Lately, due to the increase in electricity prices, there is a lot of talk about energy expenditure. In any case, consumption has always been one of the main variable costs of holiday accommodation, along with cleaning and maintenance. That is why since 2011 we have always worked to reduce the cost as much as possible, aware that, at the same time, a reduction in consumption also allowed us to reduce the environmental impact of accommodation.
Below we explain how we manage and try to minimise the cost of each of the consumptions in Naturaki houses which we manage the maintenance and day to day and/or we have the opportunity to intervene directly in its rehabilitation.
There is a lot of talk about the price of electricity but for us, water is the real scarce commodity we have and is one of the supplies that worries us most of all. Electricity can be generated in many different ways and transported in a relatively simple way and from a great distance. For water you need nearby aquifers (obviously it is also possible to get it from far away or build desalination plants, but the cost is very high). I myself in Vilafreser, my hometown, remember that as a child there were three ponds throughout the year. There are currently none of these ponds left. Along with the greater depth and lower flow of many wells it clearly indicates that the water table has dropped.
In an accommodation the main consumption of water is, with a clear difference, the water that is spent to maintain the gardens. That is why, when we order the renovation of a garden, we always focus on it so that it has the minimum water consumption and in the advice we carry out we always recommend putting artificial turf, especially if they are gardens of less than 250 m2.
Placing artificial grass together with the drip irrigation and using native plants for the decoration of the garden we manage to stay in section 2 of water consumption even if the house has a pool and/or jacuzzi. In the houses that the garden was made with natural grass we try to minimise the irrigation times and watering during the most suitable hours, but the difference in consumption is very important and we find it inevitable to enter section 4 in the hottest months. In terms of costs, we estimate that the extra cost of a garden with artificial turf is amortised after about 5 years (lower water consumption and lower maintenance cost).
At the level of water consumption by guests in the day to day , consumption is extremely variable depending on the capacity of the house, according to our statistics can range from 130 liters per person per day in winter, up to 400-450 liters per person in the warmer months for houses with natural grass and 250-300 liters with houses with artificial grass and native plants. It really is one of the most difficult consumptions to control and therefore to optimize because, except to ensure that there are no water leaks, the heat and consumption of each person escapes our control. In fact, according to different published studies we see that these consumptions would be below the average daily water consumption per guest in a hotel as it stands at about 390 liters per person per day, however, this is not a reason why we can not keep trying to reduce consumption.
The most risky are unforeseen events that can trigger water consumption in a particular quarter and therefore blow up the water bill with a sharp increase in its price: water leaks (broken pipes -usually in the garden area- which are not detected at the moment) or that someone accidentally leaves a tap open. Fortunately, because it is totally exceptional, no real-time control and monitoring system for detecting water leaks has been installed in the accommodation. Although we do not rule out doing so in the future, as the cost is high and we prefer to avoid leaks by checking that the facilities are properly maintained and avoid taps as much as possible accidentally opened and we can possibly find other measures that allow us to achieve greater water savings. Of course dripping taps are changed instantly. We believe that it also helps to ask for bail to ensure that good use is made of the house and thus prevent abusive behavior in this regard.
Heating and hot water
Today the majority of the heating and hot water system in rural areas is diesel, as natural gas does not normally arrive, propane gas is not widespread and aerothermal installations are very recent. The shift to radiant floor aerothermal systems has really begun to become popular in recent years and is uncommon in rural homes. Electric heating before aerothermal was focused with electric heaters, electric radiators, and heat pumps. It was a possible solution for houses of up to 150-200 m2, but then it required so much electrical power that it was better to install diesel.
Heating diesel, although it is one of the cheapest options, has become quite expensive a few years ago and we have always looked for options to reduce its consumption, both for economic savings and for the impact on the environment, which in the end go hand in hand. Therefore, since 2018 we have been using a home automation system that can be integrated into any of the houses we manage and that significantly reduces consumption: Our reservation and management system, developed by ourselves for more than 10 years, is it connects directly to the boilers and any electrical appliance you want (air conditioners, radiators, thermos, ..). In this way we have the devices programmed and, when the system detects that there is an entrance for that day, it automatically turns on the heating and hot water just in time for guests to find the hot house when they arrive so as not to waste energy. On the last day of the stay, when customers leave the house, the system also automatically stops the boiler. In this way we manage to be using heating and hot water only when there are customers in the house and manage it in a completely transparent way for them.
