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Energy efficiency and sustainable living in condominiums

by: Luba Fillipoff

Condo to Condo  |   Issue #2  |   November 25, 2005

A living concept to nurture our world and decrease urban sprawl

The world has experienced unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. In 2000, about 47% of the world's population lived in urban areas. Countries such as Canada, United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan had a 76% increase in urban population where increasing land costs in cities have made the condominium a popular form of urban dwelling.

Because of this growth, sustainable condominium living is one of the most talked about concepts in building construction today. Developers and the building community are working together with local municipal governing bodies to establish energy efficiency and building code standards to support sustainable living initiatives.

Put simply, sustainability or "greening" refers to the enhancement and ongoing maintenance of a community's and/or a building's complete environmental, social and economic well-being. A leading-edge consensus-based system for designing, constructing, operating and certifying the world's greenest buildings referred to as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was created by the U.S. Green Building Council and adapted for Canada by the Canada Green Building Council.

LEED addresses six key categories of environmental design and construction: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and design innovation and process. The Government of Canada also created EnerGuide for Houses to help homeowners get independent, expert advice about the energy efficiency of their homes.

In Canada, it seems there is hardly a neighbourhood left in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal that hasn't seen a new condo development go up over the last five years. The Greater Vancouver Regional District is projected to double its population to about 4.4 million by 2020, and two thirds of the properties currently slated for development in the region are condominiums. Land is scarce, water resources are finite, more toxins are in the air and vehicular traffic is intolerable.

In keeping with the sustainable living concept, UniverCity, a mixed-use community of single and multi-unit dwellings, has been designed to accommodate 10,000 people on Simon Fraser Land atop Burnaby Mountain. From more efficient water and energy resources management, to healthier homes, to transportation alternatives, it will make UniverCity one of the "greenest" neighbourhoods on paper.

Recently, Toronto announced the launching of a new concept in energy efficiency and an environmentally-friendly condominium development. Called Verve, this new Tridel community is the first residential project in Toronto to pursue certification under the LEED rating system. It will be one of Canada's largest certified "green" condominium buildings.

In Alberta, the Built Green Alberta initiative was launched in 2003. This program promotes sustainable or "green" building practices to reduce the impact the building has on the environment. In Calgary, the City has declared that any buildings they build in the future will be "green," using the LEED guidelines.

So, the question can be asked, why do we need sustainable and energy efficient condominiums? First of all, Canadians are the largest consumers of energy in the world. This energy is often provided or derived from fossil fuels such as natural gas. The use of fossil fuels to heat and power our homes is contributing to global climate change and degrading our air quality.

A sustainable condo will save $400-$500 a year in energy costs. Secondly, we perceive limitless water all around us and perhaps as a result we are amongst the greatest consumers of water in the world. A sustainable condo will save a resident 100 litres of water per day. Thirdly, Canada is one of the top five countries in terms of waste generated per person. More than one third of this waste generation is due to the construction and demolition of our buildings. A sustainable condo uses materials and resources efficiently, and effectively.

Fourthly, urban sprawl is threatening agricultural lands, greenspace and recreational opportunities. A sustainable condo encourages dense urban living and effective use of space. Lastly, housing choices influence our health and well-being. The average Canadian spends more than 85% of their day indoors, and improper design, construction, or material selection in homes can lead to poor indoor air quality or uncomfortable living environments. A sustainable condo provides a healthy and toxin-free living environment. Imagine if the next 5,000 condominiums built were sustainable condos rather than conventional condos....

  • We would save enough water to fill a quarter of an Olympic-sized pool every day.
  • We would save enough energy to heat and power an additional 1,250 condos a year.
  • We would avoid the generation of nearly half a million tonnes of waste, that's nearly 12,000 full garbage trucks per year.
  • We could continue to preserve our agricultural land reserves and natural heritage, and create sustainable communities.

Therefore, the answer to the question is that sustainable condominiums allow you to use less, and enjoy more.

Luba Fillipoff is the CREB(r) Condominium Support Coordinator