Check into hotel, motel, resort high-tech designs: electrical/lighting/power and fire/life safety

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 electrical/lighting/power and fire/life safety.


Respondents (left to right): John Barrot, Kevin Christensen, Wesley S. Lawson, Steven Mulcahy, and Christine Sauer


  • 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: Describe a recent electrical/power system challenge you encountered when working on a hotel, motel, or resort project.

Mulcahy: In a recent project, the lighting fixtures were “value engineered” by others without consulting the engineering team. The fixtures selected were constructed with extremely cheap power supplies from China, which produced a very high harmonic content on the electrical system—which then required additional engineering to address the harmonic issue. In the end, the cheaper fixtures ended up costing the owner much more than staying with the originally specified fixtures.

CSE: How do you work with the architect, owner, and other project team members to make the electrical/power system both flexible and sustainable at the same time?

Mulcahy: The key is to have design and ownership teams with common sustainability goals. Once the goals have been established, the design and construction teams can use target-value design to deliver the project within budget while achieving the sustainability goals.

CSE: What types of smart grid or microgrid capabilities are owners demanding, and how have you served these needs? Are there any issues unique to these specialty projects?

Mulcahy: Onsite generation has been a part of large resort facilities for a long time. Recently, as the utility rates increase, sustainable sources have been included in the microgrids for projects. The requirements for alternative sustainable-power sources continue to increase. The largest challenge is usually having enough square footage to make PV systems feasible. In a large resort facility, the available roof and ground areas are generally small in comparison with the need for space to approach a net zero project.

Christensen: I do not currently see any significant demand by owners to be tied into utility/private-developer microgrids. Typically, owners will already have an understanding of what the anticipated annual electricity costs will be for their facility, through their discussions with the local electricity provider(s). If these costs do not meet lifecycle cost models for the property, we occasionally find that owners will engage in further discussions with utilities on how to tie into cost-saving systems or get some type of rebates. On rare occasions, our engineers might be asked by the owner to develop lifecycle cost models for onsite power systems (i.e., solar, cogeneration, microturbines, natural gas, biofuel, wind) to determine if producing onsite power would be more cost-effective than purchasing it from the utility. Smart grids are reserved for the utility side of the electrical distribution system and generally do not involve owners directly, other than potentially gathering data on the actual power profile of a facility through the use of smart metering.

CSE: Describe a recent standby, emergency, or backup power system you designed, and its challenges and solutions.

Located on the Las Vegas Strip between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts, CityCenter is the largest privately funded construction project in the history of the United States. With a $9.2 billion advertised cost, this ultra-modern, mixed-use urban complex occupies 76 acres. Southland Industries provided design-assist mechanical and plumbing for this LEED Gold-certified megaproject. Courtesy: Southland EngineeringChristensen: The first step is to understand the owner’s burden, whether financial or operational, if the facility or parts of the facility is shut down for any period of time. Usually, the owner has a fairly good idea of what systems they want.  

Mulcahy: In large hospitality projects where the emergency loads exceed the capacity of one generator, it becomes a challenge to meet the 10-second time frame for emergency loads to be online as required by NEC, Article 700. Typically, in larger projects where there are sometimes six or eight generators, multiple generator-paralleling busses must be used to accomplish this. Then, after the emergency loads are transferred, the multiple-generator busses can then be paralleled together to provide additional redundancy.

CSE: Describe a lighting control or addressable lighting project you’ve completed in a hotel, motel, or resort. What were the challenges and solutions?

Mulcahy: Lighting controls within resort facilities are usually challenging. Because they are typically 24-hour facilities, they do not readily lend themselves to lighting-reduction controls. However, there are always options for addressable lighting control within hotel guest rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, stairwells, office spaces, back-of-house corridors, warehouses, etc., where lighting controls can be used to reduce the energy consumption of the property.

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