I stay in hotels/motels probably 40-50 nights per year, at least it seems so. If lodging facilities were in a league of teams competing to be the greenest facilities, these guys would be the Detroit Lions.
Most franchise motels, those not located in downtown high rise buildings, are built with the cheapest, crappiest stuff possible. The only thing that is decent in them is the TV but sometimes even that is a junky 19 inch CRT clunker. Who has spent a night in room with through-wall air conditioner/heater with a temperature control knob that spins round and round like the fake knobs on a Fisher Price toy for a 2 year old? They fit as tight as clown pants and leak like a small fishing boat with a cannon ball hole in the hull.
At least they’ve gotten rid of the “Styrofoam” comforters that were once ubiquitous lodging fixtures. I believe Styrofoam comforters were made of some sort of synthetic material and I think they may have been fireproof, like children’s fireproof pajamas. (do they still make those things?) Anyway, they could probably survive in a steel melting furnace. They were scratchy and stiff like snuggling up under a cozy hunk of cardboard or yesterday’s newspaper at best.
Ventilation and exhaust in most lodging facilities are terrible. A year ago I stayed in an older hotel in suburban Chicago. They had the room temperature set way back to 55F and this was mid-January, about 15F outside. Good thing? NO! I turned it up to around 70F. I worked on my computer in the room for a couple hours before our client/colleague arrived from O’Hare for dinner. In two hours the room struggled to get to 65F. I never took my coat off in that time. Why was this happening? Exhaust fans somewhere, kitchen or swimming pool were sucking the building negative, big time, as I noticed with the blast of incoming wind when I entered the building. So these guys probably thought they were saving energy by setting back room temperatures but instead, they were heating their makeup air coming in through the cheesecloth walls with crappy guest room electric resistance heaters, rather than much less expensive natural gas that they probably had somewhere on the rooftops. At the same time they were freezing their guests. This is the polar opposite of the Iowa State University removal of kitchen trays. They are wasting energy like crazy and shooting their feet with terribly uncomfortable guest rooms.
Later last winter I stayed in a motel in Phoenix. Ironically, this place was suffering from moisture problems. The bathrooms had no exhaust whatsoever. After a reasonable shower there is a stagnant fog bank until the door is opened. The fog condenses on the cooler room surfaces. The metal stuff around the ceiling was discolored by rust and the wallpaper was sagging and also discolored. So let’s take a space that has plenty of cooling load, in Phoenix, and add a bunch of latent (moisture) dehumidification on top of that, and rot the bathroom to rubble at the same time.
In a motel in near the Minneapolis airport, they lacked ventilation/exhaust. Entering the building, it smelled like a high school football locker room in August. Again, I’m sure somebody thinks their saving energy while they are driving customers away with their raunchy environment.
Some lodging facilities still use incandescent light bulbs and there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with lighting type and facility age, nightly rates, or facility size. Needless to say, these places deserve to go out of business because if there is one easy thing to do to save energy in a lodging facility with no adverse effects…
Another thing that always cracks me up is the location of ice and vending machines – typically in a small almost enclosed space. The ice machine is hammering away as it bathes in its own waste heat at about 100F that hangs around like a cloud. The soda machine and ice maker are working overtime to keep their contents cold with excessive heat gain in 100F heat while their compressors are working harder with higher condensing pressure. Then there are those stupid ice machines that dump a pound of ice into an acrylic hopper thingy that dumps into your ice bucket. The ice sits there and mostly melts before the next guest comes by. They empty what’s left and need more. Push the button for more ice and it dumps about 3 pounds into the hopper again. They only need a handful so they either take 3 pounds or leave it there to melt – melt in the room or melt in the 100F cloud – take your pick.
With the bucket of ice in hand, go back to the room and take a crappy tiny plastic glass out of the crappy plastic liner. It holds about a thimble’s worth of fluid. You almost have to bite the ice cubes in half to fit them in the glass. Nothing shouts cheap and crappy louder than these plastic thimbles. A nice glass tumbler is probably worth paying at least $5 more per night.
And then there is breakfast which runs from reasonably sustainable to pornographically wasteful. I’m very easy to please for breakfast, like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times and Ridgemont High, “All I need are some tasty waves, cool buzz, and I’m fine.” All I need is some cool milk, raisin bran and I’m fine. Last week’s raisin bran feast featured two of those tiny jokes for boxes of cereal, a half pint carton of milk, plastic bowl and spoon. I eat a tiny simple meal and have more garbage than I can carry in two hands to the waste bin. What’s wrong with a big dispenser of bulk cereal, some porcelain bowls, metal silverware, and bulk milk? What would that be, like 95% less landfill waste? Bulk cereal and milk must cost about ¼ of the hokey kiddy boxes and cartons. Somebody is short a few cards of a full deck.
Towels. I think every motel/hotel features reuse of towels with a cheesy door hanger thingy with a white owl on it. Help us save the planet (while we commit every environmental sin in the green bible). It says simply hang your towel up rather than throwing it on the floor in heap if you want to reuse it. I have found this to be more challenging than changing a tire with my bare hands. The housecleaners take it no matter where I put it. You almost have to hide it between the mattress and box spring but you would have to remove the mattress and lay it perfectly flat or they would notice the lump and take it.
I think the most sustainable motel I’ve stayed in was in Monterey (CA) last summer. My room had no air conditioning. Actually, I didn’t need cooling all week in mid-August so this was actually a pretty smart thing. The room also had all CFL lighting of course and the bathroom had wall-mounted occupancy sensors – impressive! Breakfast featured bulk everything, and no disposable dishes or utensils. But no raisin bran!
And by the way, not only is this gamble risky and won’t work, it already isn’t working. Interest rates have gone up since this was announced – the opposite of what was supposed to happen. Could it be that people aren’t rats after all? Supply and demand – when markets move in the opposite direction the puppet master would like, you know which is going to be right.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP