Thursday, August 4, 2011

How To Check For Hotel Ventilation

When traveling for business, or with family on vacation, one is faced with encountering new environments in each hotel room.  When you're traveling alone, it doesn't really matter if you use all the towels, leave the sink full of razor stubble, or otherwise trash the place (within limits... not talking rock star after-concert parties here).  But when you are sharing a room with co-workers (to save company costs, or when their reservations get screwed up and yours do not) or vacationing with loved ones, I try to stay cognizant of how the limited space and resources of the room need to be shared with others.

At home, there's exhaust fans, and the "hall bath room" and a whole closet full of towels and wash cloths, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, and tissues.  No problem.  But when traveling to new and unfamiliar locations, I am often faced with the challenge of limited resources, limited space, limited fellow traveler comfort.  Sure, in many parts of the world (like Western China where I've often visited) there's no running water, toilet paper, or ventilation in many bath rooms - but here in America, and in Europe, Dr Desert Flower and I are used to a higher standard of comfort and pleasantness.  I already addressed a recent observation on water temperature and scalding.  This posting concentrates on how to figure out if the unfamiliar rest room you are in is well ventilated, or, if you're lucky and it is just little-used and you're about to pollute the air with lasting effects on those around you.

I used to work with a old mechanic, Walt Rutar (RIP - died of throat cancer a few years ago, so I heard) who would look for leaks in natural gas pipes with one of the omnipresent cigarettes he was constantly smoking.  Walt would also use cigarette smoke to test for exhaust flow of chemical flow hoods, air handlers, HVAC equipment, and exhaust fans.  In non-smoking hotels now-a-days, lighting up a cigarette is not recommended to test for flow, but there's an easier way: toilet paper.

Get a small sheet of toilet paper, or a facial tissue (call it a Kleenex if you want) and hold it up near the exhaust vent you're interested in.  Hold it steady and tightly in your fingers.  If it gets sucked towards the vent, there's flow.  If it flaps, the exhaust flow is intermittent, and not so strong.  If it gets POWERFULLY drawn to the vent, there's no shortage of exhaust flow - probably too much flow that is costing the facility exorbitantly in HVAC make-up air costs - don't let the paper get pulled into the vent.   It might get caught on a "trash screen" somewhere down the line before the air handler, or block a return air filter down stream, or... in poorly maintained ventilation systems, get caught on the moving parts of the air handler - which could lead to rotating unbalance, bearing wear, or possibly fire (since the paper may be combustible). 

Some exhaust air flow is better than none.  No flow... you may want to opt for using the lobby rest room, or the one at the gym, if you're sharing a rest room with co-workers or family members.  You can always not worry about it and be a stinky & olfactory repulsive jerk to those around you, but I try not to be.  =)  I never understood the sophomoric people I knew years ago who would walk into someone's dorm room or office cubical and release noxious odors for their own amusement and everyone elses' dismay.  Then again, I don't get Terrance & Phillip either.

This same air flow testing method can be used for laboratory exhaust hoods, hotel doors during a fire, and leaky window seals for lost AC in the summer or heat in the winter, when you're not quite sure which way the wind might be blowing, or if it is moving at all.

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