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Designing Eco-Hotels, Plumbing

Water conservation is a critical part of any environmentally responsive hotel, with every effort taken to reduce total water utilization in each of the three primary water-using areas: the hotel proper, which includes the guestrooms and public and "back-of-the-house" areas; the food-service facilities; and the laundry installation. To that end, low-flow fixtures and fittings are used throughout the building.

Internal water-conservation programs, through which guests can elect not to have bed linen and bath towels changed every day, are standard in environmentally responsive hotels. In addition to conserving water, these programs reduce the use of cleaning chemicals, as well as the fuel needed to produce hot water for laundering. Because these programs are voluntary, participation varies significantly by property, depending on the hotel's type, its location, and, most importantly, the effectiveness of its efforts to convey the importance of conservation and the manner of participation. On the low end, 5-percent participation has been reported at some properties, with participation in more successful programs exceeding 40 percent.

Water-conservation efforts are enhanced by minimizing the amount of wastage associated with hot-water distribution. Key to this is the maintenance of hot-water-pipe temperature throughout the distribution system. While extending hot-water circulating piping to reduce the lengths of uncirculated dead-end sections is helpful, the most popular approach is using self-regulating electric heat cable. Self-regulating electric tracer cabling can maintain temperature to almost the very end of every branch.

The use of grey water is another significant water saver. For hotels, depending on the details of the grey-water installation, total fresh-water consumption can be cut almost in half, with associated reductions in both water and sewer charges. Grey water uses either mechanical-treatment units or, if the building is in an appropriate location, natural-treatment facilities, such as "constructed wetlands" or "living-machine" technology. The earliest successful hotel grey-water systems have been in continuous operation for almost 35 years, and their value has been proven economically and practically. In addition to its use for the flushing of water closets and urinals, grey water also is widely utilized for irrigation and washdown. Another primary use of grey water is cooling-tower makeup. Grey water is directly usable in cooling towers, provided that attention is paid to the proper use and rotation of biocides to control algal slime and growths.

Where a hotel requires extensive irrigation, water conservation also can be achieved by collecting and storing roof storm water.

Energy conservation in environmentally responsive hotels involves both the design of systems to minimize pumping energy and the capture of all available waste heat to reduce the cost of producing domestic hot water. Several creative designs have utilized a hotel's walk-in refrigerator and freezer compressors to pre-heat hot water. In addition to providing "free" heating, the water-cooled compressors actually reduce power consumption.

Water quality is another environmental consideration. Recent history has indicated that the overall quality and safety of the nation's water supplies is increasingly being compromised and cannot be assured. That means that designs must both provide levels of treatment beyond the minimal levels currently embraced and fully assess potential threats. Water quality also has an impact on the proper operation of water-conserving fittings such as shower heads, in which scaling from hard water can reduce flow.

For both safety and energy conservation, distribution temperatures should be kept low (110 F). Unfortunately, this temperature is insufficient to assure the elimination of the Legionella organism. Resolving this conflict most often involves the use of a storage tank with internal temperatures great enough to prevent Legionella growth and outlet tempering to minimize distribution temperatures.

Water conservation in laundries concerns the use of equipment, the installation of devices that permit partial reuse of laundry-waste discharge (for example, the final rinse being used for the subsequent initial wash cycle), and consideration of the use of low-temperature washing, which both uses environmentally friendly washing chemicals and significantly reduces heating energy.

Kitchen equipment also can be used in water-conservation efforts; however, much of the conservation gain in work areas of kitchens comes through the education of workers as to the benefits of conservation and their role in attaining reductions. Gas conservation also is attainable through the education of staff.


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