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Sustainability of Condo Living

It's not just expensive it's environmentally poor. Many modern condo constructions are essentially throw away buildings, built with lifespans of 20 years, to be extended by massively wasteful reconstruction and renovation. High rises are poor examples of sustainable construction.
 
It's not just expensive it's environmentally poor. Many modern condo constructions are essentially throw away buildings, built with lifespans of 20 years, to be extended by massively wasteful reconstruction and renovation. High rises are poor examples of sustainable construction.

just because there are inferior highrise buildings doesn't mean you can come to such a conclusion. There are plenty of subpar low rise buildings with shoddy quality too. A life span of 20 years? I live in a building completed in 1997, and there is absolutely no sign that it is about to collapse or beyond repair. What about those towers in Hong Kong and Tokyo which are more than 50 years old?

Lowrises are fine as long as people living in them don't completely rely on cars for everything, and they are not so big that heating and cooling them takes an enormous amount of energy.

regarding which is more sustainable, just think about this: how long can the world last if every single person live in a typical single family house with North American lifestyle (energy usage)?

You are kidding yourself in thinking the suburban house living is "sustainable" - it is probably comfortable for you, only because 95% of world's population don't consume nearly as much energy as you do, and if all of us do as you do, the earth will be depleted within 10 years. Sustainable?
 
just because there are inferior highrise buildings doesn't mean you can come to such a conclusion. There are plenty of subpar low rise buildings with shoddy quality too. A life span of 20 years? I live in a building completed in 1997, and there is absolutely no sign that it is about to collapse or beyond repair. What about those towers in Hong Kong and Tokyo which are more than 50 years old?

Are there really that many >50year old high-rises? I know Singapore ran into this issue with older owner occupied HDB flats, and even made a process to facilitate selling off older buildings. Here in Toronto, we've seen some issues with old post-war apt blocks (Miller's tower city thing, the inability to retrofit the Regent Park highrises ect..). Ditto in the US, with things like the Cabrini Green demolitions.


regarding which is more sustainable, just think about this: how long can the world last if every single person live in a typical single family house with North American lifestyle (energy usage)?

Right, but once you move beyond the comparison of Plano vs. Hong Kong, you'd see that density's impact reaches a point of diminishing marginal returns pretty quickly. Average household carbon footprints in areas like the Upper West Side (35t/CO2) would be more or less on par with footprints in, say, Santa Monica (35t/CO2 per year) or somewhere like Flushing, despite significant differences in density.
 
I don't think there's an exact definition of "high rise", but reliable elevators and steel frame construction enabled the first "skyscrapers" in Chicago & New York in the late 1800's. Many of those are still here today, so there are definitely high rises > 100 years old.

Low-rise neighbourhoods can obviously be walkable and fairly dense. For example Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood with it's duplex & triplexes, or many parts of downtown Toronto. Or Brooklyn or Boston, or Philadelphia or San Francisco etc etc. most places built before WW2.
 
The really fascinating part of the question to me is not the environmental footprint aspect but about the human political aspect. We have 50 year old towers yes, but condos are different animals. Condos differ from other high-rises in their ownership structure. The physical technical aspects of how long something lasts like windows, HVAC etc. matter less if there is a single business or corporate owner. These kind of buildings can be retrofitted or demolished according to the objectives of their owner. But what happens in a condo building faced with the same issues but with hundreds of unique owners with divergent objectives? They are like tiny kingdoms that will run peacefully forever or go down in flames quaking under the influence of evil tyrants based on luck and the culture of the individual building. What will the governments role be to step in in the case of buildings that go down in flames? Will we see condo corporations fold and sell their building or demolish it? Will we see white knight owners rescue buildings saddled with too many dead-beat ones? In the end buildings don't matter, it's people that matter. A lesson we should remind ourselves of sometimes on this forum.
 
