Check into hotel, motel, resort high-tech designs: automation and controls and codes and standards

Hotels, motels, and resorts accommodate thousands of people. Here, engineers explain just how challenging it is to deliver unique design concepts and ensure these structures are in compliance specifically in regards to automation and controls and adhering to codes and standards.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 24, 2017


  • John Barrot, PE, LEED AP, Associate Principal, Arup, New York City
  • Kevin Christensen, PE, LEED AP, Vice President/Director of MEP Engineering, Epstein, Chicago
  • Wesley S. Lawson, PE, Senior Associate, Bala Consulting Engineers, King of Prussia, Pa.
  • Steven Mulcahy, Principal Engineer, Southland Engineering, Las Vegas
  • Christine Sauer, PE, Senior Fire Protection Engineer, JENSEN HUGHES, Baltimore

CSE: What are some of the challenges of incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT) into facility design for existing buildings?

Christensen: The biggest challenge is trying to take the what-if scenarios and turn them into reality. The market currently has available numerous sophisticated packaged systems for various hotel operating components, such as room-management systems, lighting controls systems, building automation systems (BAS), security systems, wayfinding, information kiosks, guest services, and many others. Getting these systems to communicate and learn from each other is a very real design challenge. I believe some entrepreneurial company will develop a utility, much like Domo has for business operations, which will sit on top of all these isolated systems and mine the data specifically for the hospitality market. This data will be used to optimize building operations, and most important, enhance the customer experience.

CSE: When working on monitoring and control systems in hotels, motels, and resorts, what factors do you consider?

Christensen: Integration is the big driver when designing monitoring and control systems.

Lawson: Since the occupants have no time to learn to use the system, the user interface in hotel controls systems must be streamlined. But because many occupants now want increased control of the systems, the control and technology cannot be too rudimentary.

Mulcahy: Owners do not want to be chained to a particular vendor. Most educated owners require an open control system with BACnet capabilities.

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome in such facilities, and how did you do so?

Lawson: Due to the fact that the hotel operator must pay all energy bills, it drives the design to a more inclusive set of controls than what is typical in a standard residential building. The control system normally needs to monitor and control the security, lighting, technology, and HVAC systems within each unit. Since many of these systems are normally stand-alone, it takes a good deal of coordination to make sure all systems are designed so that they can all “speak” to one another. This presents added coordination efforts for not only the design team, but also the construction team.

CSE: How has the convergence of automation and controls affected the design of hotels, motels, and resorts?

Christensen: I do not believe that the convergence of automation and controls has really affected the tangible “physical” components of hospitality design. Automation and controls systems are behind-the-scenes components, which take up very little physical space, but are really at the heart of the building’s operations. Over the years, automation and controls have been primarily used to control building systems to save energy (i.e., operational costs) and provide functionality to spaces as necessary. Where you will see these technologies affecting hotel design is when they are used by hotels to automatically learn and remember guests’ long- and short-term habits and integrate their preferences and use of the hotel at a personal level, no matter if they are staying at a hotel in Chicago or one in Miami. This could be as simple as adjusting the room temperature for a guest based upon their previous stays.

CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use during the design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design of engineered systems in such projects?

Sauer: The codes and standards can vary based upon the location and the brand. The key is to determine the local code requirements and brand requirements and choose the more restrictive of the two. Typically, we use the NFPA and the International Building Code (IBC) domestically. Dependent upon geographic location (i.e., international), we can use NFPA or the local code, such as the British Standards, which opens the door for a performance-based design rather than applying the more traditional prescriptive codes.

Christensen: For larger, more vertical projects, engineers and architects should be familiar with high-rise codes.

Mulcahy: The building codes are continually being updated and adjusted as technologies change. Engineers need to look at the codes that are applicable for the project location. The building codes have local amendments that change parts of the national codes. Energy and green building codes are typically different in every jurisdiction, where some have very strict codes (California) while other areas (i.e., in the Southeast) sometimes have no energy codes adopted at all.