For example, for a stay from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, we manage to have the boiler running for only 50-52 hours (it starts between 2 and 4 hours earlier depending on the house). Conversely, if done manually, it is usually started on Thursday afternoons and stopped on Monday mornings, making the boiler run for about 89 hours in total. This means that, without home automation, the boiler can run 70% longer and involve a significant energy cost. In accommodations with underfloor heating the time of use is almost the same, as home automation is programmed to start earlier (in the morning) and stops at noon, as the system has a lot of inertia making the househeat up ant takes longer to cool down.
In any case, it is essential that the accommodation has good thermal insulation, otherwise consumption will skyrocket. If possible, an A or B energy rating is ideal, but in accommodations over 10 years old it is very rare to see these ratings. The walls of the houses we manage are usually made of stone or with good insulation (over the years the insulation has improved a lot, but they are houses that were tried to insulate well according to what was available at the time of construction). In fact, from our experience, we have detected that the main heat leaks are usually through the openings, especially if they are years old and are made of wood and have not had proper maintenance they no longer close so well. A good aluminium or pvc enclosure (we prefer pvc insulation if the openings are large, although the aluminium is more aesthetic and there are houses that either by regulations or aesthetics we opt for the aluminium) along with low emissivity glass (one of the best investments that can be made) are key factors in reducing expense and increasing comfort.
Some time ago, some owners had tried pellet heaters, however, by not having continuous use and supervision the result was not good. With biomass the houses are not big enough to use them. Underfloor heating is used in some homes and works well, although it has a lot of inertia. In any case, the trend is for diesel boilers to be progressively replaced by aerothermal systems, but it is a slow process, as the investment is much higher and diesel boilers have a service life of more than 25 years.
In fact, from our point of view, the great advantage of aerothermal is that it allows you to heat and cool an accommodation in addition to generating hot water. Therefore, in the new accommodations there is talk of air conditioning and not so much heating. The fact that an accommodation is air-conditioned is increasingly valued by guests.
We have left it for the end, as today it is on everyone's lips. First of all, it should be clarified that a rural house is not a space intensive in the use of electricity. Approximately electricity consumption represents between 3 and 5% of the total turnover of a home, nothing to do with electro-intensive industries where electricity can account for 50% of its production costs. However, many homeowners are concerned about the rising cost of electricity. It is normal and we also see it with concern, along with rising costs in many other items (including taxes and inflation).
However, as of today and based on the cost analysis carried out, this year's increase in the electricity bill is less than 10% compared to last year and represents a lower percentage cost over total billing. of what it represented in 2019. In addition, the increase in the cost of electricity has been more than offset by the increase in tariffs that has been applied in many accommodations thanks to the good work that has been done in all areas and that has translated into strong demand.
In addition, there is an additional point that significantly benefits rural accommodation, and is that stays are mostly done on weekends which is when the light is cheaper. From Monday to Friday from 0 to 8 and on weekends and holidays is Valle period (P3) and electricity is more than 50% cheaper than in peak period (P1).
The accommodations where we can choose the company with which to contract the light, for more than 7 years we have moved them without exception to Somenergia and it is the company that we recommend to all the owners. We like its philosophy, 100% energy from renewable sources and a simple, transparent and agile company. In fact, they themselves have helped us by not passing on the full cost of the increase to us for at least a while.
By this we do not mean that the cost of electricity in the country is not totally abusive and that changes need to be made to prevent even more industry from leaving the country, we just want to put it in perspective.
