Indoor air quality (IAQ) challenges are a reality in any facility. In a perfect world, the indoor environment would be pure and contaminant-free. But the real world has the human factor - and, thus, IAQ issues.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines indoor air quality as the quality of air inside buildings as represented by concentrations of pollutants and thermal conditions that affect the health, comfort, and performance of occupants.
Smoking, renovation projects, poor HVAC maintenance and performance, air distribution, and even design contribute to a decline in a facility’s air quality. In the dynamic environment of a hotel or motel, such challenges become even more prevalent.
“You don’t always know what the needs are going to be. In an office, you have somewhat of an idea what everybody is doing day-to-day,” notes Kevin Maher, vice president of governmental affairs at Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). “There are more variables in a hotel building than in an office. You might have a conference. You might have more smokers one day than another. You might have somebody who wants windows open. You have to keep the ventilation system running 24 hours - you can’t shut down between midnight and 5 a.m.”
Lodging operations face unique challenges in mapping out an effective IAQ strategy - thanks to a variety of occupant-use areas, mixed-use spaces, changing ventilation requirements within the facility, and a wide range of equipment and systems within the hospitality environment. “There are plenty of issues and opportunities for improvement. IAQ is certainly a factor that the industry needs to be aware of and find solutions to,” notes Tedd R. Saunders, co-owner and vice president at Boston-based Saunders Hotel Group and president of EcoLogical Solutions, a Boston consulting firm that shares environmental program best practices with the hospitality industry.
Smokers vs. Non-Smokers
The general approach of a lodging operation is to make people feel like they’re at home, that they’re comfortable and relaxed, and that they’re enjoying their hotel stay, Maher says. On any given night at any hotel, you’ll have guests checking in who suffer from allergies. You also will have guests checking in who smoke.
Saunders Hotel Group owns four Boston-area hotels: the historic Lenox and Copley Square hotels in Boston, the Comfort Inn & Suites Logan Airport in Revere, MA, and the Residence Inn in Merrimack, MA. These properties are in a state where smoking is prohibited in most public areas.
The Massachusetts Smoke-Free Workplace Law went into effect in July 2004. The act, which amends the state’s 1988 Clean Indoor Air Law, prohibits smoking in workplaces, including private offices, taxis, restaurants, and bars. Because hotel guest-rooms are considered private, smoking is still permitted in guestrooms designated as “smoking rooms.”
However, the guest demand for more non-smoking rooms in properties is growing, according to AH&LA. Many properties - even those in states without smoking bans for public areas - have voluntarily enacted smoking restrictions in lobbies, conference rooms, restaurants, and other public spaces. Additionally, hoteliers, including Saunders Hotel Group, are increasing the number of floors that are non-smoking and reducing the number of available smoking rooms because they have more requests for the non-smoking rooms.
“Now we have just one floor in each hotel that is a smoking floor,” Saunders says. “You have to balance it and have to make sure that you are not putting smokers onto a non-smoking floor. Sometimes smokers will request a non-smoking room and then smoke in it. The question is, ‘ What do you do after the fact?’”
“Clean,” Saunders responds. “Do you have a system in place so you can get rid of that odor? All smoking rooms have to be properly treated,” he adds.
“Softgoods - bedding, mattresses, curtains, carpets, and upholstered furniture in particular - have a tendency to absorb odors,” notes April Berkol, director of environmental health, fire and life safety at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., New York City. “Removing odors from them is difficult. In truly bad situations, furniture, bedding, carpet, and curtains may have to be disposed of to completely rid a space of the offending odor. Even the periodic use of ozone generators is not always effective.”
Cleaning goes beyond freshening rooms from the odors of cigarette smoke. It’s the most prevalent operational aspect contributing to air quality in lodging settings. Environmental proponents are encouraging hotel managers to consider taking a more natural approach in selecting cleaning products.
“Cleaning supplies are important,” says Tom Lunde, a mechanical engineer and chief operating officer for Environmental Technology Solutions Inc., Glen Ellyn, IL. “You want to use no-VOC cleaners and non-allergenic cleaners. If you’re using regular cleaners, they are building up over time.”
Saunders recommends analyzing the kinds of cleaning products used not only in smoking rooms, but in any room. “There has been so much marketing on making your home clean, but the issue of indoor air quality [is never addressed. With many products], you’re getting rid of the germs, but you’re not creating a healthy environment with a lot of those cleaning products,” he explains, adding that Saunders Hotel Group has switched air fresheners in all of its properties to an effective, natural product rather than a traditional solution.
