A spokesman for Inncoms parent company, Honeywell International Inc., says even though the override capability has been made public, we have not seen widespread use of it by guests. Hotels continue to set bypasses at guests desired temperature on request, he said.
The humble hotel wall thermostat, once just a mechanical temperature sensor and fan-speed switch, has become an infrared heat and motion detector wirelessly networked into building controls that cut costs by reducing energy consumption. Many are tied to door switches, shutting off when people leave the room or even open a window or balcony door.
Sensors can be fooled by sound sleepers and erroneously shut off air in the middle of the night. Guests wake up and realize a quick wave of the arm will bring back A/C. Hotels acknowledge this happens. They also say lack of cleaning and maintenance can render many hotel thermostats inaccurate by as much as 20%.
Overall, hotels say new systems increase guest comfort and reduce costs. Some can measure and adjust humidity in a room. Limiting how far guests can push thermostats reduces maintenance expenses (sometimes making a room too cold can freeze up air-conditioning condensers.) And new room control systems, which have become much more affordable for hotels, comply with tougher energy-conservation building codes and sometimes qualify for tax rebates.
When it comes to thermostats, the world has evolved, says Randy Gaines, Hiltons vice president operations and new project development for the Americas. Hiltons goal is for simple, passive control so guests will be comfortable without playing with the thermostat. Were getting far fewer complaints than we used to years ago, he says.
The New York Hilton has a system that keeps unoccupied rooms at 78 degrees, then automatically sets the thermostat to 74 when a guest checks in. The system cools the room down in about 5 minutes. Companywide, new temperature control systems have helped reduce energy use by 4% since 2009.
Thermostat big brothering is a sensitive subject for some hotel companies. InterContinental Hotels Group, which includes Kimpton, Holiday Inn and other brands, was lukewarm to discussing its energy policy. This topic isnt a fit right now, a spokeswoman says.
Steve Torbett, a produce manager from Charlotte who has spent 30 years on the road, keeps track of which hotels he stays in that use motion sensors on thermostats and refuses to book them in the future. His worst experience was in Miami where a thermostat shut off air so frequently he woke up five times. The timer was pretty short and it was just miserable waking up about every hour and having to wave your arms around, he says.
He says he has had to hunt down override codes less frequently because some hotels are getting better at programming the devices. On the flip side, some new thermostats block unauthorized overrides. Tim Fountain, who spends 150 nights a year in hotels managing sales for a technology company, thinks central limits imposed by hotels make it harder to get rooms to desired temperatures. He carries a travel alarm clock with a thermometer and says 30% of the rooms he has been in have thermostats that misreport room temperature. Worst case: a thermostat that said it was 65 when it was really 72. It just gets to be silly, he says.
Hotel consultants and owners say that more than half of all hotel and motel rooms have heating/air-conditioning units mounted on an exterior wall, called Package Terminal Air Conditioning or PTAC. They are notoriously noisy and nicknamed wall-bangers in the industry. If the units arent cleaned monthly and switches and controls well maintained, their temperature sensing can be inaccurate by 12% to 20%, says Greg Posmantur, chief executive of JYI Hospitality Management & Consultants of Cypress, Texas.
If its a limited-service hotel, youre often dealing with tight budgets, and units may not get cleaned frequently, he says.Robert Rauch, a hotel owner and consultant from San Diego, says he has thermostat problems himself on the road. He sets thermostats to 55 to find the minimum temperature the hotel allows, usually 68 or 69. Our hotels allow guests to go down to 65, but lots of hotels are only 68 to 70, says Mr. Rauch, chief executive of RAR Hospitality. His company manages 23 hotels.
Thermostat issues dont rank high in Expedia or TripAdvisor hotel complaints. But some travelers are plenty hot. A reviewer of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Northeast in Wichita, KS, complained of having to get up and wave at the thermostat. This is a horrible way to treat a guest. The hotel responded saying the thermostat vendor assured us that this will not be a problem. But after the complaint, the hotel decided to disable the motion sensors. In an interview, the manager said the hotel hasnt had thermostat complaints since.
Hiltons Mr. Gaines says most often when motion and heat sensors arent picking up guests, its a programming problem.
Mr. Callahan, the Houston-based frequent traveler, says he thinks hotels set thermostats in the summer to show temperatures lower than they actually are. He hunts for bypass instructions online. Theyre trying to fool you, he says. Some of these places rig the thing so you cannot get to the temperature you like.