Monday, January 5, 2009

Hotel Review, The Ramada off 430 and 630 in Little Rock

This is my first hotel review. I don't stay at hotels often, but we stay at this one about four times a year for three days at a time due to my wife's work. This isn't really about complaining about things that aren't "green" or that are unsustainable, it is about pointing out things that need to be and should be changed, both now and in the future. So, I guess this is not so much a review of the Ramada, but of hotels in general, and recommendations of what I believe a hotel should look like, internally that is.

My first criticism is what assails me every time I enter a hotel room. It's the air conditioner. It's always on. In fact when I got to the room yesterday, it was on and it was set to cool even though it was just above freezing outside. That means the air conditioner was not only sucking heat out of our room, but by the laws of thermodynamics, it was sucking the heat out of the whole building. This unit is a massive waste of energy that is made worse by poor management and even worse, there's one in every room.

Secondly, the bathroom could use some help. The toilet is not a low flush unit. It is loud and uses tons of water. A big problem is how long it takes to get hot water. In fact, there are signs in some rooms that tell you just to let it run if you don't get hot water at first. The shower is not of the low flow variety.

The TV is an old Zenith like my grandparents had back in the early nineties. All the light bulbs are incandescents. The window is thermal pane but is obviously not that good since it sweats badly and it's only 0C outside. Another problem is the cold air blowing down the hallway. I checked the thermostat and discovered it was set to "cool" and 56 F, it probably hasn't been changed since before summer. Sad.

Here's what a good hotel should look like with sustainability in mind. Done right, the changes made will pay for themselves and make the hotel more profitable. Such an investment is more viable in a large commercial minded building like a hotel. Additionally, the opportunity is good because hotel chains are large and can afford a larger initial investment.

First we have to change the paradigm of how the whole system works. We can't think of a hotel as a hundred tiny houses conglomerated into a single building. Fewer larger systems are more efficient than tons of small systems. An easy fix to the heating situation is to incorporate radiant hydronic heating. Each room has its own loop of heating coils in the floor with its own pump controlled by a thermostat that draws water from the main hot water system, so the heat source is as large and efficient as possible while still giving individual control to each room. The heat source should be a primarily solar system with a heat pump backup. The heating system should double as the hot water system to save piping and costs. With a well insulated main line on each floor that constantly slowly circulates, hot water is never more than a second away wasting little water.

Cooling is just a little more difficult to figure out and in a state like Arkansas, it is important. This could be solved as simply as a single small window type air conditioner unit per room, or there could be a central water chiller that provides cooling, it would depend on the size of the hotel. The point is, with a super insulated and correctly sun oriented building, cooling would be a minor affair. That brings me to my next point, super insulation. Good insulation and thermal mass keep the building at a pretty even temperature year round.

A hotel's lighting has limited demands, the rooms are small, and some areas often not used for a while. This seems tailor made for what Walmart has been experimenting with lately, motion sensing LED lights. LEDs are naturally focused bulbs, therefore wasting little energy shooting light in places where no one is. Imagine walking down a long hallway and only four meters in front and behind you are lit, and the light moves as you do. I've had this idea especially for libraries, the U of A library runs many tens of thousands of watts around the clock just to light books that no one is reading. In the future I'd like to see it as an annoyance to have to actually turn the lights on when you enter a room. Lazy you say, no, efficient.

Another convenient form of hotels is multiple toilets on different floors virtually on top of each other. This is a perfect form for Clivus Multrum type composting toilet systems. As we know, composting toilets can lower water usage by 40%. Another water saving feature is low flow showerheads. Sure, you can use cheap ones, but I can tell you from experience, the more expensive and quality ones are so much better. My showerhead uses the water pressure to mix air with the water so it feels like much more water is hitting you than actually is.

With as much as this hotel is used (and not used, it's virtually empty now) there are lots of ways to save energy, money, and to not be wasteful.

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