“It does a great job of eliminating odors rather than just covering them up, and it’s not going to be irritating to the lungs,” he says.
Mold is another factor. Keep tabs on moisture throughout your property, cautions Lunde. Ninety-nine percent of guestrooms have carpet: Examine it. Look for stains and spills. Check the bathrooms. Look for leaks. Monitor the public areas, particularly if they are by the property’s health club or swimming pool. “Find out if you have any water issues or dampness in rooms,” he says. “Any place there is moisture, you’re going to have some mold issues.”
Charming, historic properties can also pose challenges - not so much from age, but from quirky design details: windows that open, fireplaces in public spaces and in rooms, and more, Maher says. Open windows can alter air distribution. Fireplaces can introduce additional particles and fumes into the air.
HVAC and Ventilation
When it comes to a lodging operation’s HVAC system, IAQ remediation should focus on ventilation, filtration, pressurization, and maintenance.
The maintenance of the HVAC system is paramount to indoor air quality. “You really have to clean and maintain these things,” Lunde says.
Starwood’s Berkol agrees. “Proper maintenance of the HVAC system is essential to it working as designed,” she says. “Making sure that filters are cleaned regularly and ducts are kept clear, fans - both supply and exhaust - are kept working properly: All of these contribute to the circulation and ventilation process.”
At Saunders Hotel Group properties, all HVAC systems undergo stringent preventive maintenance. “We’re not just changing air filters when we have time,” Saunders says. “We make it a priority. It helps with the indoor air quality and also helps run our systems more efficiently.”
Make sure the system also meets the building’s needs in its current state. A system designed for office occupancy may not be adequate for a kitchen or laundry occupancy, Berkol points out. “In a situation where a space is converted to a different use or occupancy, the new use and occupant loads must be calculated and the HVAC altered as necessary,” she says. “One thing I have found, on occasion, is that the make-up air, supply air, or outside-air intake is sometimes placed close to an exhaust vent for either a laundry, machine room space, or even the main exhaust vent of the building. This can short-circuit the process by recirculating air that was intended to be exhausted.”
The EPA, in its I-Beam Text Modules: Fundamentals of IAQ in Buildings publication, says that exhaust airflow ideally should be sufficient enough to draw pollutants from the source into the exhaust and away from the occupants. The source should be located between the exhaust and the occupants. Rooms with major sources should be under negative pressure relative to the surrounding spaces, according to the text.
The publication also notes contaminants from area sources, such as people, building materials, and office equipment, are diluted with outdoor air from natural or mechanical ventilation. Ventilation systems should be operated to provide sufficient outdoor ventilation. “If you don’t have enough outside air coming into public spaces, you’re causing a sick environment,” Saunders says. “That is key to a lot of buildings.”
Saunders suggests pressurizing lobby areas to avoid getting a blast of fumes from idling cars outside, as well as blasts of cold and hot air in the winter and summer, respectively. Add fresh air in other parts of the building. “If you introduce air through the stairwells, rooftop entrance systems, or the external air intakes, you’re going to minimize the amount of windows and doors opening in the lobby or ground floor,” Saunders says. “At the lower level, where a big SUV or diesel sedan or a bus has been idling outside your door, very concentrated fumes can be sucked into the building. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Construction and Renovation
Renovation and construction are big culprits in contributing to deteriorating indoor air quality. “The biggest issues I’ve seen over a period of time are cost-cutting measures used in construction and renovation - vinyl over vinyl, no breathable wallcovering, a closed-up atmosphere in a room,” Lunde says.
Building products, in general, can create IAQ challenges. The EPA’s I-Beam text suggests selecting materials with low emissions and quick decay rates where possible. Inquire about pre-shipment storage techniques that accelerate emissions of partitions, carpets, and similar materials prior to installation. Sometimes, according to the EPA, perforated containers can off-gas during shipment.
Other tips from the EPA I-Beam text module include the following:
- Accelerate emissions of wet products by using high ventilation.
- During high-emission periods, protect workers and increase ventilation.
- Delay installation of adsorbent materials such as carpet, furniture, or ceiling tiles until emissions from other construction contaminants (e.g. wet product emissions) have dissipated. Otherwise, these materials will adsorb the contaminants and later release them during occupancy.
- Protect ducts from construction dust and debris. Keep ducts clean.
- Delay occupancy until emissions have subsided.
