Buying a glass condo with a view in Toronto or GTA? Is it a good investment? Maybe not. This information prepared by Toronto real estate expert, Nina Timoshyna, will make you think about it.
Toronto’s skyline is like a fingerprint, as no two skylines are alike. In news or sports programs, television shows or movies, advertisements or newspapers, you can recognize the location right away. But during past decade it has been transformed by condo towers – a building boom dominated by glass condos. They are cheaper and faster to erect. No other city in North America is building as many condo towers as Toronto.
Glass window-wall construction has overtaken the traditional construction methods with “punched-windows” set into insulated walls. The use of glass in skyscrapers construction has become very popular lately, mostly due to its relatively low cost. Modern condos are built with steel or reinforced concrete frameworks from which curtain walls are suspended, rather than load-bearing walls of conventional construction. Because the walls are not load-bearing, most tall buildings are characterized by large surface areas of windows.
A “curtain wall” system is an outer covering of a building in which the outer walls are non-structural, but merely keep the weather out and the occupants in. As the curtain wall is non-structural it can be made of a lightweight material, reducing construction costs. Glass curtain walls can cover the entire facade of a building.
Building high-rise condos involves creating safe, habitable spaces in very tall buildings. The buildings must support their weight, resist wind and earthquakes, insulate from the weather and protect occupants from fire.
The slow-motion failure of Toronto’s glass condos: the irony of the “Save Now, Pay Later” concept
For a long time construction experts have known that glass-walled buildings are less energy efficient than the “brick and mortar” ones. But the relatively low construction cost of glass condos and the high market demand made builders happy to use glass for condo skyscrapers.
The term “throw-away buildings” is now a synonym of a high-rise glass condo. More and more voices are sounding the alarm about the future of these buildings. Falling glass from the tall condos has already attracted public attention. It’s obvious. It’s dangerous. The long-term failure of the glass buildings is less sensational but is much more serious.
The veteran developer, David House, explains why glass condo buildings he would not put up again:
- “They’re not designed to last. They’re not designed to perform. They’re more or less designed to look good.”
- “No one involved in putting up a glass condo will be around to pay the utility bills or to fix the building once the maintenance problems develop.”
Building science consultant and professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo John Straube wrote a paper called “Can Highly Glazed Building Facades be Green?”
Straube says: “Thinking five years when we buy a laptop, ten years when we buy a car. With these buildings – both the skin and the mechanical systems are going to have to be redone in a 25-year time frame. The concrete structure will be there a long time but in 20, 25 years’ time, we are going to see a lot of scaffolding on the outside of the buildings as we replace the glazing, sealants and the glass itself.”
The window-wall systems has slim to non insulation value. “A little experiment – pinpoints John Straube – anyone can do at home is get a glass for drinking. Pour boiling water into it, and try and pick it up. You’ll burn yourself.” It means that as energy costs climb, your bills will do the same. You have to heat or cool your home, haven’t you?
But it’s not just the energy costs. Glass condos require major maintenance much earlier in their life cycle than a traditional building. Many of the glass condo towers will need glass replacing costing multimillions of dollars.
So, the major problems of the glass condos include:
- Insulation failures
- Water leaks
- Increasing energy and maintenance costs (big time!)
- Decreasing resale value
Bottom-line: if you want a building that is going to appreciate over the time, think twice before buying a unit in a tall glass condominium.
By Nina Timoshyna, Right at Home Realty Inc., Brokerage