A hotel that treats the environment as well as its guests (San Diego Transcript)

If you’ve traveled recently, you’ve likely experienced hotels attempting to reduce their expenses as energy costs skyrocket. There’s the card on your bed suggesting that your towels and linens not be recycled each night to help the environment, and reminding you to turn off the lights when leaving the room.

I recently stayed at a hotel that’s taken this to the highest possible level, incorporating a wide range of technologies and other innovations to reduce its operating costs, while making it the most environmentally sensitive hotel in California and one of the two most energy-efficient in the United States, all without creating any inconvenience to its guests. As a result, the hotel has lowered its energy costs by 40 percent compared to conventional hotels.

The hotel was created with the objective of having an absolute minimal impact to the environment, beginning with the design and construction, and carried through to its day-to-day operations.

The Bardessono is a 62-room upscale hotel located in the town of Yountville in Napa County. Yountville is one of my favorite vacation destinations, with the highest per-capita concentration of Michelin-star restaurants and located in the center of Napa’s wine-growing region.

Jim Treadway, the hotel’s general manager, explained to me how the Bardessono was built with the intention of creating a hotel that provides guests with a luxurious experience while simultaneously protecting the environment. And it certainly has succeeded. It’s one of only two hotels in the United States that’s been awarded the LEED Platinum certification, received in February 2010 after being in operation for a year.

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to provide third-party verification that a building was designed and built in a way that improves performance in six areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. Certification levels include Platinum, Gold, Silver and Standard, in descending order.

Buildings are judged on dozens of factors; examples include the amount of light pollution that the building creates at night, the availability of alternative transportation for its guests, the efficiency of watering the grounds, the use of recycled material in its construction, and the energy efficiency of the rooms. Also included is the long-term savings in energy, as a result of its design and construction methods, and its success in minimizing the carbon footprint during construction and during operation of the property.

Among the innovations that the Bardessono used to meet the Platinum criteria is the installation of 72 geothermal wells. These work with heat pumps to provide all of the heating and cooling of the guestrooms, as well as supplying the hot water. The hotel also installed 947 solar panels on the flat roofs of the buildings, which are invisible to the guests or the neighboring community.

One of the key elements used to reduce energy consumption is each room’s automated solar shade that covers the large glass window in the room. These high-tech shades, which look like modern venetian blinds, are on the outside of the window, and are designed to keep heat in or out when unoccupied. The slats tilt and the shade opens and closes automatically, depending on the weather, time of day and the temperature in the room. In addition to the shade, the thermostat and the lighting are automatic and activated by specific events.

When a room is either unrented or unoccupied, all of the lights turn off, the thermostat is set to a higher or lower temperature (depending on the season), and the solar shades are closed. When a guest checks in at the reception area, a signal is sent to the room to adjust the temperature and open the solar blinds. When the guest approaches the room and waves his electronic room card near the door to unlock it, some of the lights will turn on.

Each time the door is opened, the thermostat will scan the room for 20 minutes to determine if the room is occupied. If it’s not, the solar shades will close, the lights will turn off and the temperature will go back to the preset point. When returning to the room, the process is reversed. When in the room, you can push a button to indicate either to make up the room or do not disturb, and these preferences are transmitted to the front desk.

When a guest checks out of the hotel, a remote check of the room is initiated to insure everything is operating correctly. If you are a returning guest, the system will remember your preferences.

Throughout the hotel, attention is paid to the smallest detail, from the use of organic toiletries to their cleaning solutions. Instead of using solvents, the hotel uses water that’s gone through an ionizing process, turning it into an effective cleaner.

Water bottles are eliminated by using an on-site system that filters and produces both flat and sparkling water, and a huge on-site organic garden provides the vegetables for the highly rated restaurant.

When it comes to material usage, the bedding and mattresses are made of organic material, and the wooden walnut floors and the exterior cypress wooden siding are all recycled material from old buildings in the area. And all supplies for the hotel come from within 500 miles.

While the hotel has paid attention to all of these details, it’s still one that exudes warmth and character and was very relaxing. I found it to be one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed at, with its modern architecture, beautiful landscaping and amenities. Rooms are located on either of two floors, each with outdoor sitting areas. Service is superb, almost as if they know who you are and your preferences.

Room rates are competitive with the better hotels in the area and begin at about $400 per night. (www.bardessono.com)