Building services contractor Beale & Cole enables cliff-top eco-retreat hotel The Scarlet to reach new heights in energy efficiency

When the brief for the m&e work at The Scarlet, a 37-bedroom luxury eco-hotel on the north Cornwall coast, landed on the desk of Martyn Beale, Plymouth area manager for building services contractor Beale & Cole, his initial reaction was that this project was going to be something out of the ordinary.

That hunch turned out to be correct. Although the ECA and HVCA member had an established track record in carrying out m&e work in all sorts of environments, this was a project that would draw deeply on the 40-plus years of technical experience Beale & Cole had under its belt.

“Unusually for us, we came relatively late into the development process for The Scarlet, so we didn’t have the benefit of being involved in the journey of creating Cornwall’s new eco-hotel from the start,” explains Martyn Beale.

“We saw immediately, though, that the client’s brief for the design and installation of the hotel’s building services meant that we’d need to design a system that included some unique features, and be able to manage the installation within some pretty challenging parameters.

“We also needed to move a 30-strong team of multidisciplined specialists on site, and move them on fast – there was only an 18-week window for completing all the works.”

A top priority for The Scarlet was a heating system that used the maximum amount of free solar heating and the minimum amount of gas. The client’s brief also called for a system that relied on heat generated in the following priority: solar, woodchip and finally gas, with 75% of energy coming from woodchip, 5% from solar and the remaining 20% from natural gas.

The specifications required a woodchip-fired biomass boiler to heat water for the bathrooms and kitchens and provide heating for the hotel, alongside a gas boiler, which would only be used as a back-up.

Beale & Cole’s remit included installing the electrical services, controls and all the associated wiring for the heating systems.

In addition, a low-energy lighting solution would be needed that was based on either LED or low-energy compact fluorescents, and an average target of 60 lumen/watt covering the whole building was fixed.

“The Scarlet’s development team also wanted to understand how energy is actually used in the hotel and be able to display this information simply to the guests, so that it could be demonstrated that the building was as energy-efficient as possible and living up to its goal of having the least possible impact on the environment,” continues Beale.

“That meant a comprehensive BMS system that adequately sub-meters the various key areas, enabling the client to determine the individual contribution of each energy source, and which records the use of energy by each of the main areas of the hotel, in particular back-of-house, the public areas, the kitchen, the bedrooms and the spa.

“The aim was to produce the data in a format that the hotel could use as part of the visitor experience.”

Beale & Cole worked alongside project architect Harrison Sutton Partnership, also locally based, and the interior design team, created through a collaboration between the Scarlet design director, Rebecca Whittington, and Stephan Oberwegner of Max Bentheim. The brief was to devise the base layout plans and concept drawings, and then create detailed installation drawings for each part of the hotel.

The programme of the installation was heavily geared to the overall size of the project, the planning constraints and, not least, the height restrictions of the building, which would cause a number of installation issues for the team once on site.

Then there was the shape of the building. Curves are at the heart of The Scarlet. Not a single corridor is straight, many of the bedroom walls are curved, some of the showers are in circular pods and the changing cubicles in the spa are inspired by a snail shell. The whole building is crescent-shaped, with each bedroom slightly different from the next, which had a major bearing on the construction.

To start with, every step of the installation of the primary containment routes and ductwork had to be carefully co-ordinated to accommodate the limited service voids and routes through the building. Restricted service voids could have been a major headache, but Beale & Cole was able to work within the confined spaces, and in partnership with the many other contractors on site.

“All these factors meant that everything we did needed to run like clockwork and follow a tightly controlled plan,” says Beale.“We were really limited for space on this job, both in the service voids and in site access generally. Limited plant spaces were available.

“Generally we had to construct plant rooms after the installation of the air-handling plant. What spaces were available were restricted, plus it was a residential area as well. But we had to make it work. The space we had was the space we had – it was as simple as that.”

Some of the ductwork was specially manufactured using the company’s own fabrication team to fit the height and width available, particularly in the ventilation systems in the kitchen and spa. These areas use an underground extraction duct under the car park. The duct then rises underneath the solar panels.

The installation of the electrical cables throughout the site required close co-ordination with the main site contractor, precision-built timber-frame construction specialist BauWerk from Huttenberg in Germany, as well as communication and early planning with the large number of German trades on site.

At second-fix stage, different challenges arose. Installation had to be right first time as all ceilings were made from plasterboard, and there was limited access once they had been completed. Attention to detail was important to ensure that the integration of services with the interior design were right.

Finally, all installation work had to be undertaken using low-smoke and zerohalogen cabling as part of The Scarlet’s requirement that contractors’ work should follow strict green criteria.

At each stage of the process effective teamworking and communication was vital. Beale & Cole’s team of specialist engineers – whose ranks swelled to more than 30 on site at the peak of the installation – formed a close working relationship with the main site team and all other contractors. Regular progress meetings were held to agree short-term programmes and the integration of the hotel’s fit-out contractors.

Beale & Cole’s meticulous approach, focus on detail and effective project management skills paid off, and commissioning took place at the end of August.

“The Scarlet was something of a journey for us, an exceptional experience that was completely different from all the projects we’ve handled before,” says Beale.

“While I’m sure we will install some of the systems we’ve installed here in the future, the distinctive nature of the project and the site conditions meant this really was a once-in-a-career project for us. There were challenges along the way, but we worked hard to overcome them.

“We are pleased that we did the work well and to the high standard expected by the hotel development team.”

Going green at The Scarlet

  • Grey-water harvesting – water from guest showers and baths re-used to flush toilets.
  • Rainwater harvesting – collected water tops up natural pool, irrigates the sea thrift roofing used, is used to wash cars and provide rinsing and washing facilities for wet suits and outdoor kit.
  • Evacuated tube solar water heating – water heated via this system is used for indoor pool.
  • Ventilation heat exchange – fresh air is drawn through vents above windows and air-to- air heat exchanger warms this air using heat from stale air being expelled.
  • Insulation – the building contains rigid hardboard insulation and mineral wool.
  • CO2 – the Building Emission Rate (BER) for The Scarlet is currently calculated as 73% less than that of a notional building of the same size, design and geometry.
  • Natural pool – a living reed bed replaces chemicals and filtration system in the outdoor pool, which has underfloor heating. The reeds naturally filter the water.
  • Sea thrift roof – native sea thrift, a plant that naturally occurs in north Cornwall, creates a durable roof covering that reduces the heating and cooling loads of the hotel, as well as supporting insects and butterflies.
  • Kitchen waste – spun and dried for disposal in compost.
  • Reptile re-homing – as the site was cleared for construction, 120 slow worms, lizards and two small adders were discovered and re-homed locally.
  • Recycled materials – the wood used for the main building frame, aluminium roof, copper cladding and thrift roof membrane can all be recycled. During construction, waste was actively managed, and the site hut recycled rainwater to flush the toilet. The existing hotel on the site was dismantled and recycled where possible and excavated material re-used locally.

Key systems installed

Mains distribution – Eaton MEM

Wiring accessories – Deta

Emergency lighting and back-of-house lighting – Crompton

Guest area lighting – i-LeD and Lightmaster Direct

Lighting control – Philips Dynalite

Containment – Cablofil

Fire alarm – Fullstop Fire & Security (Kentec panel and Hochiki devices)

CCTV – Fullstop Fire & Security (Samsung DVR & Pelco cameras)

Intruder alarm – Fullstop Fire & Security (Texecom)