The Future in Integrated Room Automation Systems

The Future in Integrated Room Automation Systems

You’ve just checked into your hotel room. The lights turn on to provide the perfect amount of light and atmosphere just as you walk into the room. You notice that the temperature is an incredibly comforting 72 degrees, just the way you like it. And what’s that on the nightstand?  A control panel that allows you to control everything from the lights and drapes to the stereo and television, all from the comfort of the bed!  Wow! This must be a dream, and somehow you’ve become George Jetson. But where’s Elroy or Astro?

Ah, but this isn’t a fantasy. This is the reality that is now available in the hospitality industry through integrated room automation systems.

Integrated Hotel Room Automation Systems

On the surface integrated hotel room automation systems seem to be of great value to the guest. After all, what’s not to love about always having a comfortable room, being able to personally operate anything in the room from the seat of your pants, or not worrying about leaving the lights on when you leave the room?

But guest appreciation is not the only reason a hotel should adopt these amazing systems. Fact is, a room automation system helps manage the energy used in a guest’s room, which in turn saves money and provides environmental benefits as well. How much energy and money you save, though, depends on what type of automation system you install. Some systems worth considering include:

Room-Based Occupancy Control

Room based occupancy control systems can be used to automate HVAC and/or room lighting for individual hotel rooms. These systems work by utilizing an occupied and an unoccupied setting in tandem with a device that determines occupancy. There are numerous devices available that can be employed to determine occupancy:

  • Passive Infrared Occupancy Sensors (PIR): These devices determine occupancy based on the heat emitted by an occupant, and can be mounted similarly to a smoke detector. Some even look like smoke detectors.
  • Wall-mounted Key Card Switches: A card must be inserted into the switch to activate the occupied setting. Evolve’s Wall Mount Card Reader CR-100 is an example of this technology and can be cost effective compared to PIRs.
  • Entry Lock Switches:  Occupancy is determined based on the locked or unlocked status of the room’s door. This type of system often works best when used with a PIR to avoid false-offs.

These systems work effectively with either packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs) or central cooling systems, and are also capable of working wirelessly. However, it’s important to note that in terms of lighting control, these systems only work in rooms that are on a single circuit. Certainly not ideal in a hotel environment where few rooms are on a single circuit.

For those that would perhaps like a little test run of how this technology works without equipping a whole room, try implementing bathroom lighting occupancy sensors. These are easily installed in the bathroom’s electrical box, provided this box is located in the bathroom. As long as the timeout period (the time that elapses before the lights automatically shutoff )is long enough, guests won’t even notice it. And should a guest need a light to guide them in the middle of the night, there are systems with built-in night lights as well.

Fact is, 75% of the lighting energy used in a bathroom happens when the bathroom is unoccupied and the lights are left on. So with a simple lighting occupancy sensor, you’re sure to see some significant savings!

Building Automation–Based Room Control

Going a step further than room-based occupancy control would be automating the entire building. Generally this is most feasible for larger hotels. Systems, like the Guest Room Automation system developed by Pacific Controls, allow guests to take an active role in managing their rooms while also giving hotels enough control to reduce energy waste. Guests are able to control lighting, temperature, and the operation of numerous other integrated devices from the comfort of their room. Perhaps this could spell the end of the “my room’s too hot or cold” complaints?  Hotel staff is also able to monitor occupancy status of rooms and set unoccupied rooms to lower settings to reduce energy use. Smarter settings, such as “sleep-mode” and “house-keeping” also help hotels more efficiently use energy without sacrificing guest comfort, a definite win-win in our book. Integrated Electronic Solutions‘ building automation platform even allows guest preferences to be saved and retrieved during a later stay!  That helps to produce a great personalized guest experience, build loyalty and create that all important repeat customer!

Do be aware, however, that building automation systems tend to save less energy than room-based occupancy controls. This is because rooms using building automation systems spend less time in unoccupied mode. However, considering that building automation systems can also be applied to hotel common areas more easily than room-based occupancy controls, you’ll be able to recoup with additional savings in those areas.

What You Can Expect

As integrated room automation systems are still a fairly new technology, especially in a hotel environment, hard data concerning energy savings is limited. The early results though have been promising with hotels saving anywhere from 25% to 50%. Payback periods of 2 years have even been achieved, though higher tech components, such as wireless equipment or building automation systems, likely will increase payback time. It can also be a wise decision for a hotel to put a Certified Energy Manager on staff;  helping ensure that the right system is installed and that you’re able to realize the energy savings you desire.

Of course you could always opt against any type of room automation in your hotel and use manual controls in your quest to conserve energy. This requires training staff to turn off lights and manually set back HVAC systems. While this approach conserves more energy than doing nothing, its overall effectiveness is highly questionable, especially compared to the automated alternatives. Moreover, manual controls might leave your guests feeling a little like Fred Flintstone. And when comparing that experience to another hotel’s more ‘Jetson’ feel, you might just see yabba-dabba doo taking a back seat to the future…

Have you any plans to develop an integrated automation system design in your hotel?  Please share with us what you’re doing to save money and improve the guest experience!

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David Thurnau

Community Relations at Community Green Energy
David Thurnau has a background in political science, municipal government, and agriculture with an emphasis in environmental issues.

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