Fritz Kreisshas been saving energy for customers for almost two decades.

Kreiss and his wife, Catherine McQueen, own Alternative Utility Services, a full-service energy and sustainability consulting firm. “We manage gas and electricity for more than 3,000 commercial accounts in more than 20 states,” Kreiss explains.  He also is president of Community Green Energy, a company that develops and finances renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the United States.

These days, Kreiss and McQueen have taken their energy efficiency talents a little closer to home: actually, right in their backyard.

The couple is in the process of turning their five-acre property in the Delavan-Lake Geneva area in southern Wisconsin into a luxury hotel loaded to the gills with the latest sustainable products and systems. The hotel, which has applied for LEED campus certification, will have net zero status for electrical consumption.

“There have been some zoning changes happening around here with the state where they are changing this area to more of a commercial corridor,” Kreiss explains. “We looked at changing the property into a hotel as an investment. But we didn’t want to build just a hotel. It’s more about a statement of our beliefs. We aren’t environmentally crazy people, but we definitely have a stewardship for the environment and good economic practices.”

Green living

When complete, the Green Leaf Inn will encompass 16,000 sq. ft. and feature 19 550-sq.-ft. guest suites. The hotel is projected to open later this year.

“When you start talking about a hotel and green building products, my affinity immediately went to all the toys I could have,” Kreiss says with a laugh. “There’s the wind turbine and the cogeneration system and it developed from there. This will be the demonstration showcase for our energy company.

“It also is going to be a luxury upscale romantic retreat where a couple can enjoy their room not realizing that when they take a shower, or when they empty the two-person hot tub, waste heat is being recovered through the heat recovery system used to preheat the new cold water coming in. They can either say, ‘Wow. We had a great weekend,’ or they can learn about what we have going on and maybe apply that knowledge in their own homes – or both.”

As of mid-January, a 150-ft., 50kW wind turbine and aerobic wastewater system have been installed, as well as an 18,000-gal. cement rainwater storage tank. Two of the three solar thermal systems will be installed in late winter or early spring and a new gas line for the cogeneration system is slated for late winter installation.

The couple’s former home is being renovated into three important components for the hotel property—a commercial kitchen, a laundry facility and a common area for guests to have breakfast in the morning, and wine and cheese in the afternoon. A welcome center and conference center are planned as well.

McQueen’s pottery studio, which sat on land where a parking lot is intended, was moved to a new concrete slab where the cogeneration system will be installed. The new pottery studio will feature radiant and hydronic heating components.

The couple continues to be on the lookout for even more sustainable possibilities. “We kind of keep adding on,” Kreiss says. “We are looking for innovative products. Last year, we added a 1,250-gal., R80-insulated thermal storage tank. We’re making solar hot water during the day, but that’s not necessarily when people want to use their hot tub. What do we do? We ended up finding this tank that can store chilled or hot water. It’s a perfect fit for us. All these systems are meant to be part of the story. This is a walking, living laboratory and catalog. We’re using different types of technology that can be used whether you are building a hotel or a new home.”

Water education

Kreiss, a native of Northbrook, Ill., specified an aerobic wastewater system with a final tank dosing structure that maintains an effective rate in getting waste material out into the Wisconsin mound system for final cleaning. Herr Environmental’s Todd Stair was the main designer of the system.

“It’s a much more aggressive system than an anaerobic system,” Kreiss says. “It allowed us to put in a lot smaller area for the mound. Five acres is a small property. With the smaller-size system there is no smell and it is much more aggressive in managing the waste products as well as freeing up more space for us.”

Kreiss notes a certain amount of education was involved with local officials concerning the wastewater system. “We brought in specialists to explain the different sizing of fields and how it works,” he says. “There has been some education at the local level for all the different technologies.”

Green Leaf Media Group Director of Partner Marketing Wen-D Kersten says Herr Environmental told her the treated wastewater is so clean it could be consumed, but that’s definitely not recommended.

“It’s a nice feeling to know clean water is going back to the water table,” she says.

