By The Hospitable Team
Energy bills aren’t getting any cheaper. In the US, the average electricity bill per household has gone up by roughly $10 ($111 to $121) per month over the past 4 years, while the price of natural gas nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022. It’s becoming ever more important to cut back and reduce consumption, both to save money and to appeal to more eco-friendly travelers.
According to Booking.com, over 73% of guests are more likely to stay in a property that has sustainable practices in place. But, what are the best ways to reduce energy consumption in your vacation rental properties?
We asked Axel Persson from Operto for his expert advice on the topic. Axel advises property managers on implementing energy-saving technology in their short-term rentals (STRs), while Operto provides STR solutions, specializing in in-stay technology and hospitality automation for operational efficiency.
“Operto has been around for 6 years and when we entered the industry, it was actually from the energy angle. Our founder was working as a sustainability consultant for a huge building project…He was trying to find out ways to save energy, and one of those ways was controlling the temperature in properties, based on guests coming in and out.”
In this article, we look at smart energy-saving technology in detail, as well as daily energy-saving tips that you can apply right away. This is what we discuss:
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7 Energy-saving tips for your home
Energy expenses can have a big impact on your bottom line. And as Axel points out, “Hotels use as much energy as certain small outpatient hospitals”. Even if you aren’t managing big properties, like hotels, there are definitely opportunities to cut down on your day-to-day energy consumption.
Here are a set of tips including small habitual changes, updates, and repairs. Also, we’ve broken down some important information about smart technology and tracking consumption levels.
Don’t leave electronics plugged in
Turning off appliances isn’t enough. As long as they’re plugged in, they are still draining energy. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, about a quarter of all residential energy is used by idle devices. This includes devices that are switched off, in standby mode, or sleep mode.
This is especially true for rentals with high seasonality and lower occupancy rates at certain times of the year. You can save loads by just making sure appliances like the fridge, water heater, and humidifier are unplugged when your rentals are empty.
The same goes for thermostats and air conditioning systems. Setting them back when guests are away can lead to big savings.
Axel explains, “If you’re in a very moderate climate, then maybe it’s not such a big deal if you keep the temperature at a nice flat level. But if you’re in a hot climate where you’re spending a lot of money on AC, then it’s absolutely a factor.”
However, it’s important to plug in appliances and re-set temperatures before your next check-ins. After all, you don’t want guests to feel like they’re walking into an oven when they enter your property.
“If you’re setting back the temperature between stays, and letting an air conditioning unit go to 30-35℃ between stays, that’s not a pleasant arrival for the next guest when they show up.”
If you don’t have a smart thermostat (we talk about this more, below) to help you stay on top of temperature adjustments, add it to your cleaning team’s post-check-out and pre-check-in checklists. The easiest way to do this is by assigning and sending your staff automated tasks via text message.
Check before you buy: Energy labels explained
When making energy-saving updates to your properties, choosing the right appliances can make all the difference. In both Europe and the United States, manufacturers are required to place labels that indicate the energy grade of each appliance. This will help you to gauge their level of energy use before you commit to buying.
In Europe, energy efficiency is graded using a G to A+++ scoring method, with G being the least efficient to A+++ being the most. If you’re buying an appliance in the US, look out for products with the ENERGY-STAR logo and the government’s official Energyguide label. They should look something like this:
When making renovations and updates, pay special attention to these labels and try to calculate the amount you will save on utility bills over the next 10-20 years. Even if they are more expensive up front, it could prove a successful STR investment in the long term.
To significantly reduce your energy consumption, change out these appliances with low-consumption alternatives:
- Hot water heaters
- Air Conditioners
In addition to these, managing energy consumption with smart appliances can save you loads—more on this later.
Save $100s a year by changing your light bulbs
On average, lighting consumes about 15% of a home’s electricity. By making the switch to LED or more energy-efficient bulbs, the average household saves about $225 per year.
If you’re in the US, some lightbulbs have the official ENERGY STAR certification as well. These use 25-80% less energy than incandescent bulbs. Not to mention, they last much longer. Here are the different types of energy-saving bulbs to choose from:
- Halogen incandescents
- Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
- Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
Make your bathroom energy-efficient
Bathrooms are a great place to make impactful change. A big portion of energy expenses comes from water heating, which means there are big opportunities to make savings with some key updates.
Here are some big ways to save:
- Swap out bathtubs with showers – This sounds like a big undertaking but a 10-minute shower consumes about half of the amount of water as a bath.
- Update old faucets and showerheads – Standard showerheads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute. High-efficiency, low-flow models cut this number substantially.
- Reduce your water pressure levels – This will help you reduce both water consumption and electricity or gas expenses.
Reducing water consumption doesn’t have to mean reducing water pressure. The beauty of low-flow designs is that you don’t necessarily need to sacrifice guest comfort to save water. These faucets and showerheads do, however, require a bigger initial investment.
