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ASHEVILLE, NC-Luxury hotel–meet basic, eco-friendly heating. The Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park, opening later this month, will see more than half of its hot water produced with solar power.

Owned by Biltmore Farm and operated by Hilton, the 165-room hotel, LEED-registered hotel is set in the heart of Biltmore Park Town Square, the largest mixed-use district outside of the city’s downtown. When it opens on August 27, the Hilton will have one of the largest such installations in western North Carolina.

“It’s really about who we are as an organization. The Cecil family [the owners of Biltmore Farm and descendants of the Vanderbilts who built Biltmore from 1889] has always been about sustainability,” says Ron Storto, vice president of the hospitality division, Biltmore Farm.

Other hotels in the complex also have recycling and other sustainability programs in place, possibly making Biltmore Farms one of the first sustainable neighborhoods in the United States, Storto said. But up until now, none of Biltmore’s hostelries, and few in the United States, use solar power to heat water.

“FLS Energy [an Asheville-based solar energy systems company] enlightened us many years ago about how many sunny days there are in this party of the country,” Storto says. The concept is not completely new elsewhere in the world: a Best Western in Kelowna, BC, Canada, was the first in that country to use solar energy to heat water, and Bewley’s Hotel at Dublin Airport installed a system in 2006.

The 58-panel system will provide the Hilton Asheville with more than 2,300 gallons of hot water daily, comprising some 60% of the hotel’s hot water needs, including heating the pool. The system should eliminate 25 tons of carbon dioxide and save about $10,000 per year in fuel costs, about 30% of utility costs. There is redundancy, so guests will have hot water on overcast days.

The solar system will have less water to heat, as well, as usage will be reduced by 30% through the installation of low-flow toilets, showerheads and sink fixtures. Other sustainable technologies at the hotel include the use of chlorofluorocarbon light bulbs, and a recycling program for guests and staff. Select staff will even wear uniforms made out of regenerated plastic bottles.

Chemicals have also been addressed. Emissions of toxins will be reduced by the use of low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) during construction, and ongoing utilization of environmentally friendly cleaning products and chemicals.

Guests may accept shuttle service in an alternative fuel shuttle, which reduces the burning of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. The hotel will offer preferred parking for energy efficient hybrid vehicles. Additionally, guests may choose to bicycle as an alternative to driving, ultimately reducing the use of gasoline and the production of carbon monoxide.

Balancing green with guest comfort was another challenge, particularly when some of the technology is new. The standard toilet, for example, uses two gallons per flush. The Hilton’s equipment will use 1.28 gallons per flush. Storto even installed one of the showerheads in his own home bath to check the water flow. “You’re taking a leap of faith this technology would work,” Storto says.

Traditionally, hotels don’t stabilize until their third year of operation, so getting hard results will take some time. The return on some aspects of the green building will be hard to quantify, though Storto says that company research indicated that guests are more likely to stay in a sustainable hotel. Meeting planners also are more likely now to book such facilities.

“We’ll get a feel from our surveys, which will ask if [going green] helped,” he says. Even so, the company will maintain its commitment to environmentalism beyond the Hilton. “We’re local owners and operators. You have to walk the walk. All of our managers are incentivized to make their hotels more green every year.”

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