Heating a hotel to everyone's tastes can be costly and difficult. Catherine Quinn looks at possible solutions that save energy as well
What do you do when some customers demand air conditioning, while others complain about the cold? Heating can cause all sorts of problems for hospitality operators, particularly if they are cost conscious and the clientele favour cosy conditions.
For those in the business of supplying leisure and luxury space, cold bedrooms and chilly restaurants are hardly an option. But with heating costs mounting each year, and many hotel guests blithely turning up the heat the moment they dump their bags before heading out again, the issue certainly needs tackling.
"We had a debate on how to best address heating" says Jane Hill, general manager of the Thistle Kingsley in Bloomsbury, London, which has just ploughed £10m into a comprehensive refurbishment.
"We decided to take out all the radiators and replace them with air conditioning units," explains Hill.
"The move was partly to address our carbon footprint and make things more comfortable for customers, but there was also a cost consideration."
For the Thistle Kingsley, the concept of units that could seamlessly heat and cool while being controlled from a central mechanism was a winner; not least because radiators had been almost too effective at heating rooms in the hotel.
"A radiator system can keep rooms hot when you don't need them to be," says Hill.
"You have all that hot water circulating in the system, and if you didn't want it hot in the first place, it can be difficult to cool it."
In contrast, the Thistle Kingsley's new air-conditioning units can be adjusted to default to an ambient temperature almost immediately when rooms aren't occupied, and a high-tech sensory system can make adjustments in the case of extreme temperature fluctuations.
Hill acknowledges, however, that it can be tough to please everyone with air conditioning.
"I think everyone is more used to air-conditioning units nowadays, because they encounter them so often in their everyday lives, but it is a matter of personal taste," she says.
"Some people prefer radiators because the noise of the air conditioning makes it difficult for them to sleep. But manufacturers have looked at these issues and there are plenty of developments that make air conditioning more palatable."
For many hoteliers, of course, the drive to save money is a key issue, particularly when recent fluctuations in heating prices have highlighted just how much their bottom line is at the mercy of power suppliers.
For this reason, as well as more charitable aims, many operators are looking for new and improved ways of combining cost saving with environmentally friendly drives.
Perhaps the most contemporary solution is to use geothermal energy to heat and cool. Currently American and Canadian hotels are leading the way in adopting this technology, with the Marriott Springhill Suites hotel in Florida, and Canadian hotel chain ALT both incorporating the model into their heating systems.
Driving deep into the earth, a geothermal system uses heated water from below the ground to warm during winter, and returns the energy to cool during summer, meaning it can function as a year-round solution.
Unsurprisingly, the system costs more to install, but is not as prohibitive as many might imagine, weighing in at around a third more than the cost of a regular heating system, and fuel savings kick in from the moment operations go live.
One UK hotel about to put this technology to good use is Blythswood Square in Scotland. The recently launched spa and rooms has employed geothermal boreholes along with other eco measures to ensure the large amount of water used in the spa and general hotel heating is both good for the planet and the bank balance.
"We have nine 100-metre boreholes as a geothermal source to help heat and cool the rooms," explains Peter Taylor, chairman of the Townhouse Collection, which owns the new hotel.
"We also have wet solar panels on the roof to pre-heat the water - these are water-filled rather than the photovoltaic electricity-generating kind - and micro double-glazed sash-enclosed windows."
CUTTING THE BILLS
Although Blythswood Square and the Thistle Kingsley have made great use of modern technology, not all hotels are able to start from scratch. Both Hill and Taylor concede that the luxury of being able to comprehensively refit made it cost effective to install new systems.
But if the cost of installing a new system is impractical or beyond your means, there are other ways of cutting the heating bill that will cost hardly anything. The most obvious is to shop around for suppliers - a measure that alarmingly few hotels take the time to do.
"Even a small hotel's average annual consumption averages around 32,000 units. This equates to over £2,000 you could be wasting just by staying with your current supplier," says Jonathan Elliott, managing director of the business price comparison service Make It Cheaper.
"New-customer tariffs are up to 7p per unit cheaper than standard customer tariffs and can be fixed for a year or more, so it makes sense to look into switching."
POWERS OF PERSUASION
Christina Simons of Sustainable Tourism Gold Award winner Cottage Lodge in the New Forest suggests leaving courteous signs for guests urging them to limit heating usage, which have proven highly effective.
For period properties with listed but draughty windows, the super-micro double glazing of the kind fitted at Blythswood Square is the very latest in glass innovation.
The super-thin sheets are slim enough to be inserted into a Victorian sash or Georgian-style window and be virtually unnoticeable, and they can even be styled to mimic the curvature of period glass.
What's more, councils and other bodies in charge of listed properties have proved surprisingly amenable to the installation of super-micro double glazing, as it looks exactly like the real thing. "Councils understand the need for eco developments," says Taylor.
Finally, the old issue of insulation is never out of date, and no matter what technological wizardry you install to drive down costs, nothing is as effective as ensuring you have adequate draught excluders and proper loft fixtures to keep in heat. With fuel costs on the inexorable rise, and the winter setting in, the last thing you want is all that expensive warmth escaping through the roof.
MAKING IT LOOK ATTRACTIVE
If you're sticking with a radiator system, there's no reason to deploy heat-sapping radiator covers to streamline the look of your rooms. In fact, the latest developments could see veritable works of art make it into your system.
"Radiators have evolved from being a simple form of heating to become an altogether sexier beast, with a host of breathtaking designs available to help create the increasingly important ‘wow!' factor in a hotel," says Claire Jennings, communications manager of heating supplier The Bristan Group.
"Art deco styles in structural shapes with sharp, crisp lines are hugely popular at the moment, with many people choosing to install dramatic floor-to-ceiling models to really grab attention. We're also seeing a lot more use of shape and form, with some appliances now available in startling shapes such as coils, coat hangers and even flowers."
So if you're working around the need for radiators, consider making them a focal point rather than a heated issue.
10 WAYS TO SAVE ENERGY
In a YouGov poll conducted for Npower, 49% of respondents from the hospitality industry believed the organisation they worked for was wasting energy. But how do you save energy without compromising comfort and service? Npower suggests 10 ways to save energy and money:
- Defrost your freezer regularly. Frosted-up freezers use up to 50% more energy.
- Seal your doors. Poorly sealed fridge, freezer and cellar doors waste needless energy by forcing equipment to work harder.
- Ensure air-conditioning and central heating thermostats are set correctly. Costs rise by 8% each time you turn up the cooling or increase the heat by just 1˚C.
- Fit thermostatic radiator valves. If your radiators are full on without any form of regulation, you could be overheating a room.
- Replace old-style bulbs with energy-saving lamps and tubes.
- Switch your computers off when not in use. One computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day will cost over £50 a year.
- Fit plug-in timers in rooms to switch off appliances that are not in use.
- Clean your refrigerator parts regularly: dirty condenser fins can stop refrigerators working efficiently.
- Replace kettles with energy-saving eco equivalents, which provide better insulation and encourage staff to only boil the water they need.
- Service your boiler annually as this can lead to savings of up to 40% on the energy it consumes.
For more advice and tips visit www.npower.com/e3