Q: I'm thinking of buying a condo. What are my best options in terms of finding something that helps take care of our world?
A: Despite the sneers and jeers many utter about the mass condofication of Toronto, you might be surprised to know that eco-heads actually support the whole skyward climb of our neighbourhoods. Better to have more of us squeezing into the downtown core than throwing more subdivisions up over farmers' fields. So, conscious condo shopper, let thee be praised this Earth Day for moving up, not out.
Not all such building projects should be commended, since many could easily do more (like install energy-efficient lighting) but don't. Still, a newly built condo is more likely than older buildings to have well-insulated windows, Energy Star appliances (which can save one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions a year per unit) and individually controlled heating and air-conditioning (which allows eco- and or/penny-conscious residents to lower their heat by a few degrees or shut off their AC). Sure, much of this is done to save the building owners and condo dwellers money on general hydro costs, but it all goes toward alleviating pressures on the planet in the end.
There are several spots in the city that go beyond changing bulbs and actually enlist enviro planners to make sure they build green. The Element on Front Street West pipes into the deep waters of Lake Ontario to cool its condo units. It was the first high-rise in Toronto to tap into the forward-thinking and ultra-eco-friendly cooling system, and, in the end, the building sucks back 75 per cent less electricity than those with standard AC systems. Energy Star appliances, low-flush toilets and the use of local materials whenever possible are other pluses here. Not to mention the fact that low-VOC latex paints and coatings are slapped on walls throughout the building to cut back on toxic offgassing. (Starting price for a one bedroom, $159,000. 416-340-7777).
Need a little more greenery in your life? At High Park Lofts on Roncesvalles you can even buy your own garden plot on the roof! Besides being near the park, all the apartments in this cathedral-style building (part of this site was once a church) will open onto a landscaped glass atrium. (Construction will be completed next spring. Units still left for sale start at $299,000. 416-369-9993.) You can choose earth-friendly features like cork or bamboo flooring and a geothermal heating system will heat and cool the building without fossil fuels.
The Merchandise Lofts Building on Dalhousie has garnered lots of positive attention thanks to its 10,000-square-foot indigenous prairie meadow growing in two green roof plots - which is said to be one of, if not the biggest green roof of its kind in North America. The building also recycles rain for irrigation, has on-site composting and offers nearly 250 bike spaces. (Starting price $151,000 for studio space. 416-203-6636.)
If you're looking for a more intimate living space, Live Lightly Developments (a green development company) is in the middle of renovating a small five-unit live/work building at Queen near Broadview that should be ready this fall. (Units on sale now from $215,000, 416-887-1906.) Besides a green roof, solar panels and double the usual amount of insulation, the building also uses a geothermal pump to take heat from the ground in the winter and reverses the process in the summer. In addition, low-VOC paints and adhesives are used, a solar thermal heater for hot water will be in place, and strawboard cupboards and stone or solid wood countertops are available as an alternative to formaldehyde-releasing conventional kitchen surfaces. Oh yeah, and they offer discounted memberships to AutoShare, too.
Take a quick look around T.O. and you'll notice that renovated old buildings and factories are a hot source for lofts and condos. Enviros say orphaned factories or brownfields are a real problem, and cleaning them up, be it for loft conversions or new bars, is of tremendous benefit to the earth.
I asked eco groups just how safe it is to settle down in what was once an old chemical factory (condos are planned for GE's old uranium pellet factory on Lansdown, for instance) and was told that you should be pretty safe. Though standards for remediation were supposedly higher before former premier Mike Harris gutted them, as of this year some level of cleanup is now mandatory, unlike in the past. And brownfields that are being turned into residential space have to meet the highest standards.
Whatever place you peruse in your hunt for a permanent address, make sure to ask for a list of environmentally friendly features like the ones we highlight here. If they don't have any, tell them that's unacceptable, and spin around dramatically toward the door. If more buyers ask for green features and more condo owners organize to have their buildings retrofitted, the market will respond. Happy condo hunting.
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