Sustainability as a Selling Point

First hotel in Columbia Falls opts for high-efficiency details to attract customers

By Molly Priddy
Construction continues at the Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls on April 8, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

COLUMBIA FALLS – The warm, spring weather was a welcome respite from the past couple weeks of rainy weather at the construction site for the Cedar Creek Lodge, where crews were busy adding meat to the bones of the building’s skeleton.

Dried mud from the rainy days swirled on nearly every floor surface, but the mood at the site was elevated as the first hotel in Columbia Falls officially went from dream status to physical, three-story, 64-room reality.

The Cedar Creek Lodge is one of several major projects from local developer Mick Ruis, who has announced plans for a revitalization of sorts for Columbia Falls’ business sector. Along with the hotel, Ruis intends to build a pie factory, a steakhouse sports bar, apartment or condominium complex, and potentially other projects.

It’s all about looking to the future, Erick Enz, project manager for the Cedar Creek Lodge construction, said last week, and that idea has affected how the hotel is coming together.

“We really desired to put not just a hotel into Columbia Falls, but a quality hotel in Columbia Falls,” Enz said.

Part of the idea of continually working with the future in mind is the building’s geothermal heating and cooling system, which represents one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly options available.

“It’s more expensive but it’s going to save money in the long run,” Enz said. “This is as green as it gets.”

The system is essentially this: in heating mode, the pump pulls low-temperature heat from the groundwater and converts it to high heat. This heat is then used for space heating as well as domestic hot water. The groundwater, with the heat removed, is then re-injected back into the aquifer at a slightly cooler temperature.

When the system is in cooling mode, it works in reverse, extracting the heat from the building and transferring it to the groundwater, which goes back into the aquifer slightly warmer this time.

Each room is outfitted with a fan coil, which is controlled by individual thermostats to either heat or cool.

The efficiency comes from not having to create new heat to move around, like a boiler or furnace would, Enz said. The hotel doesn’t have to burn fossil fuels to make a new flame, and for each unit of energy used by the geothermal heat pumps to pull that heat from the groundwater, four units of heat are created.

That means the geothermal unit is 400 percent efficient, whereas the best gas boilers in the industry hit about 98 percent efficiency. This means a reduction in heating bills for the hotel when compared to traditional heating methods.

It’s also a major selling point for visitors, Enz said. People want to be comfortable at a hotel, but more and more, environmental concerns dictate consumer choices.

“If we let them know about this, it can help people make a decision on where they’re going to stay,” Enz said.

Jake Ek, owner of Northwest Plumbing, said geothermal energy is gaining in popularity, but the Cedar Creek Lodge is the largest project he’s worked on in his eight years installing the systems.

Along with the heating and cooling system, the hotel includes fresh-air exchanges for each room, eliminating the need to walk in and open the window to remove staid or sticky air. The hallways floors include gypsum concrete and acoustic mats to reduce the sound transfer to the floor below, and those rooms near elevators or ice machines or other high-traffic areas are encased in a high-density sound membrane to keep it quiet.

“We really spent more money to put those details into this to make this hotel more comfortable,” Enz said.

And though the expected opening date isn’t until June and the hotel doesn’t even have a live website yet, calls for reservations are already coming in. The first of many busy summers is on its way for the Cedar Creek Lodge, and the team there hopes to attract customers through location and attention to detail.

“Everywhere you look, (Ruis) has opted to go with the high-efficiency choice,” Ek said.

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