Comment, Hospitality/Leisure, Lighting Controls

Lighting controls in hotels: things could be so much better…

Ouch! We’ve all done it… that sudden sensation of stubbing a toe in a dark hotel room. Painfully pulled from our state of semi-sleep by stumbling over a piece of furniture we haven’t got because we’re in a room that’s not our own.

If only the lights were easy to operate, if only the switches were easy to find, and then… if only it could be simple to choose the lighting state that we want: perhaps dim light so I could leave my spouse snoozing while shuffling off for a midnight bathroom trip.

For the guest’s convenience, lighting in any part of the room should be controllable from the bed. There should be no need to get out of bed to extinguish the entrance lighting. And while we’re on the subject of control from bed, let’s ensure that the curtains can be closed from bed too.

Engravings are great, but not so clear in the dark

I recently stayed in a splendid Regency-period hotel, replete with lovely brass light switches, each thoughtfully engraved with its zone of control, which provided more clues to their operation than many hotel bedside light switches. (Although I am still puzzling over why there were two ‘bed’ switches when there was just one bed in the room.) However, in the dark, these were useless to me because I couldn’t see the words, and much nocturnal bedside fumbling was necessary to get the lights on. In fact, I only discovered the engraving the next morning when I threw open the curtains.


Backlit buttons

Softly illuminated backlit button engraving – that’s the answer. Thinking further, the backlighting should not be blue (which regular readers of Lux will know is not conducive to deep sleep), but instead something more soothing; a dim green glow is ideal.

Careful consideration when designing lighting controls in a hotel room, particularly with regard to the user interface, can therefore significantly enhance the guest experience, saving stubbed toes around the world.


Dramatic improvements

Yet there’s so much more that a control system, even one primarily installed to operate the lighting, can do to enhance a hotel guest room; quite apart from helping to avoid the nightmare of painful experiences in the dark.

Careful consideration of lighting controls in a hotel room can significantly enhance the guest experience”

A control system can make dramatic improvements for both the guests, in terms of convenience and comfort, and also for the hotel operators, in terms of energy saving. The two are not mutually exclusive. Lighting controls are positioned in the right space to perform other useful functions – in this application, determining whether a guest is in the room.

A control system can determine when a guest is using the space using a combination of occupancy detection (sensors, which of course must be silent), logging of guest interactions with the system (such as lights being switched on with the helpfully engraved backlit buttons on keypads being pressed), door-opening switches, feedback from the door keycard reader, and even information supplied directly from the hotel’s room-management software.

Once it has been established whether anyone’s in the room, a host of energy-saving measures can be deployed. Every guest has a different preferred set-point temperature for the heating, but most of us use the ‘whack it up to full’ technique to make adjustments. However, the temperature does not have to be maintained precisely once the room is vacant.

Lighting, heating and curtains could all work under the same control system

For example, if the control system determines that a room is empty, then not only can the temperature set-point in the room be set back slightly, but the range of allowable temperature can be widened. This is because it’s not only the temperature that matters, but the permitted drift from that point. A wider temperature range means less cycling of the heating system, saving energy.


Kill the keycard hack

Finally let’s address the ‘keycard hack’. Entering a room, often carrying baggage, searching for the keycard slot to activate lighting is an annoyance, an inconvenience, and also unnecessary if the room is equipped with the kind of guest-presence logic outlined above. Guests often resent the rather crude method of energy saving that the keycard represents, often opting to ‘hack’ it by leaving a business card or spare keycard in the slot-switch anyway, negating any savings.

Also, if the room’s thermostat is ‘switched off’ during periods of absence, as is often the case with card systems, then the total energy required to reheat the room to the guest’s desired temperature on their return is actually higher than if an intelligent control system were simply to use a set-back temperature when vacancy is detected.

The days of single-function controls for hotel rooms are over; a system that controls both lighting, heating and curtains can enhance the guest experience in several ways, both subtle and significant, and can make a key contribution to a hotel’s energy-saving targets at the same time.

Sam Woodward is education leader for Europe and Africa at Lutron