How to Build a Green Hotel, From the Ground Up

The front of the Mayton Inn

The Mayton Inn

When you pull up at The Mayton Inn, it doesn't look out of place in the small downtown district of Cary, North Carolina. Built as a public-private partnership between the town of Cary and hoteliers Deanna and Colin Crossman—who previously renovated the historic King's Daughter's Inn in nearby Durham—the building was deliberately designed as a keystone project to bring about broader downtown revitalization in a town that has sprawled in recent years into fairly typical suburbia.

Underneath the hood, however, The Mayton features some pretty neat green features that have collectively saved a projected 30% on energy costs, not to mention hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. We met up with Deanna—a hotelier who, conveniently enough, also happens to hold a general contractor's license—to hear some more about how starting from scratch allowed the project to maximize its sustainability credentials.

Disclosure: The Mayton Inn provided complimentary lodgings and breakfast during our visit. I paid full price for my beer and extremely delicious cheese board though.

Hybrid Solar Electric and Hot Water Panels

credit: Yes! Solar Solutions

Most people will never see them, but high above the street, The Mayton Inn boasts a 3,000 square foot solar array. Deanna is quick to point out, however, that because of a hotel's massive, year-round and 24-hour demand for electricity, the solar only meets about 10-15% of electricity demand, with a temporary high of 23% in the summertime. That said, these panels have another trick up their sleeve because underneath them are thermal collectors that heat water for the hotel's guest rooms, kitchen and laundry.

30% savings on gas bills

credit: Colin Crossman

For the most part, the world appears to have moved on from solar hot water as the costs of photovoltaics (PV) have dropped. But in a hotel, where 50+ guests may be showering and bathing, and where hundreds of meals may be served in a night, hot water makes up for a significant part of overall energy demand. In fact, Deanna credits the solar hot water alone—which is preheated and piped into these water heaters for brining up to temperature—as saving 30% on the hotel's natural gas bills.

Bead-cleaning laundry machine saves 75% on water

credit: Colin Crossman

Speaking of hot water, I squealed a bit when Deanna showed me the hotel laundry room. That's because it contains a Xeros washing machine that uses reusable, recyclable plastic beads in a closed-system to launder clothes with only a fraction of the water that a conventional machine would consume. We've written about this thing before, and Deanna swears it lives up to the hype in terms of both performance and water and energy savings.

Permeable pavement, and electric vehicle charging

credit: Sami Grover

With a growing number of people driving electric and plug-in hybrid cars, The Mayton Inn chose to install three Level 2 charging stations (2 Tesla destination chargers, one Clipper Creek EV Plug). As I wrote before in my piece on how to set up a public charging station, the decision has already paid off, with several guests choosing the inn purely because of the availability of charging. But that's not the only cool green thing going on in this picture. All of the paving is permeable concrete, meaning rainwater can slowly seep into the ground underneath, reducing storm water runoff and downstream flooding, which have increased in recent years in towns like Kinston thanks to urban sprawl in and around the Triangle region of North Carolina.

Massive 20,000-gallon rainwater cistern

credit: Colin Crossman

Permeable paving isn't the only way that The Mayton is reducing stormwater runoff downstream. As the hotel was being constructed, they also installed a huge 20,000-gallon rainwater cistern underneath the restaurant's terrace. All water from one side of the building is piped through downspouts to collect here, and is then used to irrigate the surrounding landscaping.

Drought-tolerant rainwater gardens

credit: Sami Grover

In addition to the cistern used for irrigation, water from the rest of the roof is fed directly into the hotel's rain gardens, which use a special blend of dirt that is 50% sand, and are filled with drought-tolerant plants. This allows for storm water to slowly drain away, irrigating the plants and filtering the water that seeps into the ground.

Variable Refrigerant Flow heating and cooling

credit: Sami Grover

Alongside hot water, heating and cooling of guest rooms makes up for a major chunk of average hotel energy demand. And because different guests want different temperatures, one room may be cooled while another may be heated. While this might seem like a bug, The Mayton's Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) heating and cooling system treats it more like a feature—pooling the refrigerant from different rooms and feeding it back into the system at the desired temperature, removing the need to run the compressors so often. (That's why there are so few compressors here for a 44-room hotel!) Rooms are also monitored for occupancy using sensors on both the thermostat and the door, allowing temperatures to fluctuate slightly and lights to turn off, further reducing the demand for energy.

Sound machines to mask the silence of the HVAC

credit: Sami Grover

In fact, the hotel's VRF heating and cooling is so efficient and so silent that Deanna had to insist on installing sound machines in every room to help guests who can't sleep without white noise. The simple volume knob, situated by the bed, allows you to dial up or dial down the volume on a gentle hiss, not unreminiscent of the sound of a conventional HVAC unit.

Out with the old...

credit: Colin Crossman

Of course, starting from scratch doesn't ever really mean starting from scratch. There's always something there to begin with. In the case of The Mayton Inn, the hotel is located on three parcels of land that the town had bought, and which were home to a historic single-story home. That house was carefully moved to the rear of the lot, and is currently being rehabbed to become the Crossmans' private residence.

Location, location, location

credit: Sami Grover

Finally, it's worth noting that the hotel's greenest feature may have nothing to do with the building, and everything to do with its purpose. Located in a town that has sprawled from 1,600 residents to 165,000 in the last few decades, and which is not exactly known for its walking and biking culture, the hotel was part of a deliberate effort by town planners to revitalize a denser, downtown area. Colin Crossman puts it like this:

"To revitalize a downtown, there are three things that are key: lots of people living downtown, food and dining opportunities, and events. Hotels provide two of these in terms of an influx of (temporary) residents, and a place for them and the surrounding community to eat and drink. And they also make events possible by providing a place to stay."

The town of Cary has been pushing events heavily—attracting

—but every weekend there appears to be something going on. When we rolled up, the Fall Festival was in full swing, and the hotel was providing a beer and wine garden for the grownups, and the lobby was full of trick or treaters from the surrounding neighborhoods. It might seem odd, of course, to revitalize a local community by catering to outside visitors in the form of a hotel, but that might also be a false distinction. The Crossmans estimate that there's a pretty even split between out-of-town guests and "staycationers" looking to enjoy the spa and restaurant. We'll be posting again about the role that hotels like The Mayton Inn might play in downtown revitalization, but for now, I'll just say that it was an impressive demonstration of what can be done when you build a hotel from the ground up and keep sustainability at the center of your vision. Oh, and breakfast was delicious too.