Owned by Accor Worldwide, parent company of Accor North America (ANA), the Motel 6 brand has dotted the U.S. landscape since 1962 when the first property opened in Santa Barbara, CA. The price to stay overnight was just $6.00 (hence the chain’s name), and while rates have risen since then, Motel 6 locations still strive to offer clean, comfortable guest rooms at the lowest rates among national chains. At the end of June 2010, there were just over 1,000 Motel 6 locations operating throughout the U.S. and Canada; approximately 60% of these are owned by Accor, with the remainder owned by franchisees.
Motel 6 facilities have evolved over the past 48 years, and the company’s latest major move was the introduction of a prototype to follow when constructing new locations. Launched in March 2008, the “Phoenix” design, as this new prototype is named, encompasses the entirety of newly constructed locations, and it’s the first new prototype for the brand since 1996.
While some existing locations have been renovated to incorporate select Phoenix features, the first new property built according to the prototype is located in Northlake, TX and has been operating since October 2009. This 40,300 square foot facility contains 120 guest rooms, and it is a corporate owned site (versus being owned by a franchisee).
“You can’t build the same building forever,” says Greg Ammon, Accor NA’s vice president for new hotel construction. Ammon headed up the prototype development and Northlake project.
“We wanted to build a property that is very efficient but also less costly than our previous design. A long-term goal is to build the brand through franchising, and we wanted to design a building that would be interesting to, and successful for, franchisees.”
In 2007, Ammon was hired by Accor NA to oversee the creation of the Phoenix design. “I was responsible to steer the project from its start to its ending,” he says. “As such, I dealt with the architects, did all of the estimating, put it out to bids, and was on the job site during the construction. I was responsible for all of the costing, payments, and accounting processes throughout the entire project.”
Pioneering The Phoenix Prototype
Since its introduction in March 2008, the “Phoenix” room design has been incorporated into more than 70 of Motel 6’s existing corporate owned and franchised locations in more than 20 U.S. markets. The Northlake-Speedway Motel 6 is the first to be built completely new.
Says Ammon, “In developing the prototype, it was important for us to build the property ourselves, even though our initial intent [in developing it] was for franchise use. This way we could be assured we were the expert on this project and that we would know every aspect of the design before the franchisees begin building according to the prototype.”
He adds, “The fact we have built the first one now allows us to have all the necessary information to provide franchisees with in-depth knowledge and experience when they get ready to build these themselves. We wanted to make sure this Phoenix property was the greenest property of any Motel 6 that had ever been built, and we have succeeded in that.”
The Northlake-Speedway location achieved LEED for New Construction (NC) 2.2 Certified level in July 2010. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), this facility is the first economy class hotel to be LEED certified (at any level). (There are currently 64 LEED certified hotels in the United States.)
Early in the process, the company hired BOKA Powell of Dallas, TX as the architectural firm to design the new Motel 6 structure. As a limited service property, the Northlake-Speedway Motel 6 features a simple design, yet the basics for a safe and comfortable stay are provided.
The three story building contains a lobby with check in counter and food/beverage area; guest rooms; a manager’s apartment (a staple in corporate-owned properties; a recommended option for franchisees). Back of house operations are facilitated with maintenance rooms, breakrooms, and laundry rooms.
On the public front, the new Motel 6 design features a modern interior and exterior design. Both aesthetics and functionality were considered of utmost importance, and guest rooms were a central focus. To arrive at a final design for these spaces, Accor NA conducted a design competition in which franchisees and guests provided input on plans submitted by numerous firms.
Ultimately, an interior design from London firm Priestmangoode was chosen. Sleek, simple furnishings, wood effect flooring, and ambient lighting characterize these rooms where comfort and efficiency were twin goals. Available with a queen bed, or two doubles, the rooms also contain a corner sitting area, an entertainment unit with a 32″ flat screen television, and a wardrobe. The bathrooms feature a double door entry, granite countertop, a raised vessel sink, and walk in shower with molded seating.
Function was also a significant aim in the guest room redesign, and several notable strategies moved those spaces toward that goal. For instance, the entertainment center not only houses a television, it also conceals a doorless wardrobe behind it. The unit features a multimedia panel which enables guests to plug in laptop computers, mp3 players, and CD players.