The hotel property will utilize a rainwater system that will serve three distinct purposes. Rainwater coming off the roof will be used for landscape irrigation. That same rainwater will feed part of a fire suppression system because the hotel is not on city water. The rainwater also will run through a heat exchanger for one of the heating-cooling components in the geothermal system. The key component of the rainwater system is that 18,000-gal.cement storage tank buried below ground.

“The rainwater system will help reduce the number of geothermal wells we have to drill,” Kreiss says. “We look at the building and all its operations as a holistic energy system. We have 19 suites and what if all of them are filling their hot tubs? That’s 2,500 gal. of water we are pulling in at 55° F. Let’s put it to use. We’re running it through a heat exchanger and using it for the geothermal system. All we’re doing is running through a couple more systems and processing it back into the groundwater. Now we’re using one system for domestic water and using part of it for the geothermal system. We look at the entire campus and buildings as one system instead of standalones.”

Low-flow fixtures are planned for use in guest suites, but Kreiss cautions guest comfort also plays into the equation. “It’s an upscale hotel so the showers will have more than a single head or more than one rainwater flow,” he says. “We want to minimize water consumption with low-flow fixtures, but we want to make sure the fixtures provide good comfort and an enjoyable experience.”

Feeling the heat

The hotel’s natural gas cogeneration system produces electricity and captures waste heat, yielding a little more than 90% energy efficiency from the power plant. “We’re looking at 38% fuel usage for power generation and then the rest of the heat is dumped and transmitted over long distance,” Kreiss says. “There are no line losses. We are capturing all the line losses and getting all these units of usable energy coming out again. We can use that water for any application, whether it’s domestic hot water or floor heating.”

Kreiss notes this type of technology is commonplace in Europe. “Europe is the same size population as the U.S. and they use half the energy we do,” he says. “The Obama administration is trying to support and have a lot more development of cogeneration throughout the U.S.”

The property’s geothermal system is integrated into the rainwater storage tank and Kreiss continues to look for different geothermal solutions, including the possible use of a variable refrigerant model. He adds between five and 12 wells will be drilled and the system will provide some of the heating and cooling needs of the property.

“At Greenbuild we looked at a natural gas heat pump for it,” he says. “The hardest thing is we can’t put all these toys they have out there in one place.”

Three solar thermal systems are slated for installation: evacuated tube, flat-plate and a concentrating tracker. Kreiss figures the three residential-sized systems will handle the water-heating loads for six suites.

“Again, these all will be integrated into that thermal storage tank,” he says. “Any excess energy not being used will go into the tank at a reasonably high temperature. It just has to be mixed depending on the application. When you start trying to balance things between multiple systems, you need that storage system as the buffer for excess energy being made and give it a place to go. Having a storage tank and making a lot of solar thermal energy but not having the demand at times, we’re able to store it buried below the frost line so it will hold its temperature well.”

Radiant floor heating will be used in the pottery studio and in the areas surrounding the hot tub tiles of each suite and in the commercial kitchen and laundry areas.

“Anytime we can cost-effectively use that thermal energy, we’re making energy for around 4 cents,” Kreiss explains. “Normally with taxes in our area, it’s 14 cents per kilowatt hour.”

Kreiss plans on having an energy efficiency dashboard available online and at the hotel so guests and other interested parties can see how the different sustainable systems are performing. “We’ll be tracking the efficiency of each system and how it helps in the overall performance of the hotel,” Kreiss says.

The couple is making the energy dashboards available online so they can be used in educational settings, further advancing the goal of having the hotel property act as an energy efficiency information resource.

 “The purpose of this project is to demonstrate how we can all build net zero energy today in order to protect and prepare for our energy future” he says. “This information can be used in an economics or science class or even a sociology class. We’re showing people these technologies can be done and they don’t have to be scary. Every morning I get up and drink my coffee and look up at the wind turbine. It’s extremely quiet. Every day that it’s windy I’m producing part of my energy. These are the types of energy-efficient technologies that will become more commonplace in the future.”