The Toronto Atmospheric Fund’s TowerWise Program recently put 50 Toronto condominium buildings to the energy test. We contracted Mann Engineering to conduct energy audits of condominiums participating in our Green Condo Champions project. Participating buildings ranged in age from two to 40. What we found is that a lot of condominiums are paying far too much for energy, no matter what age their building is.
In fact, the range in natural gas consumption per square metre of building space was vast, with the worst performing building using more than five times more energy than the best performing building. Newer buildings also were little better than older buildings: In fact, buildings in the 6-10 year old age range were some of the worst performers (click here for a chart).
Why can some condos use as little as 3-6 cubic metres of gas per square metre while others use 20 cubic metres or more? The answers are complex but there are a number of key issues:
Simple lack of awareness. The best performing buildings are those where the board and the property manager are actively engaged in monitoring energy costs and improving performance over time. Condo board members are not energy experts and have no easy way of comparing their building’s energy performance to others (until now). And replacing boilers and fan motors is usually not a top-of-mind issue with most residents. But with energy being easily the No. 1 controllable cost for condominiums, it is an issue that every condo board should be looking at closely. Our Power of Green guidebook for condo’s provides advice for boards on how to take charge of their own energy performance.
The Condo Act. Ontario’s Condominium Act places strict limits on what condo corporations can do with their reserve funds. Early replacement of equipment like boilers is generally a no-no, even if a new boiler can dramatically improve energy efficiency. And the act actually stipulates that the corporation should replace “same with same”, which makes it difficult to invest in higher cost equipment that will actually result in long-term savings. Borrowing to fund equipment replacement or building upgrades is equally complicated requiring a borrowing bylaw and consent of the majority of members.
There is a better way. The Canadian Condominium Institute has recommended changes to the Condo Act which would classify all energy efficiency investments as eligible reserve fund expenditures. Energy efficiency would then become a mandatory element in every condominium’s reserve fund study.
This would preserve the intent of the Condominium Act while also laying the groundwork for a significant improvement in energy efficiency. It’s a win-win solution that will help condos develop solid plans for improving the energy efficiency – and lowering the greenhouse gas emissions – of their building without comprising the integrity of reserve funds. In fact, the cash flow savings generated by a well-planned energy retrofit can actually make the reserve fund healthier and help keep condo fees under control.
With condominiums becoming the housing form of choice for ever more Torontonians, this change is urgently needed.