Can hotel air conditioners make you sick?

23rd September 2022

Less than 10% of hotels in the UK have air conditioning, according to figures from Expedia.

However, over the recent record-breaking heatwave in July 2022, hotels with air conditioning saw a surge in bookings as homeowners sought refuge from the extreme temperatures. On 19th July in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, the mercury hit 40.3°C according to the Met Office, while many other locations recorded temperatures of 40°C plus for the first time.

As temperatures like this become more common in the UK – four of the five hottest summers on record have happened since 2003 – it is likely that more hotels and leisure facilities will invest in air conditioning and mechanical ventilation to guarantee the comfort of their guests, whatever the weather.

With commercial HVAC systems playing a more integral role in customer comfort, it is essential that facilities managers put in place the right procedures, maintenance and monitoring to keep energy costs down, extend plant life and ensure guest safety.

Does hotel air conditioning cause Legionnaires’ disease?

Commercial air conditioning systems have been known to contribute to the spread of Legionnaires’ Disease in the past, particularly cooling towers.

In 2019, a hotel in Altlanta, USA, was forced to close following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that led to one fatality, 12 confirmed and a further 63 suspected cases. Following investigation and extensive testing, the hotel cooling tower was one of two locations that returned a positive result for legionella.

What factors increase the risk of legionella growth?

  • Temperatures between 20-45°C
  • Water stagnation
  • Build up of sludge, organic matter, algae, scale, rust, etc
  • Biofilm on water surface
  • Poor water management and treatment
  • Lack of training

How can hotel owners prevent Legionnaires’ disease?

Ideally, hotels should be designed with water hygiene in mind, from the construction phase, right through to pre-commissioning cleaning and ongoing maintenance.

Early intervention is key to system health. Hotel owners and responsible parties should consult with water treatment specialists from the outset to create a fit-for-purpose HVAC system, followed by a robust preventive maintenance plan, including:

Legionella Risk Assessment: Legionella Risk Assessments are a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and a key part of compliance with Approved Code of Practice L8. It should be conducted by a competent person and revisited following any changes to the building, water system, legislation or key personnel, and at least every two years.

Find out more about Legionella Risk Assessments from Guardian Water Treatment

Legionella control: Your Legionella Risk Assessment will identify the best treatment options, including chemical dosing and non-chemical alternatives, to mitigate against the risk of legionella and other bacterial growth.

It is worth considering secondary disinfection, which focuses on maintaining water quality to prevent future issues, particularly as many hotels are likely to go through periods of reduced occupancy, which can leave water outlets unused and therefore an increased risk of legionella.

We use Hypochlorous acid (HOCl), an effective disinfectant that is 100% safe for humans, chemical-free, non-toxic and naturally occuring. As well as much improved safety, it also offers benefits in terms of storage and handling. There is no need for PPE and no reduction in quality when stored for a period of time or exposed to sunlight. HOCI also has lower CO2 emissions, less wastage and low production costs.

For more information about our legionella prevention and water treatment services, click here.