Via Treehugger: What we do at yök to have our guests use less electricity and still have a good time
When you design an apartment for holiday letting, everything has to be easy and self-explanatory. At yök, we want our guests to be able to reduce the ecological footprint of their stay without sacrificing the experience. Investing a bit into home automation was therefore necessary.
A key card system in an apartment for a minimum of 4 people is no use- you can’t force people to take out one of the cards when they leave. Instead we believe that if we make it straightforward enough, people will participate. We installed a lovely ON/OFF switch by Fontini in the entrance of each apartment. When you go out, you turn it off, knowing that everything electrical switches off except the fridge and a plug in the kitchen in case you need to leave something charging. It’s easy and you don’t have to look after a key card, as the entrance door opens with a code.
We also installed sensors in all of the windows and balcony doors, so that the AC/heating system switches off automatically when you open a window. Since the apartments are quite large (2-4 bedrooms), and the system is centralised for each one, this is important in a place with a climate like Barcelona (quite cold in the winter and really hot in the summer).
We were debating for a while whether to install AC at all, but in the end we had to give in, in order to provide comfort for people used to different climates. After analysing various systems and brands with local energy expert Xavier Mor from Renòwatt, we decided to go for Mitsubishi’s Ductless Air-Conditioning and Heating Units. It is ENERGY STAR® certified for its energy use both for cooling and heating. With one system doing both, we did not have to install a secondary system to heat the place in winter. However, we believe that our guests will hardly use the AC/heating if they follow our guidelines of traditional ways to deal with the local climate.
When it is hot, first open the windows and get a breeze in there! Cross ventilation does wonders. If there is no breeze (like now in August!), use the ceiling fans in the communal areas. If you are out during the day, close the traditional sunblinds so the rooms stay nice and cool for when you get back later in the day.
Insulation is also key, both in the summer and winter as well as for acoustic reasons. We insulated all our walls with natural wood fibres, and managed to insulate the traditional wooden sliding balcony doors. Double glazing was relatively easy to install, but getting rid of the thermal bridge in the gap where the doors slide in was trickier. In the end, our very talented carpenter, Maño, managed to insulate the doors by fitting them with rubber bands and brushes.
After having sorted out the climate, we looked at everything else that consumed energy and managed to only get A+ certified appliances in. Together with the local lighting experts Anoche, we fitted out the whole place with LED lighting. In places like corridors the lights switch on and off thanks to motion detectors. By doing most of the lighting ourselves and using a lot of indirect LED strips, we saved a lot of material. Revamping old lamps from the second hand market was also fun. The wooden ceiling fans and recyclable aluminium reading lights are traditional designs, locally produced by Faro Barcelona.
To date, we don’t have solar power yet for two reasons. First, we don’t own the building and therefore the rooftop, where the panels would have to be installed, is not ours. While this might be able to be negotiated with the owners, the current spanish law on taxing solar power is not negotiable. Sadly, our current government, with the excuse of the crisis, wants to drastically cut its subsidies and even retroactively cut subsidies for existing solar projects, resulting in homeowners and companies facing insolvency. Spain would then possibly be the only country with a tax solely on those who generate their own electricity. So until the Spanish government comes to their senses and gets rid of the proposed “sun tax”, we are not prepared to invest into solar power.
But what we can do now, is join Som Energia, a renewable energy cooperative. By becoming a member, Som Energia provides us with electricity and certifies that the amount of sold energy has been generated by wind turbines, solar panels and biogas plants and invests directly in renewable projects to develop a sustainable economy.
We also believe in saving energy by making the consumption visible. The company Habitat Projects, who also set up our home automation system, installed electricity and water monitors for each apartment. We will use this information to get guests to compete for the most responsible amongst them, and will reward those that manage to use less during their stay.
If you have any more ideas regarding reducing the energy consumption of short term lettings, please share them!