The really fascinating part of the question to me is not the environmental footprint aspect but about the human political aspect. We have 50 year old towers yes, but condos are different animals. Condos differ from other high-rises in their ownership structure. The physical technical aspects of how long something lasts like windows, HVAC etc. matter less if there is a single business or corporate owner. These kind of buildings can be retrofitted or demolished according to the objectives of their owner. But what happens in a condo building faced with the same issues but with hundreds of unique owners with divergent objectives? They are like tiny kingdoms that will run peacefully forever or go down in flames quaking under the influence of evil tyrants based on luck and the culture of the individual building. What will the governments role be to step in in the case of buildings that go down in flames? Will we see condo corporations fold and sell their building or demolish it? Will we see white knight owners rescue buildings saddled with too many dead-beat ones? In the end buildings don't matter, it's people that matter. A lesson we should remind ourselves of sometimes on this forum.

Well theoretically the condo board elected by the owners makes the decisions regarding major repairs for the building.
 
The really fascinating part of the question to me is not the environmental footprint aspect but about the human political aspect. We have 50 year old towers yes, but condos are different animals. Condos differ from other high-rises in their ownership structure. The physical technical aspects of how long something lasts like windows, HVAC etc. matter less if there is a single business or corporate owner. These kind of buildings can be retrofitted or demolished according to the objectives of their owner. But what happens in a condo building faced with the same issues but with hundreds of unique owners with divergent objectives? They are like tiny kingdoms that will run peacefully forever or go down in flames quaking under the influence of evil tyrants based on luck and the culture of the individual building. What will the governments role be to step in in the case of buildings that go down in flames? Will we see condo corporations fold and sell their building or demolish it? Will we see white knight owners rescue buildings saddled with too many dead-beat ones? In the end buildings don't matter, it's people that matter. A lesson we should remind ourselves of sometimes on this forum.

That's why condo boards exist - all you need is a majority (or super majority) vote to get things done so buildings don't tend to fall into anarchy. It would be very unusual that the cost of repairs would ever exceed the value of the units; the worst would probably be total building envelope replacement and even that isn't that expensive relative to the cost of tearing a building down and starting over. That being said, there have been cases where an entire building was sold to a single buyer, but in these cases the condo board will handle everything and all it takes is a simple vote.

Anyone who doesn't pay their condos fees can have a lien registered against the property, and eventually force a sale of the property. On the whole condo laws are pretty well developed so the risk of a building "going down in flames" is pretty rare, although it's more likely that owners could lose a bundle if something does go wrong. Of course, this is possible with a house too. :)
 
regarding which is more sustainable, just think about this: how long can the world last if every single person live in a typical single family house with North American lifestyle (energy usage)?

I'd argue that a single family house actually has the potential to be more sustainable because it is inherently more flexible than a highrise. Aside from cost, there's nothing stopping me from turning my 1200 square foot semi into a net zero energy building, but you can't say the same for a condo, both because I would have to get the board to agree to it and because the built form is inherently less efficient.
 
I'd argue that a single family house actually has the potential to be more sustainable because it is inherently more flexible than a highrise. Aside from cost, there's nothing stopping me from turning my 1200 square foot semi into a net zero energy building, but you can't say the same for a condo, both because I would have to get the board to agree to it and because the built form is inherently less efficient.

guys, you are argue for low rise living all you want. Good luck find any concrete research showing low rise living is more efficient than highrise living. You are just trying to convince yourself your life style is not that detrimental to the environment.
 
ksun, I appreciate your confidence but you are hiding behind a lot of rash assumptions. Quit judging people you don't know - cheers.
 
guys, you are argue for low rise living all you want. Good luck find any concrete research showing low rise living is more efficient than highrise living. You are just trying to convince yourself your life style is not that detrimental to the environment.

It really isn't clear cut, as there are just so many variables. Most studies look at SFH as a singular type of dwelling, which includes everything from little post-war 1000 square foot bungalows up to 4000+ square foot suburban behemoths. In reality, energy efficiency depends on construction materials, building envelope, efficiency of HVAC systems, density of occupants, transportation used to get around, local climate, and so on. There's also a difference between theoretical efficiency and practical efficiency based on what actually get's built.

