Hotels are lagging behind when it comes to energy sustainability.  A project can change that.

Nov 10, 2020 Travel News

Hotels are lagging behind when it comes to energy sustainability. A project can change that.

The hospitality industry has lagged behind other real estate sectors in adopting energy efficiency measures, but a Connecticut developer hopes to change that by converting an office building into what could be the most hotel energy efficient country.

The $ 50 million bet aims to revive the long-vacant Armstrong Rubber Company headquarters, a separate concrete box in New Haven that was designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer in the late 1960s, as a 165-room boutique hotel called Hotel Marcel.

Developer and architect Bruce Becker is building the hotel to meet net zero energy standards, which means it will generate as much energy as it uses.

“This is probably the most difficult project I have ever undertaken, especially since we are doing it during a pandemic,” said Mr Becker, whose company, Becker + Becker, is based in Westport. “But I’ve been intrigued by the building at least since I was a graduate student at Yale in the late ’80s, and thought it might be fascinating.

Some major brands and hotel owners have set company-wide greenhouse gas reduction targets, but much of the industry has failed to take advantage of measures that may save energy and reduce operating costs, according to a report from the Greenprint Center for Building Performance of the Urban Land Institute.

Barriers to widespread adoption include complex hotel owner / operator models, a lack of data collection on energy use and concerns about the impact on guests, according to the report.

“The hospitality industry is uniquely positioned to benefit from sustainability – owners / operators bear the burden of all energy costs,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the center. “The fact that this Connecticut project decided to do it up front is the perfect and most cost-effective way to do it.”

Ms Schantz said she was unaware of any other net zero energy hotel in the United States. But some big hotel brands are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, using various management systems and apps to track their progress.

Among the leaders is Host Hotels & Resorts, a real estate investment trust that owns approximately 80 high-end hotels in Brazil, Canada and the United States. The trust targets a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025.

These goals are of growing interest to investors, who regularly ask questions about environmentally and socially responsible business practices, said Michael Chang, director of energy and sustainability at Host Hotels.

The trust uses a diagnostic tool that identifies opportunities to install energy-saving technologies – like LED lighting and room thermostats with occupancy sensors – that offer a good return on investment, has t -he declares. Trust makes the investments and depends on hoteliers to use them effectively. To that end, he prefers to work with brands that have their own sustainability programs in place, Chang said.

The trust also hopes to increase the renewable energy share of its energy use by 30% over the next five years, mostly through off-site solar deals.

“Even if we covered our solar energy portfolio, we would probably only achieve 10% of our energy consumption,” Chang said. “There is limited space to install the panels.”

The Armstrong Building, along Interstate 95 near New Haven Harbor, is notable for a striking brutalist design that incorporates a two-story open space between the office block above and the lab space at ground level. ground. The building’s beige exterior is made from precast concrete panels and is lined with deep windows.

Locals also know it as the Pirelli building; the Italian tire maker moved into the space in 1988. Ikea bought the property in 2003 for one of its warehouse type stores. Much to the dismay of conservationists, the company demolished a rear section of the ground floors to allow more parking, but left the rest of the building intact.

In recent years, Ikea has worked with the city to develop a plan to convert the historic structure into a hotel. Last year, Mr. Becker purchased the building and approximately 2.5 acres for $ 1.2 million.

He recognized the compact form of the structure as a naturally efficient envelope – the area-to-interior space ratio is low, a benefit in minimizing heat gain in summer or heat loss in winter.

“It’s hard to make buildings that meander more efficient,” Becker said. “But with a highly efficient building envelope and systems, we will be able to use around 80% less energy than a typical hotel building.

Mr Becker has considerable experience in high-performance construction, most recently in a Modernist office building in Hartford which he redeveloped into a 27-story apartment tower. This project, called 777 Main Street, is powered by a fuel cell and solar panel. The US Green Building Council has awarded the building its highest efficiency rating, LEED Platinum.

For the hotel project, solar canopies on the parking lot and solar panels on the roof will supply all of the building’s electricity, Becker said. High efficiency aerothermal heat pumps will be used for heating and cooling.

Other efficiency measures will include triple-pane windows, high-performance insulation, a fully electric heat pump HVAC system, and heat and energy recovery systems. These methods should help the hotel meet Passive House Standards, a set of design principles aimed at creating ultra-low-energy buildings, Becker said.

“It will probably cost about $ 5 per square foot more, but we’ll save about $ 1 per square foot each year in energy,” Becker said. “So that really makes a lot of sense. This is the opportunity to create a new paradigm that the hospitality industry can watch, study and learn. “

Scheduled to open next fall as part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection, the Marcel Hotel will feature a restaurant, bar, meeting spaces and a top-floor gallery overlooking Long Island Sound on one side and the city skyline on the other.

The project is partially funded by a $ 25 million construction loan from Liberty Bank in Middletown, Connecticut. The balance is a mix of developer equity, solar tax credits, historic federal and state tax credits, and a grant for a utility program.

Christopher Arnold, senior vice president and director of commercial real estate at Liberty, said that while the hospitality industry faces extreme challenges due to the pandemic, this project’s proximity to Yale, its high visibility and his inclusion in the Hilton network gave him the confidence that he would succeed. Efficiency measures will help by reducing operating costs and improving cash flow, he said.

The hotel is likely to gain national attention because its level of sustainability “just doesn’t happen in the hospitality industry,” said W. Chris Green, president and CEO of Chesapeake Hospitality, a hotelier based in Maryland who will manage the property.

“I think it will be a huge test,” Mr. Green said. “Hotels are long-term real estate games – it pays to save money on electricity, sewage and water.”

Mr. Becker hopes to stimulate the industry with his holistic approach. Many sustainability strategies, like eliminating single-use shampoo bottles and asking customers to reuse towels, are largely “superficial measures,” he said.

“If you really want to change the paradigm, you have to not use fossil fuels and generate all of your energy there,” he said. “I think the time will come when what we do will become the norm.”