Updated March 2022 (original post written in November 2021):
The increase in the price of electricity in the last 4 months has continued to escalate, but in January 2021 we analyzed the percentage cost of electricity on the total billing of the accommodation and in 2021 marked its historical lows being on average 20% lower than the percentage cost of 2018. At Naturaki we have been managing rural houses for 11 years and what we are seeing is a return to the current percentage and it may end up being above the previous percentages. That the price escalation of electricity is very big? Yes, without a doubt, and this must be remedied urgently. But to date the increase in cost is not significantly affecting the profits of the houses for two reasons: 1. The demand after the pandemic is very high and the prices of the rural houses have been able to go up. Holiday rental is not intensive in use of electricity. What has brought the industry into shock is that it has not been able to pass on the increase in energy costs to the final price of its products and this has reduced its margins or put them at a loss. In the case of rural tourism and holiday rentals, at least with the data we have, this increase in cost has so far been able to pass on to the end customer. We consider ourselves fortunate given the current situation as industry and housing are suffering much more to endure these exorbitant prices. However, as we mentioned at the beginning, solar panels can be a good investment and efficiency in terms of consumption has always been very important as we know for sure that in 20 years' time energy costs will be higher than today ( regardless of the cost crisis we are currently experiencing).
The electric car:
Some owners get scared when they see a customer loading the car during their stay. But also, and to put it in context, currently the cost of charging a full battery on weekends is less than 10 €.
They are an important source of electricity consumption, especially if the house is fully air conditioned. The best way to install air conditioning is to link it to home automation to prevent the customer from leaving it on once the stay is over and in the main rooms.install sensors that automatically turn off the appliance when the openings are opened, as in specific cases, despite warning customers when entering the house, we have come to see air conditioners working and the windows fully open.
In fact, a single air conditioner or pump has a fairly low energy consumption, as they all currently use inverter technology. The most important thing is to make the customer aware that he makes responsible use of energy and that he maintains the temperature at 25 degrees . Some accommodations even use remote controls that only allow you to turn on and off the air but do not change the temperature they already have pre-set.
For more than 5 years now we only buy LED bulbs and more than 95% of the bulbs in homes are LED or low-consumption halogen. The big advantage is that in addition to consuming 80% less energy they melt less thus reducing the energy cost and also the maintenance cost as it is necessary to monitor less often that there are no molten bulbs (before each was monitored month and now once every three months). The most difficult thing was to find cheap and sufficient quality LED bulbs, but once they were found the advantage was clear. Keep in mind that in a house for 14 people there can be more than 80 light bulbs.
They have a significant cost and today are not efficient. It is good to remove any small heaters or radiators. To put it in context an electric car consumes 3.6 kwh and a wind heater or oil cooler 2.0 kwh.
Electric heating and electric water heaters:
They can be a good investment for the owner and yield between 6-7% per year with a useful life of 15 years. The great advantage of a country house for us is that the air conditioning of the house in summer has a virtually zero cost, as the same energy generated by the plates feeds almost all the air conditioning.
To sum up
It is important that consumption is optimized in its entirety and constantly. If they are not optimized as a whole, there comes a time when the total cost of these is so high that it conditions the profitability of the accommodation. As in everything, it is not a single game that reduces consumption, it is the optimization of all of them. Basic points that are currently essential for us are: home automation for heating and air, good openings, sensors on the doors for air and garden with little consumption .
I remember when in 2013 we visited the Dominican Republic for work and had the opportunity to get to know some resorts inside and talk to various managers and directors. There they told us that electricity was very expensive (now we have surpassed them here) and that energy efficiency for them was a competitive advantage to the point that Barceló Hotels had demolished a resort and made it new thinking about the energy efficiency (implementing complex systems, but at the same time things as simple as ground floor buildings and tropical plants that prevent the sun from directly touching the facade). This approach had allowed them to offer a four-star resort at the price of a three-star one. Since that trip the cost of supplies has always been something we have overseen and tried to optimize at Naturaki.
Finally, to date, we have not considered passing on the costs of providing the stay to the customer. In general, customers are usually responsible and the cost of setting up a system that controls in real time the consumption of water, diesel (or equivalent) and electricity and then pass it on to the customer currently does not compensate for the investment, control and maintenance. additional that requires. In addition, we are clear that customer satisfaction would go down (I wouldn’t want them to do that to me) and the additional revenue it would entail would not make up for the extra resources allocated. Obviously, if clearly abusive practices are detected, they can be deducted from the deposit already given by customers, but fortunately they are an exception.