FRANKENMUTH, MI — Nestled prominently off Main Street and over a unique covered wooden bridge lies the equally unique Bavarian Inn Lodge, which, on many nights, is home to thousands of visitors and guests, occupying one of the 354 guest rooms, swimming in one of the five indoor swimming pools, relaxing at a game of indoor miniature golf, or dining at one of its three eating establishments.

It’s a family atmosphere that is hard to beat anywhere in the Midwest. And it’s no secret that this family atmosphere is well maintained by one of the community’s most respected families and its professional staff. The Zehnder family has been an institution in Frankenmuth for decades.

It’s no coincidence that the word family has appeared so many times in the first two paragraphs. The Bavarian Lodge caters to families and continues to add more space and facilities to keep them coming back. With ongoing expansion and improvements, the lodge should guarantee future success for the next generation of Zehnders.

Bill Bushaw, facilities manager for the lodge, said there have been five different phases of construction.

“The first three phases were room additions,” he stated. “The fourth phase was the addition of banquet facilities and a kitchen. Phase five was the addition of two new pools. The pool loads were so intense that we had to add more pool space.”

Bull Bushaw stands next to one of the 164 heat pumps in the fifth floor mechanical room.

Controlling The Comfort Level

Guestrooms in each of the first three phases are heated and cooled by a series of heat pumps in each room. Phase one utilizes heat pumps located in the ceilings. Glycol, the life blood of the heating and cooling systems at the lodge, is fed into each heat pump after passing through a closed-loop cooling tower, using a water-submerged coil. To heat the glycol, it passes through heat exchangers that are fed with hot water from a Burnham boiler.

Phase two rooms are heated and cooled using the same methods as phase one, but the heat pumps are located in the hallways outside of the rooms and on a catwalk over some rooms. That makes servicing them easier and less intrusive for the guests.

Lodge general manager Jim Engel related a story about a customer who was uncomfortable. “We had a customer who complained about the heat in their room,” he said. “So we sent out a maintenance technician — who was completing his work in the hallway — when the customer called back and asked when he was going to show up and start the work. The customer never saw the repairman. So now we have the tech call the guest to confirm the work.”

Phase three is the most high-tech of all the additions, and claims one of the most uniquely arranged mechanical rooms for a hotel facility anywhere.

“We have a fifth floor that contains 164 Friedrich heat pumps for each guest room,” said Bushaw. “There is individual ductwork going to each room. If a unit needs service, we can perform it right there or it can be switched out using one of our spares. The guests are never inconvenienced.”

Investing in the Future

Lodge owner Judy Zehnder said the heat pump room was very expensive, and she doesn’t expect to see it paid for in her lifetime. But she didn’t add the room for selfish reasons.

“I’ll never see the return on the investment, but I did it for the next generation of Zehnders, my children,” she said. “A family-run business like ours is different from a corporate-owned one. The corporate people would probably heat and cool every room using phase one technology. But not me. That’s what makes this place so special.”

Phase four has a mechanical room containing several Trane air handlers. Once again, chilled glycol is sent to the units’ fancoils to keep the banquet rooms cool. Hot water coils are in place in the air handler for heating the rooms, with one of the large air handlers supplying the lobby and accounting offices, which have radiant coils in the ducts.

During phase four construction, heated sidewalks were added to the areas outside the building entrances. Bushaw said the lodge will have hot water heat under all of its sidewalks within three years.

Phase five is as interesting as phase three, since it involves controlling the atmosphere in two pool areas while keeping humidity levels down and comfort levels up for non-swimmers.

A Heatex unit exhausts the air going out of the pool area and uses that air to heat up outside air coming back into the building. In the summer, the process is reversed.

Bushaw said if the Heatex unit is inoperative, it will be evident in a hurry. “If the Heatex goes down, the windows in the pool areas will be solidly covered with water within 45 minutes.”

To control humidity levels, the Lodge uses three Dry-O-Tron units, which take the moist air from the pool area, run it over cooling coils to draw out the moisture. The air is heated back up with modulating condensing coils so the air is not “overheated.”

“Instead of exhausting the heat from the air to the outside, we turn around and use it to heat the water,” said Bushaw.

With so many phases to manage and so many families to keep comfortable, it seems that Bushaw and his staff of 11 maintenance workers have their hands full each day. But that’s okay with him.

“We’re proud of our system and it works very well.”

For more information on The Bavarian Inn Lodge, visit

Publication date: 12/25/2000