Creating An Energy Conservation Believer
“If energy efficiency was real, everyone would be doing it.”
That was what one owner of the Capital Plaza Hotel originally told energy consultant Jason Delambre, during an initial conversation. That was four and a half years ago before Delambre began saving the hotel lots of money. Today, that same owner proudly displays an Energy Star Rated plaque in his hotel lobby. He now writes articles extolling the business virtues of energy savings. He even gives talks on the subject for the local chamber of commerce.
The Capital Plaza Hotel stands as a towering centerpiece of downtown Frankfort, Kentucky. Built in 1960, the proud 10-story structure is just seconds away from both the Frankfort Convention Center and the State Capital building. The 160,000 square foot building includes a restaurant, a ballroom and a variety of meeting spaces as well as more than 250 guest rooms. For years, a loyal employee of the hotel had been trying to convince the building’s owners to invest in a variety of energy-saving upgrades. But with the poor state of the economy looming over the hotel industry, funds for these types of projects were hard to come by. If upgrades were to be made, the owners of the hotel would need to be convinced that ROI would be both fast and substantial.
Finally, in 2008, the owners agreed to bring in Delambre’s company, Interdependent Energies, for an initial consultation. Armed with a background in architecture and a master’s degree in energy planning, Delambre began to assess the opportunities that the building afforded for energy (and more importantly money) savings.
“To say that the owners were extremely reluctant to invest in energy-saving upgrades would be an understatement,” said Delambre. “I knew I would have to quickly prove that any energy-saving strategies we implemented would have a positive impact on the hotel’s bottom line in the short term. An in-depth evaluation of the property revealed there were a lot of opportunities for the hotel to save – both energy and money.”
Delambre’s one-man consultancy company began with the lowest hanging fruit – those projects that would quickly prove the value of implementing energy-saving strategies. First on the list was lighting.
“Unlike a residential home or an office building, many of the lights in a hotel must remain on 24/7,” said Delambre, “so this was a really good place to start. We replaced all of the fixtures with energy-efficient bulbs. We also upgraded to energy-saving showerheads and faucet aerators. Like lighting, hotels use a tremendous amount of water, and saving a little in each room can really add up.”
These two projects alone proved to be an effective eye opener for hotel management. The cost for basic upgrading of the lighting, shower and faucets ran about $100,000. Various government and utility rebates cut the net investment by more than one half. The initial project took 10 months to pay for itself and now saves the hotel about $35,000 each year in reduced energy costs.
“The owners were amazed,” said Delambre. “They saw their energy bill just drop after the lighting retrofit, and it really woke them up. They saw this was real money. Their next question was ‘what else can you do for me?’”
With the doors now open, Interdependent Energies began working with hotel management on assessing and prioritizing other energy saving strategies. Over the next few years the hotel upgraded the backup boiler and water heaters. They repaired electrical systems and installed timers where it made sense. The next step focused on the building’s HVAC system.
“I was getting quotes for an HVAC overhaul of one to two million dollars – amounts that would have taken decades to pay back,” said Delambre. “We needed something better than that. I was looking to find something that would allow us to make substantial improvements without breaking the bank. That’s when I met up with someone who told me about Aeroseal. I was seeking the next low-hanging fruit and, as soon as I heard about this new duct sealing technology, I had a strong feeling that I found just what I was looking for.”
After conducting preliminary research on this new duct sealing approach , Delambre suggested it to hotel management. They agreed to an initial pilot project. If all went well, they would have the entire duct system, spanning 10 floors and 14 individual exhaust systems sealed. Delambre knew that energy savings had to be part of the equation, but he also knew that, if it worked as advertised, sealing the ducts would most likely solve other issues in the building as well.
“A big selling point for me had to do with air quality,” said Chad Braden, Capital Plaza’s director of facilities. I knew we weren’t getting sufficient ventilation out of many of the bathroom exhaust fans. As a result many of the bathrooms had chronic issues with mold and mildew. Our maintenance staff was spending a lot of extra time cleaning and bleaching the caulk around tubs and showers. If sealing the ducts with Aeroseal could solve this problem, as far as I was concerned, this would prove its value alone.”
The hotel was also dealing with cold spots – areas that never got sufficient heat no matter how high the thermostats were set. According to Aeroseal, leaks in the ductwork were mostly likely the cause.”
“It looked like Aeroseal had the potential to solve a triple threat,” said Braden. “Mold and other air quality issues were a big concern for me. Then there was comfort and energy savings to address as well…if it worked.”
The pilot project focused specifically on the ductwork that supplied treated air to the common spaces throughout the hotel. The Aeroseal team at Service Tech Corporation, of Columbus, Ohio began setup on a Sunday evening. Set up and prep took a few hours to complete and the sealing process itself required less than a half hour. When they were finished, the results were clear.
“You actually get a chance to see the shafts getting sealed,” said Braden. “The computerized system measures the rate of leakage before the sealing process begins and then provides a graph that illustrates the changing leakage rate as the sealant does its job. When it’s all done, you can directly measure the improvement right away. This was a critical first step in looking at this project seriously. When you can see the results right in front of your eyes, you can easily extrapolate the real potential savings.”
With the undisputed success of the pilot program, it was decided to proceed with aerosealing the ductwork throughout the rest of the building. The crew at Service Tech divided the entire system into 16 separate sections. This included two sections making up the air supply handler portion of the system and 14 exhaust vents.
The team separated off and sealed each of the individual sections. Access to the exhaust systems was accomplished by removing the rooftop fans attached to the top of each vent. In some cases, the fans were close enough together that the technicians were able to split the aeroseal delivery tube using a WYE connector, and seal two shafts simultaneously. The entire process took five days to complete.
Results speak for themselves. Before sealing, the entire system was leaking more than 6,270 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of treated air. Some of the individual sections were losing more than 2/3rd of the air traveling through the duct. Once leaks were sealed from the inside, leakage for the entire system was reduced to approximately 770 CFM – a nearly 90 percent reduction in leakage.
“From these figures we estimate that the aeroseal duct sealing project will pay for itself in under two years,” said Delambre. “After that, the hotel will be saving thousands of dollars each year on reduced heating costs.”
“We’ve also noticed a huge improvement in both comfort and air quality,” said Braden. “The problems we were having with mold created by poor ventilation has disappeared, saving our maintenance crew a lot of work. At the same time, those cold spots that persisted throughout the building have also disappeared.”
The cost savings provided by Aeroseal and other conservation measures have had a dramatic impact on Capital Plaza’s overall operating costs – and it has made a believer out of the hotel’s owners. As energy savings increased and operating costs fell, internal support led hotel management toward efforts to earn Energy Star certification.
“When we first began implementing energy saving strategies, this hotel received an Energy Star rating of 35 on a scale of 0 to 100,” said Braden. “We were told most hotels receive, on average, a rating of 50. To be Energy Star certified, we needed to rate 75 or higher. Today, we now have a rating of 85, and the Capital Plaza is the only convention hotel in the state that is Energy Star certified.”
The cost savings are equally impressive. Thanks to Aeroseal and the other energy saving efforts spearheaded by Interdependent Energies, the hotel is now saving $110,000 a year and Delambre has identified another $30,000 to $40,000 in “easy” improvements he wants to make before he feels his job is done.
“Our goal is to save the Capital Plaza hotel $150,000 a year in energy use,” said Delambre. “My first mission was to make the owners believers in the business sense of energy conservation. This is just another example that proves energy efficiency is real – and everyone should be doing it.”