An Architect Reflects on Future of Hotels & LEED Certification

10/16/2012 By Brian Weiss

DENVER—Walking the halls in the new TownePlace Suites by Marriott at Gateway Park (Denver), you’d be hard pressed to find a difference between these and the corridors in almost any other prototypical TownePlace Suites across the country. To the guest there is no difference. To the owner, there is a huge one. Although just as bright, these corridors contain special fitted LED lighting fixtures. Lights may not seem like a big deal, but these use far less electricity and will make a big impact on the energy that the hotel consumes. Less electricity equals less operating costs, which equals more profit for the owner. This careful consideration of the lights is just one of many cost saving measures Pahl Architecture designed in conjunction with Marriott’s new LEED Volume Program. The revolutionary new approach to designing hotels will not only construct eco-friendly buildings, but also save the owner upwards of $50,000 a year.  

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the standard for energy efficient “green” buildings. LEED hotels and the programs streamlining the process are becoming very popular among the major hotel brands across the country.  Four years ago, Starwood introduced Element Hotels, which requires the pursuit of LEED certification brand-wide. Hilton offers strategic guidelines for architects and developers looking to build LEED compliant hotels. And Marriott plans to certify hundreds of hotels over the next five years through its LEED Volume Program.

This corporate response is due to numerous inquiries from hotel owners who are realizing LEED certification is not just a marketing benefit anymore, but a necessity. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, in the United States alone, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guestrooms, and close to $4 billion in annual energy use. Many city, state and federal government departments require employees to stay at LEED certified hotels while on business trips. Large corporations are expected to follow suit in the coming years. A recent Conde Nast Traveler survey discovered that 87 percent of travelers feel it is important for a hotel be environmentally friendly. And cities such as Boston and San Francisco mandate LEED certification as a condition of the building permit.

Reasonable Payback Can Be Expected

Yet, some owners are finding it difficult to justify the added expense to construct a LEED building. The rule of thumb is a premium of 2 percent to 5 percent in additional construction costs. On a $10 million hotel, that could mean an extra half a million dollars in construction costs. However, state, federal and local incentives can underwrite some of the initial costs. And advocates will quickly point out the real benefit is the amount of money you’ll save after opening. With annual energy use and water consumption reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent, the payback can be reached in a couple of years. The trick is to do so without compromising the guest experience. We are finding that with proper thought and careful consideration of materials and fixtures, guests do not even realize the compromise. There are added benefits as well—improved indoor air quality, individual control of the lighting and thermal environment, as well as decorated stairwells that promote stair use instead of elevators. LEED features are making for a healthier and happier guest experience.

The LEED platform is based on a point system. You earn points by implementing a number of green practices—everything from selecting a site near public transportation to recycling construction waste. The more points you earn, the higher the level of certification. Currently, there are four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Marriott’s LEED Volume Program (LVP) makes the process even easier. Owners are provided with a checklist of green practices and the resources to include and implement in their hotel project. Complete the list and your hotel will be LEED certified.  

“The LEED Volume Program is a pre-determined path towards LEED certification that saves owners time and money,” says Jefferson Thomas, senior design manager for Marriott. “LVP removes the guess work typically associated with LEED credit documentation and streamlines the design and construction process.”

Optional Credits Available

The Marriott LEED Volume Program also allows for optional credits, which is a path TownePlace Suites at Gateway Park took. In addition to the baseline goals, the project includes an abundance of daylighting and views, a 30 percent reduction in water usage, and an increased percentage of recycled construction waste. And even though it is not part of the program, plans are also being made to install chargers in the parking lot to support electric cars.  

From the owner’s standpoint, the LEED program is a win-win situation. The buzz surrounding the TownePlace Suite’s opening is closely matched by the money being saved on a monthly basis. And thus far, the feedback from guests is extremely positive. The combination of these factors has other hotel owners listening and taking note. Pahl Architecture already has another LEED hotel under construction, and all signs indicate there will be many more to come.

Brian Weiss, LEED AP, BD+C, is project manager, Pahl Architecture PC.


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