CONNECTICUT - Inside a 54-year-old former rubber factory, a transformation is underway.
The facade of the building, designed by renowned architect Marcel Breuer, will remain unchanged, but everything within the walls of what's known as The Pirelli Building in New Haven, Connecticut, has been redesigned and rewired with a clear and "clean" purpose.
"We will be creating one of the most sustainable hotels in the country," said architect and developer Bruce Redman Becker FAIA, LEED AP of Becker + Becker.
When it's complete later this year, the Hotel Marcel will be the first and only net-zero hotel in the United States.
"There won't be any fossil fuels used in this hotel and all the energy that we do use will be produced on-site," Becker explained.
It's a grand feat in an industry that's historically been far from energy-efficient. The hotel segment uses a lot of energy because the hotels are typically occupied 24/7. Lights and air-conditioning are always on.
Becker purchased the building from Ikea, the Pirelli building's most recent owner. The hotel shares a lot with the New Haven outpost of the budget Swedish furniture store. He envisioned the project and has overseen all stages.
1,000 solar panels will create enough electricity to heat and cool the entire 156 room hotel and power the lighting and energy for the building's kitchen and laundries, which will be electric.
"In reality, very few hotels use all-electric mechanical systems, and I'm not sure there are any at all that have electric kitchens and electric laundries," Becker said. "And the interesting thing is these technologies are available and they've been available for decades. and but it hasn't really been a big priority until people have recently recognized the importance of moving away from fossil fuels."
At the Hotel Marcel, that extends from the solar panels on the roof to the special leak-free insulation in the walls.
"It's essentially like creating a thermos out of the exterior wall," explained Becker.
Triple-glaze windows keep the temperature stable and noise out, special heat pumps provide heating and cooling with all-electric renewable energy, and Ethernet cables power LED lights.
It comes at a cost of approximately $50 million for the entire retrofit, but it's a cost that over time, will pay for itself, Becker says.
"Every decision that we've made as architect and developer, we've made with an eye towards reducing the energy needs, using the existing technologies, and then creating that energy on-site," he said.
The hotel will be operated by Hilton, which says it understands the success of its business is linked to its ability to operate and grow sustainably.
"Many travelers want sustainable options when they travel, they want to feel good about how they're spending their money," said Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of Frommers.com.
According to a June survey of 29,000 travelers by the site Booking.com, 81% of travelers say they want to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the next year.
"People are really drawn to sustainable travel," Becker said. "If they have a choice of staying at a place that has a commitment to sustainability versus one that doesn't it does give us a marketing advantage."
Frommer predicts many other hoteliers will be watching Hotel Marcel's success closely.
"I think if they are successful it will show other hoteliers this is something people want they will pay for, and we should do it too," she said.
Marketing advantage or not, Becker says the hospitality industry and the construction industry, in general, don't have much choice when planning for the future.