If choosing to adjust your water pressure, be sure to find the right balance. Although you might be saving, you don’t want it to come at the expense of the guest experience.
Improve insulation, look for leaks, fix drafts
It’s in your best interests to make sure your property is insulated and sealed. Otherwise, the money you’re spending on HVAC could literally go right out the window.
Here are a few common problem spots where this is most likely to happen:
- Back doors, front doors, and garage doors—basically anything that leads to the outside space.
- Attic spaces can be problematic. To insulate this space properly, you need to check the type and thickness of insulation, and the recommended amount of insulation that you need. On the US Department of Energy website, you can find an estimated “R-value” of how effective your attic insulation should be.
- Exterior windows. Consider using double-paned glass to improve insulation and reduce wasted energy. Another option is to replace older windows with energy-conserving alternatives; like appliances, energy-saving windows are marked with STAR ENERGY labels.
- Air filters. Schedule regular checks to make sure that air filters are clear. When filters are clogged, they use more energy to work properly. Make sure they are cleaned regularly and replaced from time to time, especially if pets are allowed to stay.
Provide a better guest experience with smart thermostats
Some energy-saving measures, like insulation, are a one-time fix, whereas others like temperature control are trickier to manage without the right technology.
Alex explains, “If you set yourself up thinking that you’re going to change thermostats on a seasonal basis, the chances are less likely that you are actually going to do it…I would say that the best way to make this actually happen is set it up once with an automated system, and then let it just go all year round.”
Smart thermostats are more than just a convenience, they can help you cut down on what’s in most cases your biggest single energy expense. Some smart technology even allows you to connect thermostats with door locks. This gives you the ability to control room temperatures automatically based on when guests access their room.
But how do you know which smart tech and devices are best for you?
First, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it help me cut back my biggest energy expenses?
- What is the payback period?
- Is it compatible with my PMS/ tech stack?
By answering these questions, you can establish if the technology is actually helping you address a key issue, you’ll have a clear understanding of the total ROI, and you can assess to what extent you can automate the solution alongside your day-to-day business operations.
Track and compare energy usage across units
Keeping your eye on electricity and water meters will help you to rent out your most energy-efficient units, first.
This is because some units may consume more or less energy than others at different times of the year. The building’s orientation and geographical location play a big role in how much the building heats up, especially during the summer months. Keep in mind that units with a lot of direct sun will require much more energy to cool down.
Having a rough estimate of your seasonal expenses will help you to take steps to conserve. Meter readings can help you prioritize renovations and tell you if there are any urgent issues to address, like leaks.
Educate your guests
You should encourage guests to help you save on energy expenses with gentle reminders. It’s important not to come across as being forceful, but you should make guests aware from the beginning that you have a policy of low-energy usage and ask for their cooperation.
Give guests memos about:
- Not leaving the lights on – One of the most common energy wasters that can be easily fixed. Consider taping a note next to light switches as a gentle reminder for guests to leave lights off when they’re not being used.
- Saving while doing laundry – Leave a note about using cold water whenever possible and place some clothespins inside of a laundry basket. It will nudge guests to hang clothes rather than use a dryer.
- Using heating and air conditioning – Sometimes, guests might not be aware of how heating and air conditioning systems work. Leave clear instructions for them and include some reminders about closing windows before turning them on, and on turning them off before leaving for the day.
Market your green credentials
According to Statista.com the market size of ecotourism is expected to double in years to come and reach 333.8 billion dollars by 2027. The demand for sustainable stays is growing fast and you need to make sure that you’re reaching eco-conscious travelers.
Axel explains that hosts are finding new ways to appeal to eco-conscious travelers and make their stays more sustainable. “Some hosts are starting to put in the option of putting in electric vehicle charging as a guest amenity.”
Whatever tactics and amenities you use to save energy, update your website and listings to show off your best practices. If you use solar panels or energy-efficient appliances, be sure to include images.
Also, pay special attention to the sustainability badges and labels that many listing platforms use for properties with eco-friendly practices. Booking.com, for example, has a sustainable travel program to help you market to environmentally-conscious guests.
Make changes for a sustainable future
When it comes to saving energy, the changes and investments that you make can have a big impact. To make your vacation rentals as energy efficient as possible, keep in mind the following key points:
- Unplug electronics and set back thermostats between stays. Find ways to encourage guests to help you on this front.
- Invest in energy-efficient appliances and low-flow showerheads to reduce your yearly expenses.
- Look into smart technology, especially smart thermostats to save on consumption and manage your property’s temperatures remotely.
- Market your energy-saving features and amenities with photos and listing badges to appeal to more eco-conscious guests.
Making changes to improve on your energy use doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money upfront on renovations and new appliances. If needed, start out with basic investments like insulation and light bulbs. Even small changes will help the environment and reduce your monthly bills—and many of your guests will be as grateful for those changes as you are.
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