Green Room at the Chicago Hilton O'TreeHugger

hilton_ohare.jpg Officially: " The Hilton O'Hare Airport is a superior first-class hotel and is the only hotel located on the grounds of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport". With direct access to cheap public transit to Chicago's Loop (train in picture), what's left for a TreeHugger to want? A microscopically clean, allergy minimizing room, apparently. Seeking an experimental room decor for travelers with allergies or asthma, the Hilton O'Hare has given an "extreme makeover" to two guestrooms."I see it as the next wave of the 'no smoking' rooms," Peter Lynne, general manager of Hilton O'Hare Airport, said, to a local trade magazine.

They've got their work cut out for them, considering O'Hare's fine ambience of idling cars at baggage claim; and jet exhaust, from what has been billed as the busiest airport in the nation. Last time I checked in, fumes were noticeable in the lobby main door area. The idea of a clean quiet room of refuge on the airport grounds sounds good.

Its a prototype; and there's been no published talk of making the glass box Hilton O'Hare into a "green building". But many of the changes discussed in news reports make sense to anyone who has had a sinus headache after a long jaunt. Assuming rates are fair, and decor attractive, adding this to the public transit access makes an interesting option.

What follows is a bulleted list of decor and functional features, as excerpted from various Chicago media that covered the Hilton O'Hare "green room" experiment.

Flooring:
= hardwood floor floating on adhesive-less cork underlay. Water-based stains only to minimize "off-gassing".
= sound-proofing offered by the cork underlay is an ancillary benefit.
= no carpeting because 'that's a catch-all for allergen-ridden dirt'.
= no off-gassing mastics used in bath area tile or grout.

Ceiling:
= materials treated to 'ward off mold growth'.

Walls:
= wallpaper adhesives use a potato-starch base (presumably without back-of-the-bus, old lady perfumes usually added to wallpaper pastes) that do not emit allergens.
= wallpapers are "breathable" non-vinyl type, 'with thousands of tiny pinpricks to keep mold from forming'.
= side-panel draperies and valences designed with approved materials. 'Custom shutters made by Hunter Douglas'.

Furniture:
= 'edges sealed by a factory, nothing made of pressboard or particle board'.

Plumbing:
= showerheads are chlorine and chemical free (presumably by in-line filtration).

Amenities:
= Free and Clear brand products, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial soaps and body cleansers have no chemicals or fragrances.

Bedding:
= natural cotton is used for bedding. Washed separately, 'in special detergent and water'.

Quality Control:'A 24-hour monitoring system tracks air quality inside the hotel rooms as well as air coming in. It records temperature, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels, relative humidity, and odor and gases. The system would alert hotel staff within minutes if a problem arises...'

Prospects:
If the overhauled "enviro-rooms" are popular, the hotel, reportedly, will consider redoing more rooms.

Missing Pieces and Curiosities:
No mention is made of how they might deal with HVAC mold source potential. Those combined heater/chiller window units common to hotels often smell pretty moldy.

By incorporating such a long list of changes, some calling for much more than material swaps, even adding operating and maintenance costs beyond those associated with conventional rooms, the experiment has an extreme approach indeed. It's hard to foresee identical efforts spreading to less expensive hotels. Will the famous sisters be guests? Just asking.

A short list might be the 90% solution for the masses. By removing the carpet, using non-fabric window treatments only, and by eliminating all un-needed fragrance (from a guy point of view, a longstanding plague on American culture) odds are good that they'd see a worthy improvement at substantially less cost. Skipping the fragrance could even be a cost reduction for the manager.

Analogy: Remember colored toilet paper in the early 1970's? Grocery shelves were lined with an awful array of colorful rolls, which led to an interesting issue for wastewater treatment plants. Passersby would gasp in dismay at the great grey greenish discharges. That's now gone: a curse of marketing madness, thankfully vanquished. If this experiment makes some headway in fully extinguishing the phoenix-like stink demon, it will have been a noble one indeed.

This TreeHugger needs someone to explain what the water filter on the shower has to do allergy prevention? Is the level of paranoia about chlorinated tapwater so high that adding and maintaining a point of use carbon filter is essential for showering? If I had to guess, I'd say that the the activated carbon in the filter element is made from a pound or so of coal, which was crushed, washed, leached clean of metal chlorides with a strong HCl solution, then neutralized with an alkaline solution, washed several times, retorted with prodigious amount of natural gas, packaged in non-recyclable, pre-deployment envelope, and then shipped through at least 4 way points before being deployed in a shower. And the filter element will have to be replaced perhaps every few months.

Step outdoors for a breath of airport exhaust perspective. A mask by any other name is still a mask. A ghost shirt is just a fantasy protection. And every design component has tradeoffs.

Here's hoping that a simpler set of practices are arrived at, minimizing the embodied energy and materials of decor, allowing the quality control feedback loop to be dispensed with, and helping "green rooms" to indeed become as common as no-smoking rooms.

by: John Laumer [sitting in for C. Lepisto]

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK

treehugger slideshows