After a long day hiking Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park, all any of the guests at nearby Ruby’s Inn want is a nice hot shower. The problem for managers of the 700-room resort was everybody wanted to take that nice hot shower at the same time.
“We can have six tour buses check in at one time, so there can be a lot of demand for hot water for showers all at once,” says Ron Harris, health and safety manager at Ruby’s Inn, Bryce Canyon City, Utah. “I've been here 25 years, and we’ve always had hot water trouble.”
The resort’s aging water-heating infrastructure just couldn’t keep pace.
“We’ve had all kinds of boilers over the years,” Harris adds. “When a boiler went down, we would go two hours without hot water. You can imagine how unhappy that made the guests.”
Unhappy, in this case, comes with a steep price tag. To placate guests, management routinely handed out $60,000 each year in refunds and discounts.
To avoid further losses and ensure patrons could relax upon arrival, Ruby’s Inn worked with Rinnai Corp. to overhaul its water-heating system.
More than a hotel
Ruby’s Inn, established over a hundred years ago, isn’t just one hotel, but rather a 19-building complex. Over the years, the resort has grown to include three separate hotels, an equal number of restaurants, an RV park, a campground, three swimming pools and even a main street reminiscent of the Old West. And if that weren’t enough, the laundry facility goes through 19 tons of laundry every day.
“The old system was very inefficient,” says Michael Prayoonvech, PE, senior application engineering with Rinnai. “They had traditional boilers and storage plus some tank-style water heaters. When you rolled up the door to the boiler room, you would feel the heat right away. As an engineer, when you feel that heat, you know that system is inefficient.”
Upon further review, Prayoonvech says the old system was running at only 50-60 efficiency. In addition, it was also undersized.
“The advantage we have with tankless is, if you size the system properly, you will not run out of hot water,” Prayoonvech adds. “Another advantage we have with tankless is tracking the load. If a person wants hot water at 2 a.m., our heaters fire up just enough to provide what is needed at that time. With the older system, you don’t have that; you fire up a whole boiler to provide just that small amount of hot water. That is inefficient, and the savings there can be huge.”
Rinnai initially got called in by the resort’s propane supplier. That’s the other interesting item for this job. Ruby’s Inn is located just a mile from the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park. Other than that, there isn’t much else around for a town of less than 200 year-round residents who play host to 4,000 visitors a day during the tourist season. The nearest natural gas line to Ruby’s Inn is 30 miles away. So the resort depends on 425,000 gallons of propane annually to provide not only hot water but cooking gas, too.
“We ask dealers to uncover opportunities and then give us a call,” says Carlos Rodriguez, western U.S. energy business development manager with Rinnai. “Our commercial manager does a needs analysis; he calculates the load, designs a solution, and recommends products. For different sorts of commercial customers, we have designated teams—restaurants, hospitals, builders, new construction. We have a specialist in every field.”
What ultimately became Rinnai’s biggest commercial tankless installation, actually started out small.
When one boiler went down, Ruby’s Inn ordered a Rinnai rack system to replace it. This was still during the busy summer season, so the new system was put to the test. Four months later, after the system had passed this test, the operators of Ruby’s Inn decided to add new systems to other facilities.
Rinnai put together a proposal for a complete, turnkey solution that included everything from the initial design and engineering to customer service and tech support.
The solution to the challenges faced by Ruby’s Inn included 214 Rinnai appliances–175 tankless water heaters, 35 tankless rack systems, and four Demand Duos, a hybrid water heating system that combines tank and tankless technologies.
“What appealed to Ruby’s Inn were the features and benefits, the efficiency, and, what was most important to them, the reliability,” says Brian Watts, senior commercial business manager/national account manager at Rinnai.
The new system provides reliability through redundancy, Watts adds.
“That’s what Ruby’s Inn caught onto right away,” he explains. “When a boiler breaks down, you are 100 percent out of water. But if you have six to 10 tankless water heaters, when something happens to one unit, the others will still do the job. That’s why we are so successful in the hospitality industry. If you’re a commercial business—a hotel, a hospital, a restaurant—you have to have hot water or you can’t keep your doors open.”
While tankless water heaters were used to meet most of the facility’s needs, Demand Duos were used for the laundry facility.
“Ruby’s Inn went with that because they wanted the storage, “Prayoonvech explains. “A commercial washer requires a lot of water upfront. It would take three tankless heaters to provide the amount of water at one time, that one Demand Duo can provide.”
$6,000 a month savings
Once installed, the system provided a tangible sign that energy was being saved. “It can get as much as 40 degrees below freezing here during the winter,” Harris says. “Employees used to hang around in the boiler building because it was warm. The new system doesn’t lose heat like that, so now we have to add heat to that building.”
Rinnai’s commercial team projects that Ruby’s Inn will save $6,000 per month on propane alone due to the energy efficiency of the new system. That total doesn’t include the savings in many other forms.
“That ROI includes only the dollars saved on fuel; it doesn’t include the money they would have lost replacing units that failed, inspecting old equipment, resolving customer complaints, or getting bad reviews on social media,” Rodriguez says. “With the new system, they have a system with 30 percent better thermal efficiency, the maintenance crews have more time to do other things, and they have no customer complaints. For Ruby’s Inn, it was a significant investment, but the returns are better than any bank would give.”
Ruby’s Inn reports that, since the installation of the Rinnai hot water system, it has experienced no lack of hot water and no customer complaints. For those who maintain the facility, the new system’s reliability has freed up time and money that can be better spent elsewhere.
“With the old system, we spent three or four hours a day just checking the boilers,” said Karl Munford, facilities manager at Ruby’s Inn. “Now, it takes only 20 minutes a day to check that everything is working. That frees our people up to do other maintenance around the hotel.”
To Munford, the redundancy of his new Rinnai system is key.
“It used to be that when a boiler went down,” Munford adds, “I had to call two or three people and tell them to come in right now, no matter what time of the day or night it was.”
Now, he doesn’t have to worry about any of it, no matter the time.
“To turn it on and know it is going to work every time—that is a good feeling,” Munford says. “Every one of the new units has worked the first time. You flip the switch and you get hot water. Before, with the old boilers, you would hope it fires up and then you would wait 20 minutes to get hot water. This new system is so much different than what we were used to. It is so much easier and so much more gratifying.”