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Consequences of Not Being Vigilant and How it Can Effect a Property’s Sustainable Efforts

While conducting an onsite assessment in Central Florida, I found myself walking into a hotel room on the 8th floor of a 4 star property that had a horrible foul odor.  Unbelievably, it smelled like a combination of rotting meat and cat urine.  It was so bad that my partner assisting me with the assessment had to leave the room; her eyes tearing and trying to keep down her lunch as she darted for the door. 

Accompanying us on this assessment were the hotel‘s General Manager and the Chief Engineer, both in suits.  Earlier, when we first walked into this otherwise immaculate room, I looked up and noticed that both gentlemen had turned a bit pale, their jaws dropped and mouths open.  Without saying a word, their faces said it all, ‘Oh no, not this room.’  It was a surprise to all of us because the assessment to this point had been going so smoothly.  Everything looked great.  The recycling was in place, they had plenty of high efficiency lighting, green cleaners were being used throughout the hotel and each room we previously assessed had everything needed that would allow us to conclude that this property was on its way to being considered sustainable.  So what happened?  I asked the GM “what’s the story with this room?”  He replied “We’re not sure.  We’ve been dealing with this smell for the past few months.”  I asked “So this room has been out of service for that long?”  To my amazement the Chief Engineer answered “No, not really.  Every opportunity when the room is vacant, we place an ozonator in it to kill the odor.” 

My search began.  I looked closely at the ceiling, paying particular attention to the area where the ceiling met the wall.  The GM asked what I was looking for.  I explained that I was looking for signs of moisture and mold.  I said, “Even though I’ve never experienced smelling any room this bad, I suspect the odor is being caused by mold.”   Next, I got down on my hands and knees and proceeded to crawl the perimeter of the room as best I could, feeling the carpet along the way for moisture.   I got about a third of the way around the room when there was a knock at the door.  The GM opened the door and my partner asked the three of us to come out in the hall to take a look at what she had found.  The room was at the end of the hallway, and between the stairwell and the door of the room stood the icemaker, positioned directly on top of a floor made of what appeared to be medium sized terracotta tiles.  On the floor, just to the right of the icemaker and barely visible, was what appeared to be a small puddle of water.  With a smirk on her face, my partner suggested we look under the icemaker.  We looked at each other, and jockeyed for the best view as we got down on our knees.  It was a bit dark under the machine, so I pulled out my flashlight and shined it underneath.  What we saw immediately gave us the answer to what was causing that disgusting odor in the room.  A clear flexible hose which was draining the machine was not properly positioned in the floor drain as it should have been, but was lying up against the wall.  You could clearly see that the area directly around the floor drain was dry while the water coming out of the hose was not increasing the size of the puddle.  So where was the water going?  It appeared to be wicking under the wall that was adjoining the room in question.  I got up, went back into the room and stood in front the wall that was on the other side of the icemaker.  I bent down in front of an electrical receptacle and took a whiff.  Not the smartest thing to do.  The source of the odor was clearly behind that wall.  The Engineer pulled a multi-tool out of his pocket, opened it up to a flathead screwdriver and began unscrewing the plate of the receptacle.  The plate dropped to the floor revealing a black cottony material inside.  It was mold, and lots of it.   

So how did this happen?  Maybe the drain hose got knocked out when someone from housekeeping was cleaning the dust from under the icemaker or maybe someone from Engineering forgot to properly position the hose the last time the unit’s filter was replaced.  In either case, this seemingly small mistake set off a chain of events that would cause this property a great deal of aggravation and money.  But what were the environmental costs and how much did this incident set back the property’s sustainable efforts?

Understandably, the property was very tight-lipped about the extent of the damage and the cost to repair it. However, I later learned that the water made its way down to the first floor, and the repairs were highly disruptive and quite costly.  Most likely, many parts of the hotel, including the HVAC systems became contaminated with mold spores which under the right conditions could have caused mold to the growth and spread.   According to the Mayo Clinic, millions suffer from Chronic Sinusitis, most likely caused by allergies to molds and fungus.  How did this impact the long-term indoor environmental quality of the hotel and the health of the guest and the associates that work there?  And how did the ozone used to deodorize the room affect the property’s indoor air quality while in use?  Did the chemical cleaners used to kill the mold during the repairs give off VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or other gases that may have affected human health and safety?  Did any of the conditions such as the odors generated by this event cause a loss in customer satisfaction?  

What were some other possible environmental impacts?  Undoubtedly, a great deal of solid waste was generated in the course of ripping out the drywall and insulation, cleaning supporting structures and rebuilding the damaged walls.  How much additional energy and water was consumed as a result of this mishap. 

Each day across this country, the hospitality industry consumes as much water as 1.6 million families consume in a year; they generate garbage each day equal to what 4 million families generate each year; and they account for greenhouse gas equivalent to that produced by almost 4 M vehicles.  I’m certain the industry can do better and consume less.  Why, because I’ve been involved with the assessment of hundreds of properties and seen the tremendous amount of resources and money wasted each day because many in the industry are still not vigilant when it comes to preventative maintenance or looking for the most basic opportunities to save.  Many hoteliers are still unable or unwilling to include in their daily routines the task of looking to prevent needles energy and water consumption, minimize solid and hazardous waste and stop the degradation of indoor environmental quality.  

Peter Goren, AGLHA President

Here’s the good news.  When a property takes the time and makes that extra effort to involve its management and associates in looking for opportunities to prevent  waste and become more efficient, the property becomes more environmentally, socially and financially sustainable.

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