Summer 2016 was one of the hottest on record in the Greater Toronto Area, with experts predicting summer temperatures could soar to 44 degrees Celsius by 2050. In this rapidly changing climate, the city’s high-rise buildings are also feeling the heat, with the provincial government tightening up the Ontario Building Code to meet new global imperatives.
Increasingly erratic weather has a direct impact on Ontario’s residential building stock. Condo maintenance fees are based on predictable historic norms, stable benchmarks and logical predictions, so what happens when those predictions no longer fit the weather outside the window?
Leading engineering firms have been pushing forward with research into the effects of climate change on the industry, including a look at a performance-based approach to dealing with the impacts of extreme weather on buildings.
Buyers, condo boards and residents all need to make sure they’re looking deeper than a building’s surface finishes and amenities when making purchases and planning budgets. With a rapidly changing and unpredictable climate, proper planning is important to avoid costly failures that will impact the maintenance fees and property values.
There are several issues that a rapidly changing and unpredictable climate pose for building resiliency. In urban centres such as Toronto the main issue is the glass towers — which are basically terrariums. They’re extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter. This has a huge impact on building performance and now, with energy costs rising rapidly, boards are starting to appreciate what this means for condo corporations. Plus, an uptick in precipitation could mean more flooding.
Climate change experts predict an increase in heavy rainfall and storms, which will increase the risk of flash flooding. Flooding could cause issues with basements and parking garages. Storm power outages can be costly for condos — renting a generator on short notice to ensure residents have power can be a costly emergency measure. There are also issues with high winds, although modern condos are usually designed to withstand the movement from wind. Older units require regular inspections to make sure that they are prepared for extremes.
Extreme heat places enormous stress on buildings and future summers are predicted to get hotter still. The U.S.-based Climate Central group has suggested that Toronto will have a similar climate to Miami by 2100.
Glass windows promote solar heat gain and can create a greenhouse effect inside. This creates heavy energy demand as air conditioning units run non-stop just to keep residents comfortable. Increased stress on chiller units inside buildings means that they may have to be replaced or repaired more often. Heat also causes stress to building materials and ultraviolet damage can affect the look of cladding, again increasing the risk of costly surprise repairs.
Extreme cold and freezing
In high-rise buildings, porous materials are particularly susceptible to freeze-thaw. Water easily finds its way into porous materials and cracked or damaged cladding and then freezes. Rapid freeze-thaw cycles can cause materials to expand and shrink repeatedly until the build-up of stress causes fractures and failures. Making sure there is enough put away in a building’s reserve fund is an even more urgent priority.
Another impact is the increased stress put on heating systems within condos not designed with energy efficiency in mind. Crucial equipment may have to be replaced or repaired more often — again, this is something that condo owners want to pre-empt to avoid any surprise special assessments.
Special assessments aren’t just unpopular with residents; they can also have an effect on the building’s desirability and re-sale value. Suddenly having nine out of 10 units in a building on the market because owners can’t pay up is the worst-case scenario. It can be easily avoided by careful condo boards and good financial management. If in doubt, contact an engineer.
A lot of this isn’t new information but is only now being put in action by developers, as governments in Canada tighten up building regulations and the impact of climate change becomes inescapable.
In the future, expect much stricter building codes that take into account climate change — both the causes and the effects. The same goes for retrofitting older buildings. The condos of the future should actively work to reduce greenhouse emissions and climate change costs by being more energy efficient, for example, or employing the latest in technology and materials. It is important for savvy condo boards to get a head start.
As the general public and governments come to grips with the new climate change reality, the condo market will have to catch up too. Who’s going to pay to retroactively fit these tall, glassy buildings that fill cities such as Toronto? How will condo boards plan ahead for the potential side-effects of extreme weather events? Could Toronto even see a new age of austerity in the condo market?
Likely not. With careful and methodical planning, the majority of corporations and property managers will be well-placed to ride out the worst Canada’s future climate can throw at them.
At Entuitive, Brian Shedden is a senior building envelope specialist, delivering assessment and restoration services for a broad range of project types, including condominiums. With a career spanning more than 30 years, Brian provides building condition assessments, performance failure investigations, reserve fund studies and recommendations for restoration and renewal of building envelope systems.