Zero-Cost Tips to Immediately Lower Your Hotel’s Energy Bill

By Chuck Hurchalla

The uncertainty of today’s world is forcing businesses to adapt and reposition themselves so that they can make it through these challenging times. With so many unknowns, let us not lose sight of opportunity. Finding savings is critical, especially for organizations that have felt the financial impact of COVID-19.

With states enforcing “stay at home” orders, hotels across the nation are experiencing low occupancy. Hotel owners and managers should be evaluating their current operations to find ways to eliminate excess energy use. Below are some cost-saving recommendations that can reduce your operating costs without using any capital.

  • Guestroom Smart Thermostats: Installing occupancy-based thermostats can lead to big savings in energy use when rooms are not in use. If you already have occupancy-based thermostats installed, hotel management can access the online system or contact the respective manufacturer’s tech support to place guestrooms into “out of service” mode for the deepest energy setbacks.
  • Kitchen Exhaust Hoods: We recommend turning off all kitchen exhaust hoods if your full-service hotel is not able to offer food service at this time. When not cooking, exhaust fans waste energy powering the large horsepower updraft fans. Kitchen exhaust systems also remove conditioned air (heated or cooled) from the building, causing additional energy to be wasted when conditioning new outside air brought in to replace the exhausted air. You can turn off your kitchen hoods from the switch or breaker near the hood. If the kitchen hood has demand control, turn it off from the control panel.
  • Lighting: Did you know that lighting is the second largest user of energy for a hotel? There are a few easy ways to reduce lighting costs. First, consider a quick LED lighting upgrade. LED lighting can reduce the energy consumption of your lighting systems by up to 70% which, along with free rebates from the utility programs, can lead to quick payback and high ROI. With many financing options available, most LED lighting upgrades require no upfront capital. Now is the perfect time to implement an LED lighting project because of the speed and ease with which a project can be completed with fewer guests on the property. Second, make sure back-of-house lighting in offices, laundry rooms, break rooms and mechanical rooms is turned off when no one is occupying the space(s). Turn off decorative lights (i.e., table lamps and wall spots on paintings, etc.) and unnecessary accent and cove lighting in areas such as a bar or restaurant. Be sure to also turn off unnecessary exterior accent lighting such as wall wash flood lighting.
  • Indoor Pool: In times of low occupancy, you may want to close the pool and turn off the pool heater to avoid energy waste.
  • HVAC Maintenance: Performing simple maintenance of your HVAC system is another low-cost way to ensure that the largest consumer of energy in your hotel is efficient. Change or clean HVAC filters and clean the evaporator and condenser coils on PTACs, heat pumps, air-conditioners, etc., right away. Dirty filters cost more to use, overwork the equipment and result in lower indoor air quality. Dirty coils inhibit heat transfer, which increases the workload on the equipment and wastes energy and money.
  • Other Quick but Meaningful Measures: Use shades and blinds to control direct sun through windows to prevent or encourage heat gain. In cooler weather, open all shades and blinds to allow sunlight to enter and provide solar heat gain within the building to reduce the amount of mechanical heating needed. In warmer weather, reverse the process and close all shades and blinds. Make sure that areas in front of vents are clear of obstructions such as furniture, equipment, etc. As much as 25% more energy is required to distribute air if your vents are blocked. Maintain an air gap of at least three inches between the wall and the back of refrigerators, water coolers, ice machines and freezers. Keep the condenser coils of these appliances clean.

Experiencing very low occupancy?
More dramatic measures to decrease energy use can be taken such as shutting down entire floors. In cooler months, such as March and April, place guests in rooms starting from the top floor down since building heat will naturally rise. As the weather warms, reverse the strategy and fill the lower floors first. By leaving entire floors vacant, you can turn off all power from the breaker panels on the empty floor(s), which ensures all lights; guestroom HVAC; and plug loads such as TVs, refrigerators, etc., are all turned off. By following these steps, at 15% occupancy, this measure, in essence, can turn a 200-room hotel into a 30-key hotel from an energy consumption perspective.

Need additional cost savings?
With energy prices at 16-year lows, hotels can look to recontract their energy supply agreements. This can lead to savings of more than 20% on their annual energy spend. Before restructuring your contract, be sure to contact a procurement specialist to make sure your current contract does not have any hidden terms and conditions.
Considering the unique challenges COVID-19 brings to the hospitality industry, I hope these tips can reduce the financial strain in some small way.

Chuck Hurchalla is the president of Evolution Energy Partners. He has more than 30 years of experience in the deregulated energy markets, including natural gas, electricity and petroleum products.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.