The Hidden Cost of Hotel Water Systems

July 9, 2021

And the secret to savings

About the author:

Eric Alexander is marketing manager for the lodging & hospitality industry with the Institutional, North America group at Nalco Water, an Ecolab Company. Alexander can be reached at [email protected].

It is no secret that water scarcity across the globe is real. More than 40% of the world’s population is already affected by water stress, according to the United Nations (UN), and the threat is growing. By 2030, the World Resources Institute estimates global water demand will outpace supply by 56% if nothing changes.

However, supply is only half of the issue. Water scarcity is a combination of two factors: quantity and quality. A UN assessment of water bodies in 89 countries revealed only 60% to have good ambient water quality. In most countries, no water quality data is available at all, which means more than three billion people are at risk because the health of their freshwater resources is simply unknown.

This mix of decreasing water quantity and diminishing water quality adds up to significant business risk; a risk being faced right now by hotel properties around the world. Despite these concerns, the perception persists that water is both cheap and accessible. It is common to view water’s impact on hotel operations only to the extent shown on a property’s municipal water and sewer bills. In fact, the full value of water and its impact on hotels is often much higher than operators realize.

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The Hidden Costs of Hotel Water

When you consider water in a hotel, some costs are obvious: showers, pools, fountains, cooling towers and landscaping. Beyond those, water can impact regulatory risks, reputational risks and overall water basin availability. Many operators also overlook water’s effects on a hotel’s energy consumption, maintenance/engineer labor and utility asset life.

These impacts drive up operational spend in the form of higher utility costs, labor costs and sooner-than-expected capital expenditures.

While water in many municipalities is cheap today, it likely will not stay that way. Energy is expensive already. Since it takes a lot of energy to use water, which must be pumped, heated, cooled and treated, using less water means lower energy bills. Using less energy means lower greenhouse gas emissions, too.

That is an obvious boon to any hotel chain’s reputation, but it is not the only one. If you operate in a water-stressed region, you do not want to end up at odds with the public and viewed as prioritizing the water needs of travelers over those of the local community. This can have brand repercussions far beyond the locale where the situation occurs.

Reduce, Reuse & Recycle

Because hotels use water in so many ways, operators have a variety of options to try to reduce water, energy and other operational costs. Examples include laundry, kitchen, pool and cooling towers. Among them, one of the greatest opportunities often lies with water treatment of cooling towers.

A 2015 industry survey of utility costs confirmed electricity, gas and fuel to be the largest expense category, averaging 71% of total hotel utility spend. This was followed by water at 24% and other utility costs at 5%. Water treatment impacts 95% of hotel utility spend, affecting electricity, water and gas/fuel use.

It is important to remember that one of the main purposes of a cooling tower is to actually reuse water. Hotels with cooling towers use water to remove heat from guest rooms and common areas, expelling that heat into the outdoor air, which ultimately cools the indoor space. Once the water completes a single heat-removal cycle, the goal is to reuse that water as many times as possible before letting it go down the drain (also known as blowdown). More reuse cycles mean less water consumed, which is good for both the environment and for a hotel’s bottom line.

Quality First

This recycling concept seems simple enough, but there is a catch. This is where water quality becomes a concern and the case for water treatment becomes clear: the water entering a hotel is far from clean. Incoming water, whether from municipal sources or wells, comes with minerals, bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause several expensive headaches.

The first concern is scale. Untreated water can add scale to cooling system pipes. Left untreated, scale can accumulate to dramatically reduce heat transfer efficiency, driving up both energy use and costs.

The second concern is biofouling. Fouling can be even more insulating than scale and, therefore, an even bigger drag on heat transfer, energy use and operational costs. Untreated colonies of waterborne bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes, so the problem can escalate quickly.

Finally, the third concern is corrosion. In this case, you cannot simply add metal back to pipes, cooling towers or chillers where it is corroded away. These items must be repaired or replaced, which can cost a hotel hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Real Results

How much difference can cooling-water treatment make for a hotel? Here are two real-world examples the Nalco Water team has seen.

A world-renowned hospitality company had a 400-guest-room hotel in Singapore. The property had four chillers with a total capacity of 2,500 refrigeration tons. Hotel management sought to reduce their water bill, as it appeared to be steadily increasing over time.

Following a cooling system assessment, the hotel implemented a proper water treatment program and saw several major improvements. The treatment program allowed them to increase their cooling tower cycles from three to seven, leading to savings of 6 million gallons of water and $29,000 in water costs per year. In addition, the treatment program led to a 4.5% improvement in chiller efficiency, contributing 43,738 kWh in energy savings and another $4,200 in annual cost savings to the hotel’s bottom line. The operator not only met their goal of reducing water spend, but they saw significant sustainability gains as well.

In another instance, a 300-room luxury hotel ran three chillers with a total of 1,200 refrigeration tons. This operator was focused on reducing energy consumption, which seemed excessively high. A cooling system assessment revealed the root of the problem. Extensive scale and fouling problems had reduced chiller efficiency, causing the equipment to draw more energy than usual to compensate. With a new water treatment program in place, the operator saw average chiller efficiency improve by roughly 9%. This contributed to 189,216 kWh in annual energy savings, valued at $43,520 per year.

The program improved water use in the cooling towers, too, where average water cycles increased from 3 to 4.5. This led to 480,000 gallons in annual water savings and $2,500 per year in cost savings. The operator achieved their original goal and saw major progress in other areas.

Through these cases, the connection between water savings and water quality could not be more clear. Whether an operator is motivated by operational cost savings, sustainability or both, cooling water systems with a focus on addressing quality issues offer big potential to achieve their goals.

About the Author

Eric Alexander

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