Water and Energy Conservation
Located in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, near Banff and Jasper National Parks, Aurum Lodge is a small, family operated country inn. In recognition of the unique wilderness character and ecological sensitivity of the region, the inn was planned, built and has been operated as a sustainable eco-tourism business since 2000.
Following the choice of location for this "front-country" lodge, in a largely undeveloped area close to two major National Parks, management recognized that building this facility and attracting visitors to an undisturbed natural area could have a negative impact on the attraction and pristine, unpolluted character of the region. Thus, the various stages and features of the operation were, and continue to be, subject to environmental impact mitigation measures, covering all aspects of the business. They comprise a wide range of issues including resource and energy conservation; pollution and waste reduction; health and safety; purchasing and procurement; impact on wildlife and surroundings by both the business operation and guests; marketing to the right audience; and more. It was clear from the beginning that taking a holistic approach would make the most sense, since energy conservation addresses only a small portion of the overall impact a business can have on the environment. Yet, in energy conservation alone, Aurum Lodge has achieved some remarkable results.
In the planning and construction stages, location choice, building material selection and building design were considered to ensure minimal impact on the area, area users, guests and staff. Many energy saving measures were incorporated in the lodge, which have resulted in an energy efficient structure as well as a comfortable and healthy indoor living and working environment. Some of these measures include use of recycled/recyclable, non-toxic and energy efficient building materials, adoption of a passive solar design coupled with installation of high insulation values (R55 in the walls) and quality windows, maximization of day-light in rooms, and utilization of resource efficient appliances, fixtures and processes. Passive solar design elements include: south facing building orientation with 60% of the windows facing south; optimal window-to-wall ratio (13%); roof overhang designed to allow full sun in winter but no direct sun in summer; placement of warm rooms on the sunny side and "cold" rooms (e.g. utility) on the north side; thermal storage mass; and convection of warm air circulating from south side to north side of building. The lodge also places importance on educating guests about the opportunities available to reduce their impact on the environment and to counter the popular notion that sustainable living results in a loss of comfort.
Aurum Lodge operates off the electricity grid and is largely self-sufficient in terms of its energy supply, water supply, and wastewater treatment. Whereas many businesses in the region rely on generators running 24 hours a day, this development was designed to be energy efficient and rely primarily on renewable energy. Two-thirds of its electricity needs are realized by a 4 kW photo-voltaic system, providing 100% of the power on a good summer day. A hybrid hot water/heating system, which combines passive solar, solar hot water collectors, wood heating appliances and a propane boiler for back-up, supply the heat and hot water. Most recently, an interval timer was installed on the infloor and domestic hot water heater pumps. This timer has reduced running time of these two pumps by 50% without noticeable loss of heat and the annual energy savings are approximately 400 kWh. The total energy use, for the three buildings totalling 11 000 ft2 and an average occupancy of 7 persons, is 457.5 kWh per month. Active waste and water reduction measures reduce solid waste and effluent, and include a composting toilet (tied to four lodge rooms), partial grey-water heat recovery and a highly efficient sand filter septic treatment system.
Most visitors notice, comment on, and applaud the prominent photo-voltaic panels and solar hot water collectors on site, however, these features only account for one-third of the actual energy savings achieved. The bulk of the energy savings stem from structural/design improvements such as passive solar design, consistent use of energy/water saving appliances and fixtures, recovery measures, operating practices and an active conservation approach.
The project received financial contributions under the Commercial Building Incentive Program (CBIP) offered by Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency, which were channelled back into the renewable energy system. An energy efficiency study, compiled as part of the application for CBIP funding (and subsequent monitoring projects), found that the lodge uses 85% less fossil fuels, compared to a structure of same size and purpose, built and operated conventionally. Approximately 55 000 litres of propane are saved annually, avoiding the emission of approximately 83 tonnes of greenhouse gases per yearFootnote 1 (not taking into account the burning of 4-5 cords of wood a year).
Water consumption per person per day is 155 litres, less than half the Canadian average, despite an above average amount of laundry produced in this type of business.Footnote 2
The composting toilet in the lodge reduces water consumption by nearly 100 m³ annually, which translates into electricity savings of 225 kWh per year, which would otherwise be used to supply and dispose of this water.
On a busy summer day, the use of solar energy to produce the 25 kWh of electricity required allows the lodge to save 40 to 48 litres of propane every day, thus avoiding the emission of approximately 0.066 tonnes of greenhouse gases per day. In 2005, although a bad year for solar power due to local weather conditions, the photo-voltaic system still managed to produce 4387 kWh of electricity (61% of power produced).
At 2005 energy prices, cost savings are substantial at approximately $3000 per guest unit annually, with energy costs (utilities) in 2005 amounting to less than 3% of operating expenses. In other words, energy cost savings over a 35 year period will pay for the entire project!
Building costs, including all of the environmental features and materials, were approximately 30% higher than conventional construction. Payback from energy savings alone was originally calculated at 12 to 15 years; however, based on 2005 energy prices, this is now less than 10 years.
Other less tangible benefits resulting from clean air and water with a 90% reduction in generator run time, is a healthy indoor environment with minimal noise, reduced sick time for employees, and an increase in guest comfort.
The majority of guests appreciate the low-impact operation, resulting in direct marketing advantages and a high customer satisfaction ratio. A guest manual in every room explains the sensitivity of the area and the measures taken to reduce impact of this operation. Numerous guests have indicated that their stay has been an "eye-opener" for them and that they return to their home or office with the intention of implementing changes themselves. Thus, the sustainability approach taken at Aurum Lodge is having an impact far beyond the perimeter of this small property.
Awards and Recognition
- 2001 – ALTO award for Sustainable Tourism (Tourism Alberta)
- 2001 – 5 Green Leaf eco-rating under the Audubon Green Leaf environmental programme
- 2002 – Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Pollution Prevention Awards – Small Business Award
Owner / Operator
- Footnote 1
Calculated using a conversion factor of 1500 g/l taken from Canada's Greenhouse Gas inventory 1990-2000, Environment Canada
- Footnote 2
The average water consumption per person per day was 335 l/day in 2001 as referenced in Environment Canada's Water website
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