Many people see a doctor at least once a year, but how good are we about tracking the health of our buildings? If your hotel or resort hasn’t had an energy audit or retrocommissioning in the past two to three years, you’ve likely accumulated tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in added utility costs per year.
An energy audit is a detailed analysis of energy and water usage, resulting in a list of no-, low-, and high-cost energy conservation measures (ECMs). The goal of an audit is to reduce a building’s energy and water usage by evaluating building inefficiencies. A thorough audit will address guest comfort issues and identify energy procurement strategies and available utility incentives.
Hotels are complicated, and it often takes hundreds or thousands of systems to keep them functioning. The machines in these systems have individual lifespans, control points that can be over-ridden, and protocols and quick fixes that are developed without regard for long-term efficiency. Additionally, emphasis on guest comfort and fluctuating occupancy levels complicate hotel energy efficiency strategies. These inefficiencies can compound and lead to wasted energy, increased costs, and premature equipment failure.
An experienced third-party energy services company is well suited to conduct your energy audit. They can fully evaluate an entire building’s systems in one to two days, and may help locate and negotiate contracts with vendors to implement ECMs. Before signing a contract with an independent auditor, first ask for their credentials and track record within hotels, and a client referral. In addition, it is critically important that your auditor have direct experience in implementing suggested ECMs. Many auditors are able to do energy calculations but have never actually implemented their recommendations. This often leads to misidentifying the scope and cost of a project.
In-house audits are possible, though some engineers do not have adequate time or access to the appropriate modeling tools. HVAC equipment companies may offer free energy audits, which can be a great option for a tight budget. However, the scope of these audits will often be limited to the equipment the company specializes in with the hope that you will replace your equipment with their products.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) divides energy auditing into three levels. Full-service hotels benefit most from a Level 2 energy audit. Level 1 audits are appropriate for smaller, limited-service hotels and motels without central plants. Level 3 audits, sometimes called investment grade audits, are often reserved for capital-intensive projects exceeding $1-2 million. These may be required if seeking outside investment for a major energy project. Typical audit prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 for Level 1, $5,000 to $15,000 for Level 2, and $15,000 to $25,000 for Level 3. An outside contractor can advise you on which option makes the most sense for your site.
The Audit Process
An energy audit will usually begin with review of a property condition assessment (PCA), as-built mechanical and architectural drawings, documentation on any major renovations, and analysis of past utility bills. By comparing utility bill trends with comparable buildings, the auditor may be able to identify problems before arriving on-site.
Once the auditor has a sense for the age of equipment, he or she will visit the building to conduct a walk-through with little disruption to hotel guests. This includes talking to key staff, inspecting building and mechanical systems, and taking inventory of major machinery, HVAC equipment, lighting, plumbing, building automation systems, and operational protocols.
Following a walk-through, the auditors will process the data to identify improvements with the greatest potential for savings. They then consider quality of hotel services, aesthetics, occupant comfort, and auxiliary spaces before suggesting appropriate ECMs.
After completing an audit, the auditors will deliver a report including an inventory of systems and a list of recommended ECMs. Energy savings can range from 10 to 30 percent on average from identified ECMs, but can go much higher for older sites. A strong Level 2 report should also include available utility incentives, energy benchmarking, energy procurement strategies, and an analysis of renewable energy and on-site generation opportunities.
If not already in use, an auditor may recommend subscribing to a building performance monitoring service, which will alert staff when an irregularity in utility use may indicate a problem, thus preempting significant future energy losses.
Conducting routine energy audits on your hotel every two to three years can save you tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost energy and water, reduce the environmental impact of your building, and identify solutions to occupant comfort problems. A good audit should pay for itself within a few months to a year of implementing no-cost ECMs. Vendor-sponsored free audit services and in-house audits are strong wallet-friendly solutions, but paying a little more to have your audit performed by an independent third party will give you the highest rate of return.