Up in the Air


Hoteliers embrace the newest in HVAC hype.

It all started about a decade ago. The family run Best Western Kelowna Hotel & Suites in Kelowna, B.C., sponsored a geologist who was researching a book on the area. Once published, a copy of the book sat in CEO Greg Salloum’s office for years until, finally, he had a few minutes to pick it up. And, that’s when he made the discovery.

The hotel, he would read, was quite possibly sitting atop an aquifer.

For some, that might not mean anything, but for Salloum — who’d introduced an environmental  mandate when he took the reins of the 175-room property in 1990 and advertises it as the number 1 green hotel in Kelowna — it got him thinking. He’d already been heating the hotel’s water supply using solar panels since 2003, and he was always looking for new ways to save energy and possibly money. For him the aquifer meant possibility: the potential of heating and cooling the hotel through a geothermal system.

And, so, Salloum talked to consultants and discussed the idea with his Board of directors — his family. He had a test drill  done to make sure the aquifer was indeed here, and it   turns out, it was. “We were pumping 250 gallons [of water] a minute out of one hole. And, we only need 180 gallons intermittently per minute to heat the entire hotel,” he explains.

The Best Western Kelowna ended up drilling and installing an open-loop geothermal system. To make room for the mechanics of it all, they also built an addition to house the mechanical room as well as 26new guestrooms. It’s been running now for several months.  “The specific system we have is only suitable for someone sitting on top of an aquifer,” Salloum says. “It’s the most efficient heating and cooling system.”

It’s too early to know just how much enerny the hotel will save, but Salloum’s engineering team offered early estimates of approximately $39,000 in savings per year, just on heating alone. For the hotel, that means payback (not including the cost of the addition) will kick in within six-and-ahalf to seven years. “In our case, we thought that was reasonable, because the hotel’s been in our family for 35 years,” Salloum says. And, with energy prices increasing, he adds, the long-term benefits could be even greater than expected.

Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems can be one of the most expensive and energy-intensive aspects ofrunning a hotel. With energy prices on the rise and green business practices becoming more of a priority, hoteliers like Salloum, are looking for new, more sustainable, ways to cut energy costs. Not everyone has the  resources or ability to choose geothermal, though, and while some hoteliers are taking similar measures, others are looking for more accessible routes to HVAC efficiency.

Location, it seems, matters — and not just if you’re residing over an aquifer. For the new Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, it was the proximity to Lake Ontario that defined its HVAC system. The hotel, which opened in mid-February, opted to use deep lake water cooling provided by Enwave Energy Corporation and the City of Toronto. It’s an option available for some downtown Toronto buildings, and while older buildings within the grid can retrofit to add the necessary equipment, the Ritz was able to incorporate it from the start.

Lorne Toews, director of Engineering for the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, anticipates a 90-per-cent reduction in the electricity needed for cooling the hotel as well as further reductions in the noise and pollution normally generated by traditional air conditioning elements such as chillers, fans and cooling towers. “From an environmental perspective, it’s a huge win for the buildings involved,” he says.


The system draws water from 83 metres below the lake’s surface, where it’s naturally cold (around 4°C), piping through to transfer energy to Enwave’s closed chilled water supply loop, which cools each building on its grid. Toronto is the only city in North America to offer this kind of cooling on such a scale, and it’s available to buildings in approximately two square kilometres of the city’s core.

While Toews doesn’t know how much money, if any, will be saved by using deep lake water cooling, he says it was the environmental aspect of it that’s appealing. “Our guests these days are very aware of green initiatives, and we will proudly say we’re part of this and let our guests know,” says Toews.

Other operators are just as committed to environmental practices and are finding their own ways to save energy and money on their HVAC systems. Take The Westin Ottawa as an example. When the hotel was purchased by a new ownership group seven years ago, the HVAC system at the then 21-year-old property was assessed. “It was at the point where some of the mechanical systems installed in the early ’80s were in desperate need of an upgrade to take advantageof more effective equipment with more efficient energy usage,” says John Jarvis, the hotel’s chief experience officer.

A building automation system was introduced to the existing HVAC. It adds efficiency by automatically shutting the system down and starting it up at specific times, replacing the more unreliable previous program, which had night staff shutting it  down manually. “We now have very tight controls on heating and cooling,” says John Kavanagh, the hotel’s chief engineer.

In addition, since it’s also fully networked,  Kavanagh can access the system rom his home computer, monitoring and  making adjustments if there are any problems. All of the thermostats in the 496 guestrooms, meanwhile, are fully digitized, making it easier for staff to adjust them to set points between guest occupancies.

The Westin Ottawa is always on the lookout for new technologies, the two Johns say. “Things continuously break down and you’re replacing them,” says Jarvis, and each time something breaks down or needs replacing, the most efficient solution is found. In one instance that may mean exchanging single-speed motors with two-speed — or high-efficiency variable speed — motors for pumping or moving air. “The more of these systems you can put on variable speed, which actually slow them down when required, the more energy savings,” says Kavanagh.

At The Fairmont Vancouver Airport, meanwhile, occupancy sensors are used in all of the 392 rooms, connected to an Inncom system. When the guestroom door is opened, it tells the Inncom system whether it’s a guest or staff member entering the room and it will adjust the temperature accordingly. “It tells us if the guest is checked into the room or not, and when they’re in the room it will maintain the temperature the guest wants.

But when the guest leaves the room or checks out, it will let the temperature float between 17 and 22 degrees, so it reduces the amount of time the equipment is running,” says Michael Brown, chief engineer at the property.

The hotel has had the system for 11 years, since it opened, and Brown notices the  difference. “If I say the lowest temperature you can set is 16 degrees, I see that in my electricity bill and my heating bill,” he adds.

If you ask Brown, occupancy sensors make sense, and it’s something more hotels feature as operators look for new ways to cut energy — both for environmental reasons and the cost benefits — with the idea of making their HVAC systems more efficient all round.


As for Salloum and the Best Western Kelowna, they’ve got an even loftier ambition. “We have it as a goal to be completely  sustainable,” says Salloum. “It’s a goal we know we will unlikely achieve, but it just helps us when we’re making our major capital improvement decisions.”

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