Just north of Chicago’s Millennium Park resides another Chicago jewel in the form of the world famous, Fairmont Chicago hotel. Rated as one of the top 500 hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure Magazine and a member of the Condé Nast Gold List, the Fairmont resides at 200 North Columbus Avenue just off the lakefront and at the foot of the Magnificent Mile.
The sleek and modern lines of the building’s exterior are perfectly matched by an elegant interior that screams luxury throughout the buildings entire 750,000 square foot space.
While the stately Fairmont has become a favorite resting spot for busy executives visiting Chicago, it also plays host to many of the world’s movers and shakers. Former president of France, Jacques Chirac, Henry Kissinger and Hillary Rodham Clinton, have all been guests at the Fairmont, and a host of movie and recording stars have also made the Fairmont their choice while visiting the city.
Having just completed $50 million in renovations to the hotel’s 687 guest rooms, the Fairmont strives to remain not only in-tune with the changing attitudes and tastes of business travelers but also with the demands of a changing world that has added environmental sustainability to the list of what the public considers corporate responsibility. To achieve that goal, the Fairmont relies on Michael Ruhl, its Director of Engineering, Robert Gallet, the Chief Engineer, and their staff of twelve operating engineers who maintain close watch on operational efficiency and constantly look for new ways to reduce energy use.
Last year, Mike became familiar with the new Cypress, wireless control system technology, during a conversation with local distributors. He told us during our recent visit to the Fairmont that he was looking for a way to increase temperature response time and monitoring capability within the 67,000 square feet of meeting space the hotel has in its six conference areas, as well as in the hotel restaurants.
Mike explained that the existing pneumatic control system used in these areas made it difficult to rapidly respond to temperature changes. As people would gather for meetings, temperatures could climb very rapidly. As they left the meeting room for breaks, the temperature could fall rapidly. These abrupt changes in comfort levels usually led to calls from conference organizers to adjust temperatures and required an engineer to physically visit the conference room and make adjustments at various thermostats. The real problem here was that by the time the engineer could respond to the call, the conditions within the room might have once again changed.
As Mike explained it to us, the idea of utilizing Cypress wireless technology that could permit the engineering staff to remotely monitor and rapidly respond to any sudden temperature change, interested him enough to reach out to Steve Rosner and Ryan Stickney of Anchor Mechanical, Inc. and their Green Technologies Division.
According to Ryan, while the idea of installing Cypress, or any other wireless technology, may seem like the right idea, the fact is that not all buildings and structures will lend themselves well to wireless transmissions. Ryan explained that before Anchor Mechanical’s Green Technologies Division will install these devices, they conduct an extensive site survey that verifies the ability to use wireless signaling.
Opening a set of blueprints to demonstrate the challenges they faced, Ryan explained that the Fairmont is a concrete structure with the building’s large elevator bank placed nearly in the center of the structure. In order to use wireless technology, signals would have to be transmitted from one end of the building to the other, traveling around the elevator bank.
“The maximum number of hops that any one thermostat can make to a network hub is five, and that is the number we had to use for some thermostats in the Fairmont,” Ryan said.
The Cypress system is comprised of individual thermostats that can plug directly into an existing pneumatic control system. Utilizing an on-board transducer, the thermostat will monitor and respond as well as any hardwired thermostat and seamlessly interface with a building management system.
Installing wireless systems can be a huge money saver versus traditional installations and a big reason why wireless technology is a hot item on chief engineers lists these days. But there is more saving to be had than just those coming from installation.
Traditional pneumatic thermostats are manual devices, which do not allow for remote readings, diagnostics, or setpoint control. This translates into costly maintenance, wasted heating and air conditioning of unoccupied space and an inability to work with utility demand response programs. Traditionally, these shortcomings could only be overcome by replacing the system with a direct digital control (DDC) system.
Cypress Envirosystems’ wireless pneumatic thermostats offer virtually the same functionality as DDC thermostats but can be installed in as little as twenty minutes for a fraction of the cost of a traditional DDC system. And unlike DDC systems, building operators have the flexibility to retrofit only selected zones rather than an entire building all at once. These wireless pneumatic thermostats can operate as a standalone system or can integrate with an existing building automation system.
“I am really amazed at the response from these units,” Chief Gallet said. He told us that the accuracy and rapid response, as well as the reporting features from the units have been as accurate as DDC since they were put on line. The really big savings he told us, has come from being able to maintain comfort levels in every meeting room without having to respond to house calls and dispatching an engineer. According to Mike, the engineers are able to correct temperature swing before the occupants in the conference rooms feel any discomfort. Obviously, that kind of control translates into satisfied guests and real monetary savings.
Steve cautioned that before anyone just jumps into installing wireless controls, it’s important that they conduct a survey to see if the controls will be compatible with the facility. We have the equipment and expertise to actually conduct those surveys he told us, and that can save a chief both time and money if they are considering installation of wireless controls. It’s not only important to know the system will be able to communicate, he said. It’s also important to verify it won’t interfere with existing wireless systems and cellular communications that are already inside the facility.
It was clear from what we learned during our visit that the Fairmont will continue to be one of Chicago’s premiere downtown hotels and that guests who visit this gem on Millennium Park will be treated to a luxurious stay, complimented in part to the newest environmental technology available to facility owners and managers.
Wireless systems are opening paths to sustainability in commercial facilities that haven’t previously existed. At the same time, wireless systems are making the installation of energy management far less expensive. This means that for every chief engineer, wireless control is on the way.