A non-traditional approach to sustainable hotel infrastructure
I’ve seen a number of articles and trade magazines discussing sustainability in the last few weeks, and there is a lot of talk about how the industry is embracing greener ways to build, reducing its carbon footprint, using less energy to operate hotels, installing solar panels, and many other initiatives which are but a scratch on the surface compared with the traditional ways of being sustainable. What I’d consider untraditional is what is happening in the technology space, such as employing materials that use fewer natural resources when building a hotel. For example, when building cable infrastructure for communications, IDF and MDF closets have replaced network switches, saving on the amount of cabling needed. Furthermore, with copper, which is traditionally used for cables, one is limited to runs of 300 feet before it has to reach another closet, and then continue to run another 300 feet. But when we talk about a large hotel with upwards of 50 rooms per floor, many closets and an exorbitant amount of copper would be needed.
At one of my projects for a hotel in Chicago, an untraditional approach was taken to tackle this problem. We used fiber optic for the entirety of our low voltage infrastructure design eliminating copper in many instances, which is less resource-intensive to utilize, and eliminating data transmission distance limitations in terms of length. The substitution also makes sense in terms of the building design regaining valuable “real estate” on each guest room floor with only a fraction of the number of IDF closets needed allowing additional guest rooms, additional space for the back of the house, etc. The replacement of switches with fiber optic in the closets also means a decreased need for cooling, as the low voltage infrastructure is passive, reducing IDF cooling requirements.
These are just some of the examples of solutions for sustainable hotel infrastructure that aren’t normally top of mind in traditional hotel design and construction. For the same reason, owners or project managers commonly have the impression that such projects would be more costly due to the low-voltage infrastructure needed, but it’s always worth remembering how much would be saved in other ways. In this case, the drastic reduction in the amount of IDF closets needed saves the construction costs associated with building out numerous IDFs which balances out the building and low voltage project costs and netting at about the same as traditional infrastructure would.
The “Low Voltage Hotel”
Another interesting project I was involved with became affectionately known as “The Low Voltage Hotel.” In a hotel, many things use electrical power: lighting, TVs, hair dryers, alarm clocks, HVAC units and so much more. All of this equipment is traditionally built to run on AC power, which is high voltage and uses more electricity. But it is possible to have all of these appliances run on low voltage DC power if they are designed and built to do so, ultimately using far less energy and thus being more environmentally friendly.
The three main benefits of embracing a greener approach to technology infrastructure that is designed for and built in hotels are lower construction costs, lower ongoing operating costs, and lower consumption of natural resources.
An owner we worked with was interested in this low-voltage hotel, so he hired a visionary team to run the project and funded every aspect. The visionary team consisted of an electrical engineer very knowledgeable about low voltage, and a consummate project manager. They were a great combo of young professionals that got to explore a relatively new area, and the owner was able to achieve his goal.
Once the low voltage infrastructure was in place, the owner was able to purchase and/or aid in the design of DC-powered TVs, air conditioning split units, low voltage lighting, etc. for the entire hotel via introductions to large key suppliers in the technology space. This owner is still invited by those suppliers to speak at conferences and talk about how their innovations can help achieve green goals – great PR for the providers and a way for both to showcase their efforts in sustainability.
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