Barrot: Hotels are governed by the same locally applicable codes and standards as for other building types. For hotels in the U.S., that generally means the International Code Council (ICC) model codes with local amendments, or some jurisdictions follow NFPA 101: Life Safety Code and NFPA 5000: Building Construction and Safety Code. Many hotel brands have fire/life safety standards that their hotels must meet. These standards are often more stringent than applicable codes in order to meet their corporate responsibility, business continuity, and risk management goals. Designers also must consider insurer requirements. Engineers should seek clarification from their clients as to which brand standards and insurer requirements will apply at the beginning of the design phase.

Lawson: ASHRAE and IECC have lighting control requirements that are above and beyond those for multifamily housing. These enhanced controls also present a set of decision points for the owner, especially in regards to the overall “off” switch for the lighting system in each room. NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) also has very specific criteria in regards to the flexibility of the receptacle placement, which is mainly derived from the level of “cooking” that is presented in each type of room.

CSE: What are the most challenging codes and standards to follow for such structures? What makes them so challenging?

Barrot: Developers of new hotels often have not determined which brand the hotel will operate under during the design phases. The project team in consultation with the stakeholders must determine how to best approach this to manage the risk of rework related to incorporating brand requirements later in a project. Another challenge occurs when hotel owners choose to bring an existing hotel under a different brand that has fire/life safety requirements. The existing hotel may not meet the brand standards or modern codes if the building is older. The key here is to work closely with the owner, hotel brand, and authority having jurisdiction to reconcile these challenges. In some instances, this may mean using alternative means and methods and special approvals from the hotel brand to meet the code intent.

Sauer: In my opinion, no one code is considerably more challenging than the other; however, where the brand standard may require a specific prescriptive requirement that may exceed local code, it becomes challenging to implement in the design. Owners and investors also may be reluctant, as it is an additional project cost. However, often the additional small cost is outweighed by the benefits, which may include increased life safety/lower risk and reduced business operational impacts.

Mulcahy: The energy codes and green building codes probably become the most challenging. Sometimes, these codes are in conflict with the owner expectations. In these cases, a balance must be reached to comply with codes and still maximize the return on investment for the property owner.

CSE: What are some solutions/best practices to ensure that the hotel, resort, or motel project will be in compliance with codes and standards?

Mulcahy: Make sure you have a clear understanding of the codes that are going to be applicable to your project. Perform a code analysis on each project before you start schematic design.

Barrot: Be familiar with the various brand standards and their differences. This is particularly helpful when the brand has not been selected yet. Understand how hotel requirements differ internationally as compared with those in the U.S., to be able to support hotel clients operating globally. Be involved in the code-development process (ICC, NFPA, etc). This will equip you with insight into the code intent as well as upcoming code changes. This can be especially helpful when a code requirement is subjected to varied interpretation, when proposing an alternative means and method, or when a jurisdiction is transitioning to a new code edition prior to your permit application.

CSE: How are codes, standards, or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such buildings?

Christensen: Energy efficiency is really no longer a project “add-on,” as it was years ago when LEED was in its infancy. The codes and standards have changed over the years, and each new release requires greater efficiency. Technologies and products have had to adapt to give engineers the capability to meet these ever-changing requirements. A building today, just by the nature of the equipment that goes into it, will be markedly more efficient than a building built 5 years ago. Engineers have the task of understanding these new technologies and products and then holistically applying them to achieve the greatest efficiency for the dollars available. Even with the advent of improved efficiency in equipment, it is the building envelope, glazing, and building orientation that have the greatest impact on efficiency.

Mulcahy: Sometimes, the energy codes conflict with the owner expectations for their property. To comply with the energy codes, compromises need to be reached with the owner to make sure the project will comply with the code and still deliver the guest experience the owner is selling.

CSE: How will the 2017 edition of NEC impact building design? What are the challenges/solutions?

Mulcahy: For the past several code cycles, the NEC has continued to expand arc flash circuit interrupter (AFCI) and ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) requirements to protect the people using the system. These are required in dwelling units within resort facilities, with hotel rooms being exempt in the past. When the requirements were first implemented back in the 2002 and 2005 NEC, the devices and equipment were not readily available and extremely costly. Now the devices are readily available ggnd less costly.

Christensen: For the hospitality market, the 2017 edition of NEC is not likely to impact building design.