A Chat With Greg Ammon, Vice President, New Hotel Construction, Accor North America
What are your responsibilities at Accor North America (NA)? How long have you worked for the company? As VP of new hotel construction, I was hired specifically to oversee the Phoenix prototype project three years ago. I also provide technical assistance for our development in Mexico. Now that the Phoenix design exists, my involvement will change somewhat in the Motel 6 portion to involve coordinating with franchisees and assuring they continue that prototype and the brand standards. I will also maintain the prototype for any possible technical changes to make sure our product is always up to date.
What are some of the broad changes you’ve witnessed in facility construction during your career? Technology and products are the big areas. Products don’t change as fast as technology, but they do change, and they change significantly. One example is asbestos, which used to be used extensively as an insulation product. Then it was found to be harmful. But as products change they become more efficient. Where a job used to require 2″ of insulation, now we can do it with a 1⁄2″ of a newer insulation.
What other projects are you working on now? I am currently working on major renovations to our Novotel hotel in New York City. It is a 33 story building with 480 rooms, and it’s been undergoing major renovation for the last year and a half. Related to the Phoenix design, we presently have franchisees in Canada looking at the prototype. And we have done some development of a Motel 6 prototype for Mexico. That design will be ready for architects to look at soon.
Further, the wood effect laminate flooring used in the guest rooms is sourced from 80% pre-consumer recycled material; this also eliminates the maintenance related to having carpet in guest rooms. Carpet is only present in hallways.
A major change to the lobby area is the presence of a food and beverage self-serve area. Historically, Motel 6 has not offered this amenity on-site, and guests need to leave the property if they need food or drink. So this addition of vending machines and microwaves for guest use removes this potential inconvenience for them.
Testing New Systems And Technologies
Appearance counts for a lot in the new Motel 6 prototypes, but behind the scenes measures are just as important to operations. The first strategy was to site the building in an east/west orientation in order to prevent the sun from directly shining onto the long sides of the building. Low-e tinted windows and a reflective white roof are used to deflect heat from the building, and light colored pavement in the parking lot was also chosen for that purpose.
Fluorescent lamps are used in the guest rooms. There are LEDs in public areas; all of the downlighting (or recessed cans) uses this type of lighting. This includes the corridors, lobby, front desk lighting, and the tower element on the exterior of the building.
This is the first foray into LED lighting for Motel 6, and Ammon explains, “we were trying to make this a very efficient building. And this location is somewhat of a testing ground for the particular LED product and the technology overall to assure us it is worthwhile. It has proven itself as a worthy investment.” Meanwhile, the parking lots use metal halide lamps with timers.
Water conservation efforts in restrooms and other plumbing applications include low flow aerators for faucets and shower heads and 1.1 gallon low flow toilets. On the exterior, landscape plantings native to the Texas climate were specified to minimize the amount of watering required to maintain them. “We used buffalo grass for the lawns,” says Ammon. “That and the drip type irrigation system we’ve installed have contributed to a fairly significant water savings.”
The irrigation system operates on a web based software system that monitors the local weather and adjusts irrigation accordingly. “If it is supposed rain tomorrow, it will not let it irrigate the next day,” explains Ammon. “But if the rain doesn’t happen, the system will irrigate the next day, because it knows the rain did not occur.”
Givens and Associates of Lakewood, CO was chosen to provide electrical and mechanical services, and while the firm often works on hospitality projects, Ammon notes “they were quite excited about some of the things we were doing. Normally, you’re not able to include the kinds of things we did in an economy brand hotel.” These items he refers to include three systems that impact the HVAC aspects of the property—a solar thermal heating system, an energy recovery system, and wireless occupancy sensors in guest rooms.
Commenting on the solar thermal heating system, Ammon says, “Selecting the system was an interesting process, because as much as people might think this technology is ‘up and running,’ it was difficult to find a local vendor to provide what we needed.”
Sited on the roof, this system supplements the property’s hot water needs. Several hundred tubes filled with glycol work to absorb heat from the sun, which is then transferred through a piping system to the distribution system inside. “On clear days, the system can provide all hot water needs to the building,” says Ammon. “The system also provides supplemental heat to the public areas of the building during the winter.”
