Saving water and power in hotel bathrooms
Global economic growth is resulting in increased international travel by the corporate sector, and growing purchasing power in populations is leading to more leisure-related travel and rising demand for more luxurious accommodation.
According to a survey by MKG Consulting and reported by Hotel Online, about 150,000 new hotel rooms were opened by hoteliers in 2006. On 1 January 2007, the worldwide supply of the top 200 hotel groups reached 43,000 establishments and 5.5 million rooms.
However, this raises the question of how designers are dealing with the need to reconcile environmentally sensitive building requirements with the luxury that a growing number of people are prepared to pay for.
Hotels are big consumers of resources such as water and power. Even though there is an evident trend for ensuite bathrooms to become larger and more stylish, there is also recognition that hotel facilities must become ‘greener’ because of the dwindling supply and rising cost of water in many countries. Hotel customers are also becoming better informed about the importance of conserving scarce resources.
Other issues likely to confront the big hotel chains include the needs of specific groups such as aged and handicapped people, those with religious-based requirements such as Muslims, and the needs of obese people.
Hyatt Hotels vice-president of architecture and design Larry Traxler says that in general, hotel bathing areas have been ‘trending upward’ over the past five years, mainly because discriminating travelers demand a larger and more luxurious grooming experience comparable to the growth occurring in residential design markets.
“In addition to increasing bathroom sizes, we are also designing in ‘memory makers’ that most guests do not have in their homes – like in-mirror televisions, surround-sound speakers, towel-warming racks, heated floors, steam showers, deluxe toilets and foot baths. But the biggest task we are experiencing in all of our design projects would be the shift towards ‘eco-sensitive luxury’ items.
“We are requiring water-efficient toilets in all rooms, and are also trying to engineer (along with our partners Hansgrohe and Kohler) rain shower heads that are much more water conscious. The shower heads in a typical guestroom are very important when you look at overall water consumption in a large hotel.
“We strongly believe we can provide a much more sustainable hotel product that seeks to conserve energy and other natural resources but still provides the guest with the feeling of luxury and pampering they are looking for in a full-service hotel.
“There is a much more focused effort on developing these sustainable plumbing products for use in the US market, but we are still way behind the rest of the world in this respect. We are drawing on our hotels and design teams from around the world to provide us with best practice in this field and applying it to new projects in the US. It is hoped that the plumbing industry and code inspection officials can keep up with our demand for change in this regard.
“Shifts are being made in bathroom design according to guests’ needs and use patterns. In business hotels around the world, most guests are much more satisfied with a large walk-in shower than they are stepping into a small bathtub with a shower curtain. In our renovations, we are converting most of our king room bathtubs to glass walk-in showers with a bench. This conversion to showers would certainly not be a shift that we would consider in a resort environment, but it is just one way that we are responding to the evolving needs of guests.”
US-based company Kohler is a big supplier of bathroom plumbing fittings to the hotel industry around the world. According to worldwide corporate accounts manager Marshall Williams, there is a trend for bathrooms to occupy a larger percentage of the total area of new hotels and for higher-quality amenities, but there is also an increasing emphasis on water and energy conservation.
“There is a general push to find ways of delivering conservation more effectively, and significant improvements continue to be made in products such as faucets and shower heads,” Williams says.
“Reduction in the use of hot water in particular also leads to reduced energy consumption, which means conservation of multiple resources in hotels and a significant impact on their bottom line.
“Efforts are also being made to influence people’s mindsets by providing education designed to change attitudes about water and energy use. Hotels are increasingly seeking feedback from customers by using tools such as a guest satisfaction index matrix, whereby study groups are formed and questionnaires used to find out what guests want from hotel accommodation. A key aim is to build the consciousness of guests through measures such as signage in bathrooms about the importance of resource conservation.
“A Green Hospitality Conference was recently held in the US, which is an interesting sign of the times. There is an escalating trend for hotels to be marketed as green, and I believe that within 10 years all new hotel properties will be green. Efficient water use in hotels is particularly important due to the frequency of use and sheer number of people using bathroom facilities each day.
