What you need to know about hotel energy management systems

A typical hotel room can be unoccupied nearly 70 percent of the time. In addition, hotel guests are much less concerned about saving energy in your hotel than at their home. Therefore, many hoteliers pay to heat, cool, light, and power TVs for a guestroom with no one in it. How can hoteliers avoid this? One great solution is an energy management system (EMS).

The basics:

An EMS is a combination of hardware and software that works to lower hotel energy consumption and improve maintenance operations.

These systems utilize in-room occupancy sensors to determine if a guest is present and then applies specific guestroom profiles that adjust lighting and power accordingly.

An EMS also uses data collection and program scheduling to increase hotel operational and maintenance efficiency.

The overall goal of these systems is to reduce energy use and maintenance while improving the overall guest experience.

The benefits:

Lower energy use: In-use devices and lighting in an unoccupied room, such as lights and TVs, will be turned off. In addition, thermostats can drift to a temperature that requires less demand on the HVAC system.

Improve guest experience: An EMS can prep a guestroom at check-in to arrival state. This setting adjusts the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, turns on welcoming room music, provides a welcome greeting on the TV, and turns on necessary lighting. An EMS also recognizes when a room is occupied by a guest, which can help avoid unnecessary housekeeping disruptions.

Optimize preventative maintenance: An EMS can track HVAC run-times and notify hotel maintenance when filter and battery updates are required. This feature allows proactive maintenance before guest complaints and avoids generic, unnecessary replacements.

Forecast HVAC problems: An EMS can help identify faulty or failing HVAC equipment by analyzing run-times as compared to similar units. This feature alerts you to urgent maintenance needs, such as when room temperatures drop too low during the winter season.

One of the most common concerns about an EMS is that they shut off while hotel guests are sleeping due to lack of motion in the guestroom. After all, no hotel owner wants guests’ complaints in the middle of the night about their AC unit not working due to a faulty occupancy sensor reading. While this was a concern with earlier occupancy sensors, sensor technology has become infinitely more accurate in the past few years. A good sensor setup with supplemental sensors can result in a very accurate room reading.

Below are the six major in-room components that can make up a typical EMS.

Smart thermostats: These wireless thermostats typically have internal occupancy sensors built-in. Some of them can have PIR (Passive Infrared) ability that detects infrared radiation of the guests and identifies occupied rooms by comparing it to unoccupied ones. Then, it can adjust guestroom temperature and fan settings accordingly. Also, networked thermostats can track HVAC run-times and system usage.

Supplemental occupancy sensors: These sensors are an effective solution when guestroom geometry does not allow thermostat sensors to cover all areas effectively. These sensors are mounted on the guestroom wall or ceiling. Some of the sensors with PIR feature detect the presence of a sleeping guest. This helps EMS to work the HVAC system properly during the night.

Smart outlets: Smart outlets can monitor power consumption and control any electric device in guestrooms. Outlets can stop or engage the flow of power to one or both outlet plugs. This allows guestroom lighting, appliances, and televisions in vacant rooms to be turned off automatically.

Smart light switches: Similar to smart outlets, smart switches operate just like a standard light switch, yet have the ability to stop power flow to lights. They are controlled by commands from a smart thermostat, occupancy sensor, or hotel (Property Management Systems) PMS.

Smart door and window sensors: Smart sensors serve as supplemental occupancy detectors that wirelessly recognize the opening and closing of entry doors, balcony doors, and windows. This data is then sent to the thermostat for necessary adjustments (e.g., shutting off the HVAC system when the balcony door opens).

Smart TV: With Smart TVs, hotel guests can stream music, watch movies, connect to social media, and even make dinner reservations. When connected to a hotel PMS, front desk staff can display a welcome screen that activates upon guest check-in.

Occupancy detection and scheduling are the key mechanisms for controlling guestroom environment. Please see below for an example of EMS guestroom profile per occupied/unoccupied rooms in both warm and cold climates.

Cost considerations

Energy is the second largest hotel expense. Only staffing costs you more than your energy expenses, and an EMS is a great solution to help reduce wasted energy. But here’s the bottom line: What does it cost?

The cost of a hotel EMS can vary greatly based on several major factors, including:

Level of implementation: Does the hotel plan to install only guestroom occupancy sensors or a full EMS tied into the hotel’s PMS?

Guestroom geometry: Can the guestroom thermostat sensor cover the main occupancy areas (e.g., bed, desk, chair)? If not, supplemental sensors will be needed.

Vendor specified: What is the pricing and quality of EMS, which can vary greatly between vendors?

Upfront Cost: A basic EMS implementation can range in cost from $300 to $500 per key for a typical property. This basic EMS system would include a smart/networked thermostat with a built-in occupancy sensor to provide energy savings.

ROI: Remember, upfront cost is not the only important consideration. Implementation reduces hotel energy costs and impacts how quickly the return can be realized. The ROI on these systems varies by several main factors:

Project climate: The higher the heating and cooling demand, the quicker the payback.

Energy costs: The higher the gas and electrical utility rates, the quicker the payback.

Hotel occupancy: The lower the occupancy rate, the quicker the payback.

Property size: The higher the key count, the quicker the payback.

While these factors significantly impact energy savings, a basic EMS can reduce energy costs by at least 15 percent. In some cases of optimal efficiency design, hoteliers have even seen energy costs reduced by nearly 50 percent.

Major players:

There are several major companies offering EMS products in the hospitality space. Here are the top five:


For over a decade, Base4 Founding Partner Blair Hildahl has translated his extensive experience in hotel design/construction into regular articles and publications that serve to educate developers, builders, and entrepreneurs on the nuances of A/E design efficiency and excellence. As a regular attendee of all the major hotel development and finance conferences, he is also a speaker and contributor at many of these events. Reach him at BlairH@base-4.com.

Blair Hildahl


Base4 is a non-traditional A/E firm holding to the best practices of the technology industry. Base4 provides all architectural and engineering services in-house with a business model that attracts the majority of its clients from the hospitality industry. While able to produce A/E design for all types of products, hospitality leaders, such as Hilton and Marriott, have made the company the preferred vendor for hotel design. As a result, Base4 has produced hundreds of hotel designs and was a 2016 and 2017 Inc 5000 honoree recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. For more information, visit base-4.com.