Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) has moved from the fringes of hotel design to the very centre-stage, as the industry grapples with climate change

Indoor air quality in hotels, Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Hotel design

Going green has metamorphosed from a philanthropic concept to an essential element, putting it at the centre-stage of a hotel’s sustainability efforts. Guests often make choices based on the sustainability element in a hotel; the cost savings of going green are many, and there is a noticeable environmental impact of the efforts to go green. Thus, the last few years have seen the hospitality industry implement a wide spectrum of green practices to mitigate the pressure it puts on the environment and to respond to the growing demand for environmental protection.

The Hotel Global Decarbonisation Report by the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) states that the hotel industry must reduce its carbon footprint by 90% by 2050 to keep global warming below the 2-degree threshold, as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. One of the major factors for the hotel industry’s carbon contribution carbon is the indoor air quality (that is right, indoor!).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that indoor air can be far more polluted than outdoor air. Since we spend over 90% of our time indoors, we risk inhaling more pollutants within. However, maintaining the inner air quality needs more than just keeping the air free of pollutants. This is when Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) comes into focus. IEQ, according to ISHRAE’s definition, refers to the environmental conditions inside regularly occupied spaces, determined by indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal comfort, visual comfort, acoustic comfort, as well as ergonomics. IEQ has an impact on health, comfort and safety, which in turn affects the productivity of the occupants.

IEQ in hotel buildings

IEQ has been an overlooked environmental concern for quite a while. However, the worldwide spread of COVID-19 outbreak has brought concerns about hygienic spaces within hotels and clean air right to the top of the priority list. The primary focus of IEQ has been to cut down energy consumption in hotels. However, technically, it also needs to include the functional aspects of hotel space: does the layout provide easy access to spaces when needed? Does the hotel have clean air to breathe? And what is the quality of ambient temperature, light and noise? Thus, the evaluation of IEQ factors over a building’s lifecycle has to be maintained at all cost. Aayush Jha, Co-founder & CEO, Clairco says, “Whatever the budget, segment or the location of the hotel, implementing IEQ is important for the health and wellbeing of both guests and employees who occupy the space.”

While designing, soundproofing is a critical aspect as it helps create acoustic comfort within the hotel.

IEQ also ensures guest satisfaction, which would make them want to return and recommend the hotel to others. Siddharth Goenka, Managing Director, Octave Hotels contends, “Implementing IEQ has a great impact on a hotel’s brand image. It helps to pitch it as a property with the highest environmental quality.” Having a high indoor environment quality can make or break a hotel’s reputation, especially in Tier-I cities.

Maintaining indoor air quality (IAQ)
Hotels need to exude a sense of calm and have an aesthetically pleasing environment, which is where IAQ comes into play. Luxury hotels situated in busy and central locations can be prone to a broad range of airborne contaminants infiltrating the building, which affect the quality of the indoor air. Parameters such as clean air, services and comfort rank high with guests. Shashi Shekhar, Managing Director, Camfil India Private Limited says, “For the hospitality industry, cleanliness isn’t just a perk; it’s a must-have. It impacts a guest’s comfort level and productivity of the staff.”

Indoor air quality (IAQ), which Kisholay Sharma, Resort Manager Club Mahindra Kanha refers to as ‘a measure of a building’s interior air in relation to the occupants’ health and comfort’, can never be overlooked. It plays a crucial role for hotels who wish to highlight IEQ as their USP. It saves guests from SBS (Sick Building Syndrome) or BRI (Building Related Illness). Since IAQ depends on the pollutants present in the air within the hotel, relative humidity (RH) control and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in furniture are important.

Alila Fort Bishangarh Jaipur has avenues for natural light to stream into inner spaces of all rooms, fulfilling the demand for thermal comfort.

These can be improved by the use of natural ventilation, cross-ventilation to increase fresh airflow, and growing specific plants that are highly effective in filtering out pollutants and toxins. Another way to improve IAQ is by using low volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting materials such as paints, sealants and adhesives for any building.

A lot of big hospitality brands are using fresh air as their unique selling point. According to Goenka, using air purifiers does not add to guest satisfaction, but using natural and environmental sources can be a better option to attract more guests and make fresh indoor as a USP.

Creating thermal comfort

The right temperature influences an occupant’s feeling of comfort and wellbeing. Since indoor comfort is influenced by outdoor climate, Binny Sebastian, General Manager, Alila Fort Bishangarh Jaipur suggests that the indoor thermal conditions should be maintained by considering the outdoor climate. The uniformity of temperature is crucial in large interconnected buildings, like hotels. While thermal comfort is probably the most easily defined parameter of IEQ, there is no way to express the right thermal environment in degrees or satisfactorily define it using acceptable temperature ranges. According to Shekhar, it is a personal experience, dependent on a varied number of criteria and can differ from
person to person within the same space.

Adequate ventilation ensures acceptable indoor air quality in a confined space.