He continues, “If a tube breaks, it can be exchanged easily by staff. The tubes don’t tend to break in the hail situations that we have [in Northlake], but if they do, they can be replaced in about 15 minutes for $35.
“The system is not standard to the Phoenix prototype,” he explains. “It is highly recommended, but whether the franchisees will choose to do it—it’s a fairly significant upfront cost—that something we’re yet to see. We chose to do it for this project both for LEED and because we wanted to learn. It seems to be working, and if it does for us, we will likely continue.”
Another strategy being tested at the Northlake-Speedway location is energy recovery. This facility system captures the exhaust air from guest room bathrooms. “The heat or cold in the air leaving those rooms is recovered,” explains Ammon, “and an energy recovery system on the roof then returns that cool or heat back into the building and assists with heating or cooling. It is not the same air; it simply recovers the heat or cold from the air and then treats fresh air entering the building.”
Ammon cites this system as another strategy that franchisees may or may not choose to implement in their locations, since it may be cost-prohibitive. “It’s really a decision about energy usage,” he says. “They can simply exhaust that air into the atmosphere, or they can choose to recover it.”
Another first at this facility is the implementation of a wireless occupancy sensor system to manage the heating and cooling of guest rooms. The sensors are connected to room air conditioners which allows management to choose designated set temperatures and setbacks using a web based system.
Ammon explains, “We can select room 222, for instance, and instruct the system to regulate the temperature to stay between 78°[F] and 65°, no matter what a guest might choose to do. When guests leave their room, the occupancy sensor knows that and will cause the HVAC system to return to the chosen setback temperature. In the summer, it would set it up to 78°; in the winter it would set it down to 65°. And when the guest returns to the room, it turns on in a very short period of time. Our expectation is to bring it back to the guest’s pre-set temperature within 15 minutes. The guests set their preferred temperature on the thermostat when they check into their room.”
Motel 6 has conducted studies with wireless occupancy sensors at some existing properties. And Ammon notes that while this resulted in significant savings, the company has not done an overall move to wireless yet. “But it’s something we are looking at seriously, and it will likely happen in the near future,” he says. “We would expect to see our franchisees use it, because it has a very quick payback. It is not that difficult to add wiring in new construction, but wireless is very effective in any kind of retrofit.”
Resource Conservation Strategies: Old And New
The Phoenix design incorporates resource conservation strategies already in practice throughout Motel 6 facilities. These strategies include the disposal of hazardous waste with fluorescent lamp and battery recycling programs. Says Ammon, “We’ve had a significant program for both of these waste streams in our hotels and our corporate properties since 2007. Providing documentation of those practices was part of our LEED application, and we must do this in order to keep our LEED certification ongoing.”
The Motel 6 practice is to send spent lamps to a vendor in boxes located at each property. The vendor then disassembles the lamps in order to recover the mercury contained therein.
Two new resource conservation strategies introduced as part of the Phoenix design are upgraded laundry facilities and a salt water pool. Washers and dryers are high efficiency; a high force washer spins linens to remove most moisture before they go into the dryers.
“The other thing we’ve done with the laundry facilities is use an ozone injection system,” says Ammon. “This type of system eliminates the need for bleach products, and it also allows us to wash using cold water while reaping the same disinfectant and cleanliness benefits as compared to a hot water system.”
For those Motel 6 locations that offer a pool, the Northlake property has pioneered a salt water system. Ammon explains the reason was mainly to reduce maintenance demands. “In our opinion, it keeps a much cleaner pool,” Ammon says. “And the fact that it does not require daily testing and chemicals typical with a chlorine pool is key. There were slightly higher first costs, but not enough to have made a significant difference for us.”
Going For LEED
“We decided to pursue LEED shortly after signing the contract with the general contractor,” says Ammon. “Construction began in January 2009, and we made the decision to pursue LEED certification by February.”
He continues, “We did not have LEED in mind when initially working on the design of this project. We felt like it was out of our reach for financial reasons and other obstacles. But as the project progressed, we found ourselves with a budget that allowed us to do so. We did have to bite the bullet on the consulting costs for the paperwork involved in LEED certification.”
