Wrestling with water usage inside a hotel can be a big challenge to properties large and small. While owners and managers can control exterior watering by doing things like changing landscaping, water continues to pour out of showerheads and sink faucets in guest rooms. And even though people might be more water conscious at home, there’s a temptation to run a faucet while brushing your teeth or let the shower run for a few minutes to steam up the bathroom in your hotel room.
In California, where typical hotels use 218 gallons of water per day per occupied room, that’s going to become even more of a problem as the state faces yet another drought year. Already the chronic lack of snowpack and rainfall has led to more restrictions on water use, stepped up enforcement, and the potential of mandatory water rationing.
In hotel rooms, 70% of the water that gets used is heated.
To combat excess water usage as well as comply with water-conservation mandates, California hotels and inns have installed water-saving guest room plumbing fixtures, such as low-flow shower heads. The goal is to keep the flow at no more than 1.8 gallons per minute from a shower and 1 gallon per minute from a sink, the maximums allowed in the state—and save money on water and, more significantly, energy.
“In hotel rooms, 70% of the water that gets used is heated,” says Rick Skinker, CEO of Indoor Water Conservation in San Diego. “And at 80% of the hotels where we do initial audits, they are wasting that water. If you can reduce the flow you don’t have to heat thousands of gallons of water, and you don’t have to pump that water, either, so you save more energy.”
The typical low-flow fixture contains a plastic disc the diameter of the incoming pipe. The disc has a series of small holes that ensure no more than the designed amount of water can flow through. What owners and managers often discover, however, is that delivering that specified flow depends on having a steady and dependable water pressure of 60–80 psi to the fixture
Yet, “most hotels don’t have exactly 60 or 80 psi,” Skinker says. As a result, flows differ across rooms and floors, with those on upper floors and with premium rates often having the lowest pressure and the lowest flows. That creates unhappy guests.
“The shower experience is one of the five most important things to traveler,” says Michael Baier, who has managed several major properties in San Francisco. “If you give people a great shower experience, they won’t talk about it, because they expect it, but if you give them a lousy one they’re going to tell everyone.”
Skinker’s company set out to solve both the water saving and flow consistency problems, by removing the flow restrictors inside shower heads and faucets with custom-sized flow restriction devices that account for water pressure differences at each fixture. The brass parts are machined to a wide range of flow rates and installed based on the water pressure the company’s technicians measure in each room.
“The first thing we do is send someone out to take flow tests and measure water pressure variations, and then we can determine which device will produce the right flow,” he says. “We can dial in whatever flow rate people want for their property. Some owners want to save as much as they can, others put a premium on keeping guests satisfied. We’re a custom solution for conservation.”
The parts are machined to much greater precision than the plastic discs, he notes, and are threaded so they can easily be added in-line with the existing plumbing in the room. That way, the property doesn’t have to buy new shower heads or install new pipes. “We’re fine tuning what’s already there,” Skinker says, which can enable the entire project to pay for itself typically within the first year.
“It really gives you three benefits: it reduces overall water consumption, it reduces the bill, and improves guest satisfaction,” said Baier, who had an Indoor Water Conservation system installed at the Stanford Court Hotel when he was its GM.
“It’s an older building, and we had a huge issue with water pressure that had a big impact on the guest experience,” Baier said. “The ROI was icing on the cake, but what trumped everything else was that it allowed me to get rid of my number one guest complaint.”