Home Energy Management As Natural Gas Prices go Through the Roof, So Does a Hotel’s...

As Natural Gas Prices go Through the Roof, So Does a Hotel’s Profits


NATIONAL REPORT—By now, everybody is aware of the soaring price of automobile gasoline and natural gas used in homes and hotels. Natural gas prices rise because more gas is drawn from surplus storage than is put in storage by suppliers; this is known more commonly as the supply and demand theory. On the east and west coasts of the United States, the cost of natural gas rose to about $1.70 per therm during peak use periods last winter. The heart of the country saw increases in the range of $1.40 per therm during peak demand periods.

This represents about a 50 to 70 percent increase in the cost of natural gas throughout the country. In addition to this, other forms of energy such as electricity, propane and fuel oil also tend to increase proportionately with the cost of gas. As such, all hotel operators should remember that though they cannot control the cost of natural gas, they can control their property’s consumption of it.

The following information is a very timely list of basic suggestions that hotel managers can easily implement in their hotel to reduce gas consumption by perhaps as much as 20 percent. These suggestions are not necessarily listed in their order of importance.

Solid-State Ignitions

Most new ENERGY STAR appliances come with solid-state ignition; however, most hotels do not have all new appliances. It costs about $100 per appliance to retain a contractor to replace an appliance’s standing pilot lights with solid-state ignition. There are several items throughout the hotel that this concept applies to, and the most common are water heaters, furnaces, all kitchen cooking equipment and laundry dryers.

Combustion Air

Regardless of type of burner, all gas appliances require outside air for energy combustion. This is a noted problem, especially in water heater rooms and furnace rooms. It is not unusual to see extremely oversized outside air openings in these areas, which significantly reduce the efficiency of the appliance. As a rule of thumb, there should be one-half square inch of free air opening for every 5,000 BTU’s of input to any appliance. The BTU input of any appliance is almost always located on the nameplate of the appliance itself.

Clean Burners

Almost all gas appliances have what is referred to as atmospheric burners. As the gas burns, it is released through small one-eighth-inch holes in the burners. Especially in kitchen appliances where food boils over frequently, use a small drill to ream out these burner holes so that the burner burns efficiently and evenly. Engineering should implement this practice on an ongoing basis about every six months or one year.


Furnaces and boilers should be completely inspected by a professional mechanical contractor at least once if not twice a year. The contractor will conduct a flue gas analysis to determine if the appliance is operating efficiently. With new technology, furnaces and boilers are controlled by solid-state computer controls. As the furnace or appliance gets older, these controls should be recalibrated.

Computer Controls

By current standards, most heating and air conditioning systems are controlled by some type of computer control. This can range from a 24-hour timer, to a programmable thermostat, to even a full-blown computerized energy management system. Hotels that currently do not use these types of controls should contact their local mechanical contractor and obtain two or three proposals for the implementation of the control concept best suited for the property. Smaller limited-service hotels can easily use programmable thermostats to set back dining spaces, meeting spaces, offices, and other areas not used round the clock. This can save about 12 percent on heating.

Twenty-four-hour timers should be used on all exhaust fans in public space bathrooms to ensure they are turned off when not needed, such as during the late hours of the night. Direct digital control energy management systems are very cost effective in larger hotels, where literally hundreds of appliances and devices are controlled from a central location, usually in engineering. An investment in all these types of products typically has an under two-year return on investment.


Housekeepers typically enter at least 75 percent of the guestrooms on a daily basis. It is extremely important that they set thermostats correctly after the room has been cleaned. Housekeepers should also be sure to close blackout draperies to within 6 inches after the room is cleaned in order to improve the thermal integrity of the window system. Experiment with setting temperatures back to at least 68 degrees during unoccupied periods.

Outside Air Settings

Almost every air handling unit introduces outside air into the property while it is in operation to provide ventilation for guests. When we conduct energy audits, we almost always find these dampers set incorrectly and usually providing too much outside air to the facility. It will be necessary, again, to retain a mechanical contractor to verify these settings. Typically, air handling units provide about 20 percent outside air to occupied spaces. Another tip is to close the outside air opening in guestroom through-the-wall units. Disconnect the linkage between the knob on the outside and the air opening damper. The guest almost never knows the difference.

Pool Room

A large number of all types of hotels now provide an indoor pool with a small hot tub. The pool and the hot tub typically each have their own gas water heater because they are set at different temperatures. It is extremely important to purchase and install an insulating cover on both pools. The pool cover costs in the range of $500 to $600, and the spa cover costs less than $50.

Use a pool cover on pools and spas only in areas that can be secured and locked. The cover should be installed when the pool is closed and removed when it is opened. This will significantly reduce the amount of energy required to heat the pool and also significantly reduce the amount of chemical required to treat the pool. Taking these two components into consideration, this concept typically has approximately a one-year return on investment and will also significantly extend the life of the recreational equipment.

Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans have regained popularity for aesthetics and to improve space comfort, while conserving energy. During the heating season, a ceiling fan should be set in a manner whereby it blows toward the ceiling. This will re-circulate the stratified hot air at the top of the ceiling without causing discomfort to the guest. The pool room, dining room and other public areas are excellent applications for ceiling destratification fans. They cost less than $100 each, and payback depends on the application in each hotel.

Weather Stripping

Weather stripping on outside entrances typically lasts less than two years. Because of warping and misalignment, one can almost always notice about a half-inch gap between double doors and an even larger gap at the bottom of public entrances. Placing a brush-type of weather stripping that does not affect the operation of the door and that provides a good seal from the outside cold weather will pay handsome dividends. This weather stripping also uses a slot type of mechanism which allows