Beware of Glass Boxes in the Sky

by Christina Mogk, MeCC Interiors

Tall condominiums on the horizon are not a new site. In Toronto, they are everywhere. In fact, Toronto has more high-rise buildings under construction than any other city in North America – more than 2,000% more than the average number of buildings under construction in Chicago, Miami, Calgary, Vancouver, Mississauga, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, L.A., and San Francisco.

Many of these new buildings feature very large glass windows, or window walls. The windows are great for sprawling city views, but according to a recent review by industry experts, most of these towers will require retrofits costing millions of dollars within fifteen to twenty-five (15-25) years after they’re built to deal with issues like water leaks, insulation failures, and significant increases in energy and maintenance costs. “We believe that somewhere between, say, five and 15 [years], many, many of those units will fail,” said David House of Earth Development, which bills itself as a socially responsible property developer.
John Straube, a building science engineer at the University of Waterloo, says “Now is about when we should start seeing trouble with 1990s buildings, with the glass starting to get fogged up, the rubber gaskets and sealants starting to fail.”

In Toronto, complaints and lawsuits have begun, though there are no definitive conclusions as yet. The cost of re-skinning a residential tower could cost between $5-10 million, according to Halsall Associates, a local-based engineering firm. ”But that is the actual removal and replacement only – there is nothing in there related to additional security costs or relocation costs for residents,” says structural engineer Sally Thompson.

What does this mean? In part, it’s a bit of buyer beware. Be sure to ask questions about the windows and the long-terms plans for replacement if you’re planning on buying a condo.

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