Also, it is evidently linked to geographic location and climate, time of the year, gender, age, and emotional and mental health of an individual. It can sometimes prove challenging to reach an optimal thermal temperature for all people indoors, especially in a workplace environment, according to Sharma. However, maintaining an efficient indoor temperature is necessary as it helps determine a guest’s perception of the ambient air quality. In case a hotel does not have one fixed temperature control device, Goenka suggests offering personal control systems for occupants, over and above IEQ. Most conventional hotels are fitted with a DX system. In a green building, Rajneesh Malhotra, Vice President – Operations & Asset Management, Chalet Hotels Ltd. suggests that thermal discomfort can be reduced with the use of sustainable design principles that include draughts, radiant temperature asymmetry and vertical air temperature difference.

Visual comfort

Have you ever noticed how a welllit room can instantly shore up your mood and productivity levels? Discomfort caused by glare, interior brightness or outdoor views counts while evaluating the performance metrics of the hotel when it is judged for IEQ.

Encompassing a variety of aspects such as aesthetic quality, lighting ambience and the view around a
hotel, visual comfort is a subjective reaction to the quantity and quality of light within a given space. Influencing the character and the atmosphere of a hotel, it focuses on the right light for the right environment, creating a feel-good atmosphere and encouraging guests to linger a little while longer.
The choice of the right lighting and the artwork is, therefore, suggests Shekhar, a particularly important decision for hotel operators. Sharma suggests that the choice of materials in a room can also affect how light is experienced in that space.

Research shows that right levels of artificial light in an indoor setting, different wavelength of light and sufficient amount of daylight impact many bodily functions including the nervous system, circadian rhythm and general alertness. Sebastian says, “More sunlight as compared to artificial daylight must be a crucial parameter, as it provides an adequate level of visibility without causing discomfort and has a positive effect on health.” Green buildings are seen to have adequate provisions for lighting through natural and artificial sources, whereas conventional hotel buildings do not enjoy the same.

Ensuring acoustic comfort

The acoustic quality of a building is easily affected by external sounds. An unwanted sound that can affect mental focus and health must be controlled by acoustical means i.e. by incorporating sound and acoustic aspects in building design and the addition of sound absorption material to space.

When designing and constructing a hotel, a critical aspect that is usually overlooked is soundproofing, both in terms of separating the various rooms and the communal areas. Hotels need to exude a sense of calm and have an aesthetically pleasing environment, which is why it is essential to have building engineers pay careful attention to IEQ. In a hotel environment, the sound is a subjective measure that varies from one person to the next. Shekhar says, “The sensation of acoustic comfort inside hotels creates a welcoming atmosphere and allows the guest to have a pleasant stay.”

Some ways to improve the acoustic quality of a room, suggests Sharma, is by insulating it with doubleglazed windows, planting more trees around the building to absorb noise, as well as filling the room with more indoor plants. A buffer is then created which results in a balance of internal hard and soft noises. “Green buildings take measures to circumvent this by minimising external and ambient noise through design principles that include efficient internal and external building envelope. It ensures minimum external noise penetration and high levels of privacy. Again, conventional buildings do not necessarily take this into account,” says Malhotra.

Club Mahindra Resorts are strategically placed away from cities and follow green building practices.

How IEQ helps shore up RoI

Although the primary focus of the hotels should be on guest satisfaction and the health of their staff, they can't neglect the RoI required for the smooth functioning of hotel operations. The twin challenge for a hospitality business is to operate more efficiently, yet in an environment-friendly way, all the while keeping the costs in check and ensuring the best stay experience and staff health and wellbeing.

Hoteliers implementing IEQ get a good return on their investment, provided they are equipped with the right resources to be put in place rather than opting for systems that are overrated and expensive, comments Sebastian. When all boxes of IEQ are checked, guests are likely to enjoy their stay experience. Owing to reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint, the right IEQ systems would also bring in more revenue for hotels. By providing a healthy work environment and filtered air, hoteliers protect hotel staff from catching any infectious diseases. Shekhar also suggests that that the hotel industry should look at commercial air filtration solutions as a necessary investment that leads to operational efficiency, rather than as a cost to comply with government regulations. This also offers a marketing advantage and lower operations and maintenance costs.

Malhotra adds, “Chalet Hotels believe in the benefits of green technology and incorporate these principles right from the designing stage of the projects. The effect can be noticed on the company’s bottom-line, in the form of reduced operating expenses and profitability.” To shore up RoI and implement measures to improve IEQ, Chalet Hotels have installed energy efficient fresh air systems, Heat Recovery Wheel (for warm and humid climate) and two-stage Evaporative Cooling System (for hot and dry climate), which can save 35% to 50% of energy as compared to the conventional fresh air handling system.

Besides technological systems, hotels can do simpler things to keep the air quality perfect indoors, from using natural materials while designing the hotel, such as wood furniture, good ventilation and a lot of greenery around the property.

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