The hottest trend in the highly competitive condo market is the green condo: sustainable, environmentally responsible developments. More than just a way to stand out from cookie-cutter competition, green condos offer genuinely alternative building and design practices which promote health, cost savings and environmental stewardship.
With naturally evocative names like Verve, Element, Radiance, and The Silva, green condo projects are springing up all over Canada. Top Toronto builder Tridel, no stranger to awards, won the 2006 Green Toronto award for its "Naturally Better" program intended to "promote healthy, environmentally friendly, sustainable condominium living." Toronto developer Shane Baghai offers luxury projects featuring discreet wind mills, solar power panels and hybrid generators that will create condo communities that can sustain themselves during power shortages or failures.
What makes a condo "green"? There are many paths to sustainable building and design. Some are literally green: condo roofs, planted with grasses and succulents that provide extra insulation and help clean the air. Other features include alternative power generation, geothermal heating systems, deep lake water-cooling systems, water-saving plumbing, high-efficiency lighting, increased use of natural light, extensive recycling/waste diversion facilities and hot water that’s heated on demand.
Other green condo incentives include car-sharing memberships and individual utility metering, which allows condo owners to monitor their water and electricity use and take advantage of off-peak discounts.
Why buy a green condo? The environmental benefits are numerous: they reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, which means greater sustainability. Due to their high residential density, every green building is a meaningful contribution to the effort to conserve energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
The health benefits are significant, too. Better filtering and circulation create better indoor air quality, improving life for all residents—not just those with respiratory problems. Buildings that implement energy-saving, cleaner technologies also improve the outdoor air quality for everyone. Irritant-free finishes, laminates, paints and textiles add to the health benefits.
Even better, this all adds up to money in your pocket. You might imagine that, like some pricey organic foods, a green condo must cost a lot more. Developers—and buyers—have been pleasantly surprised to find that green buildings can cost as little as 1 to 4 percent more than conventional buildings. But once built, they cost far less to run, for both management and residents, so you’re not spending big money on utilities. Buyers can expect excellent resale values, too.
Considering a green condo? Look for strong implementation of the kinds of energy-saving, environmentally friendly features discussed here. Check out the bottom line: if you’re going to pay extra up front, the builder should be able to substantiate the savings you can expect. Energy-efficient light bulbs and a low-flow showerhead are steps in the right direction, but they do not a green condo make.
If health concerns are your primary motivation for buying green, ask about the materials and finishes used, as well as air quality technologies. Developers should be able to provide information about how their choices for the project support and promote healthy living.
Investigating green condos? You’ll encounter the term LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). It’s a rating system administered by the Canada Green Building Council to provide builders with standards for sustainability. LEED ratings (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum) reflect the degree to which projects have met certain performance benchmarks and prerequisites.
There are already a couple of LEED-certified projects in Canada: Radiance @ Minto Gardens in Toronto, and The Silva in North Vancouver. You’ll be seeing more of these in the near future, especially as some cities are starting to embed sustainability requirements in their building regulations. But there are several innovative green developments out there that may lack LEED certification; if you’re interested in a more eco-friendly condo, don’t overlook these projects.
What if you’ve already purchased a not-so-green condo? Happily, there are hundreds of environmentally-friendly products on the market to help you finish and furnish your place with style. You can choose paints and carpeting that are low-VOC, meaning they don’t emit as many volatile organic compounds. Or forget about carpeting altogether, and invest in appealing flooring made from bamboo, a highly renewable resource. Insist on energy-efficient appliances which carry the EnergyStar label, which identifies the appliances that are the most energy efficient in their class.
Earth-friendly alternatives exist for every room in your condo. In the kitchen, some attractive options include recycled aluminum sinks, natural cork flooring, formaldehyde-free cabinetry, and countertops made of Vetrazzo, a mix of coloured concrete and recycled glass. In the bath, recycled glass tiles, organic cotton towels, nontoxic porcelain tiles, low-flow showerheads and water-saving toilets are more ecologically responsible choices.
When it comes to furnishings, there are many beautiful and unique options. Companies such as Toronto’s Urban Tree Salvage make pieces of furniture from salvaged wood. They produce stock and custom pieces in maple, elm, oak, walnut, willow and catalpa. Many companies are doing similar work with reclaimed and salvaged materials, and with little effort you can find stylish, eco-friendly furniture and accessories to make your condo greener.