not to do this sort of thing.”
The CRC Energy Reduction Scheme (CRC) is driving many hotel chains to consider their carbon footprints, and perhaps creating more of a need to refurbish. Evans points out that other factors may lead to hotel operators considering a move to more energy efficient equipment.
“New rules on use of refrigerants means that any building owner using air conditioning equipment that utilises R22 refrigerant will have to completely move away from that when it is phased out in 2014. We are already seeing a number of clients examine how they will deal with this challenge. Drop-in refrigerants can be used with existing pipework, although this will not improve energy efficiency so is therefore often discounted as an alternative to replacing the system.”
For hotels whole-system replacement is not an easy decision: “If you are moving from split-system to VRF then you could replace the system in one wing of the hotel at a time in a phased approach, for example,” adds Evans.
Careful planning is required for the adoption of any new technologies, and this particularly applies to renewables. Some of these technologies are well suited to the hotel sector. “Solar hot water should be ideal because the water has all day to heat up before demand rises,” says Malina.
Paul Marsden says: “Solar hot water is certainly very good for this sector. But if you are going to incorporate renewables, there needs to be careful consideration. For example, a solar-thermal system should be integrated with a water heater or boiler. Highly efficient condensing versions of both, incorporating advanced control systems, are now available. Effective integration of these elements is key to achieving a reduction in energy usage and carbon emissions. You do need to look at the mix of technologies.”
Marsden also points out that there is always a challenge for specifiers when suggesting renewable solutions: “Because it is a renewable technology clients always seem to ask about the payback period. If they were simply buying new gas water heaters boilers I don’t think that question would be asked.”
John Sayer says that clients need to think about why they want to use renewables: “It is sensible to ask if adding renewables is about PR, compliance with planning conditions, or about saving energy. That determines the type of solution to select.” He points out that selecting the wrong technology has long-term consequences.
“We have been decommissioning some combined heat and power systems at hotels because it has been oversized and wastes more than it saves. Renewables have to be right for the building, and they have to be seen as useful if the operators are to keep them.”
In spite of these challenges to energy efficiency in hotels, a number of large chains are leading the way in reducing energy waste and switching to low-carbon systems. Ramsey Ritchie says: “The Intercontinental Group has always had a strong Corporate Social Responsibility policy and takes environmental issues very seriously. They are the biggest hotel chain in the world and they are very influential with developers.”
Warren Edwards says that hotels at the other end of the budget spectrum are also finding new ways to control energy use: “One budget chain is being developed where guests will be charged for a basic room, but pay for extras such as heated towel rails or a television. They will also be able to charge for the amount of electricity used in each room. It sounds like a joke, but that type of accommodation is very appealing to a certain market, and it would be energy efficient.”
Other lessons can also be learned from abroad. Ritchie points out that in other countries, the hotel building is viewed less speculatively. “If you look at places such as Russia or Azerbaijan, the quality of building is higher because often the hotel is a family business. The client wants to know what is the best. They are also more open to using renewables such as solar hot water. We have also designed buildings to be future-proofed with the creation of an independent energy centre on-site, that allows for flexibility in terms of responding to change as technology develops without effecting the hotel fabric.”
The hotel market is an international and influential sector. In the UK, the number of hotels is set to rise in spite of the recession, driven by events such as the 2012 Olympics.
If the construction industry can use its influence, these buildings and existing stock can achieve a great deal in terms of energy and carbon savings.