- Continue high ventilation rates for a significant period after occupancy.
Consumers and business travelers continue to grow increasingly savvy about environmental issues. This translates into more demands for environmentally friendly products and spaces, including hotel rooms.
“The lodging industry is going to go where the market is,” Maher says. “As the demand for environmentally friendly rooms grows, the industry is going to follow that.”
For the industry to succeed, ongoing education is a must. Maher notes that AH&LA’s Educational Institute provides various environmental training programs. Additionally, several AH&LA committees examine indoor air quality issues, providing ongoing education to the industry on IAQ challenges, remediation, and prevention.
“It’s a good opportunity for people in the industry to talk, hear about innovative approaches to addressing IAQ concerns, assess how they are doing, and take into consideration new things they haven’t thought of,” Maher says.Awareness starts from within, Lunde adds.
“You have to look at buildings differently,” he says. “You need to get someone involved who understands air quality. Ultimately, the changes you make may have some initial costs to them, but in the long run, this comes back to you in the way of guest comfort and satisfaction - and guest loyalty.”
Robin Suttell (firstname.lastname@example.org), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.
At least 20 million Americans can’t take the cleanliness of hotel rooms for granted.
Statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that's how many asthma sufferers live in the United States. And that’s just asthma.
More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergic diseases, reports the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A recent nationwide survey found that more than half (54.6 percent) of all U.S citizens test positive to one or more allergens.
So how do you cater to this large segment in your lodging operation? Create a special room for them. Hilton Hotels has already taken the lead.
Through a pilot program at its Chicago O’Hare Airport hotel, the chain has introduced its new Enviro-Room. Designed for guests with allergy-related sensitivities, these rooms have been completely redeveloped from the ground up. They contain hardwood floors, all cotton linens, bath amenities for sensitive skin, and a state-of-the -art in-room air purifying system.
“Indoor air quality needed to be addressed and be tackled from what’s in the room, and what it contributed to the IAQ,” says Nick Nardella, chief executive officer of Environmental Technology Solutions Inc. (ETS), the Glen Ellyn, IL, environmental design consulting firm that worked with Hilton to create and install the new room concept at the O’Hare property. “Our methodology addresses everything in a room that contributes to poor air quality and everything that is introduced to a room by outside sources that diminishes indoor air quality.”
ETS identified three components that create poor IAQ: bio-aerosols, which are made of up of spores; particulates, which are largely dust particles; and VOCs that are emitted from almost everything in a guestroom, especially furniture, carpet, and cleaning supplies. The firm consulted with Dr. Michael B. Foggs, the chief of allergy and immunology of Advocate Health Centers.
Hilton O’Hare management tapped several rooms for the pilot project. In accordance with ETS protocol, the rooms were first completely gutted. Everything - floorcoverings, wallcoverings, draperies, furniture, and bedding - was removed.
“We do not try to correct the problem. We gut the room. We wanted to get rid of anything that really held or collected dust,” Nardella says. Gutting the rooms to the concrete also allowed the ETS crew to correct any moisture problems that revealed themselves during the renovation.
ETS then began rebuilding the rooms with special wood flooring, wallcoverings, fabrics, furniture, paints, adhesives, and cleaning products. The ceiling is on a grid so if a moisture problem occurs, it is easy to address, Nardella notes.
The rooms also have a monitoring system that records five crucial indoor quality parameters: temperature, carbon dioxide, relative humidity, odor and gasses (VOCs), and carbon monoxide. Rooms are monitored minute-by-minute, providing hotel management with real-time IAQ information. The system notifies management if “alert” conditions occur.
“In addition to the rooms being monitored on a minute-by-minute basis, each room is sanitized and purified after each guest. Only products and amenities that are toxin-free are used and stocked in the room,” Nardella says.
The firm has a patent-pending on this new design methodology, called Enviro-Room Design™, which can be applied to other environments including office buildings, healthcare facilities, and even private residences. Nardella says Hilton likes the pilot rooms so much that ETS has responded by presenting the chain with a proposal for 500 Enviro-Rooms to be spread out in 10 different cities across the country.
“There is a basic philosophy about how you put the room together,” Nardella says. “We wanted to put something together that changes the philosophy about how the room is built. While it is important to address the needs of people with allergies and asthma, these rooms are beneficial for anyone who is health-conscious. The process is unique, and we are proud to have the opportunity to bring this to the Hilton O’Hare’s guests.”