“Greater attention is being given to the needs of specific community sectors. Recognition of ageing populations is evident in the provision of grab bars in all showers and shower/tub combinations, whereas once these might only have been installed in a small percentage of rooms to cater for the disabled. Attention to safety can also be seen in the addition of red and blue indexing, which is internationally recognized for hot and cold water outlets.
“Another interesting trend is the emergence of hotel bathrooms designed to assist guests in overcoming jet lag through the provision of whirlpool spa baths and massage tables.”
Williams says manufacturers such as Kohler are responding to the need for conservation by developing new products that use less water but don’t sacrifice performance.
Kohler provides a range of water-efficient products designed for hotel ensuite bathrooms, including the Ecofficient shower head and hand shower, which the company says reduces water flow by up to 20% over conventional spray heads. Other products include touchless faucets with low-flow aerators and Tripoint technology designed to save water, together with a range of low-flush toilets.
Scott Riggs is consumer service manager at the Sloan Valve Company in the US. He points out that because hotels are big consumers of water, they are under increasing pressure to reduce water use – by the cities in which they are located and by their own management to reduce water and wastewater bills.
“Hotel ensuite bathrooms are a significant market for our water-conserving Flushmate toilets,” Riggs says.
“Also, the sheer logistics of having to service hundreds or even thousands of toilets throughout a large hotel complex makes it necessary to have fixtures that operate effectively.
“Flushmate is a pressure-assisted technology that works much more effectively than gravity-fed toilets. As a result, hotels have fewer service calls and patrons are happier with toilet performance.
“Following our policy of continuous improvement, we recently released a new flush-valve cartridge for Flushmate that has an accelerated lifecycle and is designed to be quieter and require less handle torque than previous generations. The new cartridge significantly reduces the actuation force required to flush, handle kickback is minimized and the life of the assembly is extended.
“Another recent release from Sloan Valve is the advanced Solis solar-powered faucet, which operates via ambient lighting and provides the convenience of touch-free electronics while assisting energy and water conservation. Solis comes with integrated temperature control and an aerator to regulate water flow. An integrated power plant storage cell transforms light from any source into electrical energy, and back-up energy is provided by batteries that can last up to 10 years.
“Sustainable water strategies continue to emerge in building designs, and global demand for energy-efficient and water-conserving products has escalated. Hotels are recognizing the benefits of products such as the hands-free Solis, not only in relation to energy and water savings but also the customer-friendly ease of operation they offer for the elderly and those suffering from conditions such as arthritis.”
Although there is a trend to larger and more luxurious ensuite bathrooms in many of the leading hotel chains, a UK-based company has launched an accommodation concept inspired by first-class airline cabins that provides a small but luxurious ‘cabin’ at airports for use by those facing early morning flights, unexpected flight delays or flight cancellations.
Yotel recently opened 46 cabins in the terminal building at Gatwick Airport, and there are plans for other airport locations to follow. Cabins can be booked for just a few hours, with the aim of providing flexible and convenient hotel accommodation at affordable prices.
The cabins feature an ensuite bathroom with a shower and luxury fittings, flat screen TV with more than 60 stations, and a techno wall that offers clothes storage and a pull-down work desk with charging points, network cable socket (free WiFi) and wired Internet access.
Concept founder Simon Woodroffe believes that in the 21st century luxury will be widely available at the right price, and Yotel is a taste of that future.
“Traveling can be a painful experience, so we are looking to make it as pleasant as possible for Yotel customers. We expect this radical approach to be extremely popular with a range of consumers and we are looking to expanding Yotel globally.”
Cabin sizes range up to about 10m, and prices for a standard cabin are from £25 (US$51) for four hours and from £55 (US$112) overnight. A premium cabin will cost from £40 (US$81) for four hours and from £80 (US$162) overnight.