Operating thousands of hospitality properties throughout the world gives Accor purchasing power which affected the choices that were able to be made for the Phoenix design. “In selecting the suppliers,” says Ammon, “we perform a very rigorous bidding process in our procurement department with a performance specification that we give to vendors to assure they meet the energy and/or quality standards of any product that we buy. And because we do worldwide bidding and procurement, this allows us to obtain very competitive pricing.”
In speaking on the opportunity for franchisees to renovate or build new according to the Phoenix design, Ammon says, “We highly recommend they follow the prototype; franchisees are provided the pricing that we procure for ourselves. However, if they do not use the same vendors we do, they must still meet the performance specification that [Accor NA] has established for products.”
This purchasing power played a part in the company’s decision to pursue LEED certification from the USGBC for the Northlake-Speedway facility. Since the project already included Accor’s existing green standards, evaluation of additional costs (including consulting fees) determined the pursuit would remain cost-effective.
Closing in on one year of operation for the Northlake-Speedway Motel 6, the Phoenix design appears to be serving the location well. There have been close to 14,000 room nights sold, representing hosting roughly 20,657 guests.
“Upon opening, we had to adjust some things in the facility—changes to the hot water heaters, for instance, to let the solar thermal system do what it is capable of, but at this point, we do not see the need for any major changes,” says Ammon.
Meanwhile, he and his team are keeping detailed records on systems performance, which includes comparing data to other Motel 6 properties. Web based meters are installed at Northlake, so water, gas, and electricity usage can be monitored on a minute by minute basis, if desired.
“This alerts us to any problems and it also allows us to compare usage,” explains Ammon. “For example, we are doing a test right now with the solar thermal heating system in which we will shut the system down for about two weeks and see how that affects the gas bill. We can do that very easily because of the separate meters that are in place. We estimate a 20% reduction in gas, a 20% reduction in electricity, and over 30% reduction in water usage. That is based on the products we’ve installed, the types of fixtures we specified, and the irrigation processes we are using on the property.”
In reflecting on the Phoenix design and this project specifically, Ammon says, “The most significant thing is that we have used Northlake as a test facility for a number of items, including LED lighting, solar thermal heating, and energy recovery. And the fact that we were able to install these items has paid off.”
This article was based on an interview with Ammon (www.accor-na.com).
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Name Of Organization: Motel 6. Type of Facility: New. Function: Hospitality. Location: Northlake, TX. Square Footage: 40,307. Budget: $4.2 million. Construction Timetable: Jan 2009 to October 2009. Cost Per Square Foot: $104 (construction costs only). Facility Owner: Motel 6. In-House Project Manager: Greg Ammon, vice president, new hotel construction, Accor North America. Architect: BOKA Powell. General Contractor/Construction Manager: Key Construction. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Givens and Associates. Structural Engineer: Hunter & Joiner, Inc. Interior Designer/Lighting Designer: Priestmangoode. Landscape Architect: La Terra Studio. Other Firms: INSPEC (LEED consultant).
Furniture: D.R. Gilcrest. Flooring: Tarkett (laminate and sheet vinyl). Carpet: Interface. Ceilings: Painted gypsum. Paint: ICI. Building Products/Systems: Verdant (motion sensing thermostats). Security System Components: General Lock. Fire Alarm Components: Mircom; Sensor System. Other Safety Equipment: Mircom; Rapid Response (a Tyco company) (sprinklers); Sensor System. Lighting Products: Cree Lighting (LEDs); GE (LEDs and compact fluorescents); Gotham Lighting; Lamar Lighting; Lithonia; Synergy; Tech Light (metal halide lamps). HVAC Equipment: Friedrich; GE; Trane (energy recovery system). Solar Thermal Heating System: Hobson Air Conditioning. Roofing: Johns Manville. Signage: Barnet Signs (fabricator); Glo Bright (exit signs). Window Treatments: Quiltcraft (drapes). Elevators: Schindler. Washers/Dryers: Unimac. Ozone Injection System: Arctic Ozone. Drip Irrigation Software: HydroPoint.