You might find this thread from a board filled with actual urban planners to be illuminating:

http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=36825
 
You can still put elevators in a mid-rise, the difference is that you need fewer per resident because the distances traveled are shorter, and accordingly they take up less space and use less energy. Also, simple things like putting stairs in prominent places and locating elevators out of the way can do a lot to encourage subtle changes in behaviour. In many buildings, stairs are locked off and hard to access so even people on low floors take the elevator even though it would be faster to take the stairs.

My first apartment was on the 6th floor of a 6-storey building. I think, but can't recall for sure, there were six units per floor, plus a garage. We had one elevator. It was never a problem. I mostly ended up running the stairs anyway because I was young and in great shape and wanted to stay that way.
 
Have to agree with ksun on this one - the only way that a house could possibly be more sustainable than an apartment is if it were very compact (i.e. similar space utilisation per person vis-a-vis a condo), built with standards approaching net-zero and low-energy materials, utilising its footprint for gardening to provide food (or without a yard at all to increase dramatically the density allotments), yet within transportation distance to also allow for walking. Still, the land-use result of this would almost certainly mean that density wouldn't be high enough (though tower in the park design also uses too much land).

I understand that simply marketing a condo as sustainable without incorporating any real sustainable elements (solar, geothermal, low energy materials, high R-value insulation, taking into account sun heat loss/gain, etc.) is very misleading. Using cheaper materials that have to be replaced more often also contributes negatively to the environment. Still, I just can't see low-rise winning in any scenario where there is rationing of land (i.e. a city where many people want to live), and certainly not given the actual built environment of Toronto - i.e. large low rise houses with large lots.
 
just because there are inferior highrise buildings doesn't mean you can come to such a conclusion. There are plenty of subpar low rise buildings with shoddy quality too. A life span of 20 years? I live in a building completed in 1997, and there is absolutely no sign that it is about to collapse or beyond repair. What about those towers in Hong Kong and Tokyo which are more than 50 years old?

Lowrises are fine as long as people living in them don't completely rely on cars for everything, and they are not so big that heating and cooling them takes an enormous amount of energy.

regarding which is more sustainable, just think about this: how long can the world last if every single person live in a typical single family house with North American lifestyle (energy usage)?

You are kidding yourself in thinking the suburban house living is "sustainable" - it is probably comfortable for you, only because 95% of world's population don't consume nearly as much energy as you do, and if all of us do as you do, the earth will be depleted within 10 years. Sustainable?

It's not really a dichotomy between "massive condo" and "suburban detatched house". I live in a house subdivided into 5 apartments. It's not even that big. There's lots of grey area in between. How many condos exist with basement tenants?

Many high density cities are not full of high rises. Paris, London, these are cities of low rises and townhomes. Current economics are what drive the built form of the condo because that is where most profit can be made. Sustainability in these buildings are little more than marketing terms in reality.
 
It's not really a dichotomy between "massive condo" and "suburban detatched house". I live in a house subdivided into 5 apartments. It's not even that big. There's lots of grey area in between. How many condos exist with basement tenants?

Many high density cities are not full of high rises. Paris, London, these are cities of low rises and townhomes. Current economics are what drive the built form of the condo because that is where most profit can be made. Sustainability in these buildings are little more than marketing terms in reality.

the five apartments with basement accommodate how many people, like 10 max? I don't know how you can compare with the density highrises provides.

I have argued many times that cities with high density yet very few highrises normally don't have a lot of lowrise homes either. The fact that highly dense Paris hardly have any skyscrapers doesn't mean Toronto can do the same, due to the fact that Toronto has a large number of low rise (1-3s) homes Paris doesn't have. Paris has many lowrises and townhomes? Not really. Most buildings are above 5 stories and they are one against each other. Yet if you go outside the Old Toronto, suburban homes are far from each other.

Old Toronto has about the same land area as the City of Paris yet with 1/3 population, despite all the skyscrapers. You know why? because of ubiquitous lowrise homes. I am not saying towers necessarily brings density, but lowrise homes are a natural enemy of urban density.
 

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