Planet Traveler: North America’s Greenest Lodging Facility?

10/25/2010 By Glenn Hasek

TORONTO—A three-floor, 114-bed hostel in Toronto that will open within the next couple of weeks could very well be the most energy efficient lodging establishment in North America. Incorporating solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, geothermal and heat capture technologies, the “low carbon” hostel will produce 75 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable building its size. The hostel’s name is the Planet Traveler and co-developer Tom Rand says the property is by far the best in class for hostels and was built to the standards of a boutique hotel.

The cost for the energy-saving systems was $200,000, just 5 percent of the building’s $4 million cost. Rand says energy savings in dollars will be greater than the loan amount on the $200,000. “I am making money from day one,” he says.

Planet Traveler is located in a hip, multicultural area of Toronto. The building at one time was two separate buildings. A refurbishment brought the two together. An extra half story was added. Given the hostel’s close location to other buildings, it was a challenge to put in the geothermal system. The City of Toronto allowed a city-owned laneway next to the building to be used for the pipes. Eight 400-foot holes were drilled and a mile of pipe installed. A glycol solution runs through the pipe. During the colder months, heat is drawn out of the ground and during the warmer months heat is pushed into the ground using a heat transfer process.

“Instead of producing heat, you are just moving heat,” Rand says. “It is a very old technology.”

No CFLs, Only LED Lighting

On the rooftop of the building, where there is also a bar for hostel guests, a 12-panel solar thermal system helps to heat water and a 4.5-kilowatt photovoltaic system provides a portion of the building’s electricity. Unlike most green hotels, no compact fluorescent bulbs are used. Only LED lighting illuminates the building’s interior and exterior. Rand says all of the LED lighting combined draws power equivalent to a four-slice toaster. Motion sensors keep interior lighting on only when needed.

One of the most interesting technologies in the hostel is a . Each copper wastewater pipe is surrounded by Power-Pipe—copper tubing that captures heat from the wastewater. As hot water goes down the drain, heat is transferred to the incoming water. Each Power-Pipe is connected to six showers.

Rand’s partner on the project is Anthony Aarts. It was Aarts who approached Rand, author of the book, “Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: Ten Clean Technologies to Save Our World,” about becoming a financial partner in the hostel. Rand, who is a successful entrepreneur, liked the idea of trying to put together a low-carbon building.

The Planet Traveler goes beyond LEED Platinum when it comes to reducing a building’s carbon impact.

“I am not interested in LEED,” Rand says. “It is a dangerous distraction. I am showing you can hit the 75 percent [carbon reduction] mark easily without pursuing LEED. LEED does not go far enough when it comes to energy.”

Rand emphasizes that technologies such as geothermal, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic systems, etc. should be considered low hanging fruit.

“If you are not dealing with carbon, nothing else really matters,” he says.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.


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