2 min

Save the planet, buy a condo

Higher density living is environmentally the best

Green. It’s the colour of emeralds, the Grinch, broccoli, and grass (legal or not). But green is also the colour of saving the environment and sustaining it for future generations.

At first glance, a tall condo or apartment building looks like it’s awful for the environment. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Urban living is far better for the environment than sprawling suburbs.

Think about it. Buildings have a high population density in a small space, and it is this fact that gives them enormous potential to be environmentally benign.

“You can fit two neighbourhoods in one building,” says Jonathan Rausseo, sustainable development coordinator for the University Of Ottawa. Condos are the perfect vehicle for sustainable development.

This is the main argument for condo living, but there are many more reasons to consider, especially in terms of sustainability.

“Everything is contained within the building,” says Rausseo. “Whereas houses are spread out and power needs to travel between them. Energy is wasted this way.” With denser buildings, there aren’t as many pipelines, which means fewer materials and less environmental impact. Rausseo notes that Ottawa is running out of space to waste.

Ever notice the garden atop the new Canadian War Museum? It’s a hint at the future, a future that’s already gaining momentum in Europe. Green roofs provide a beautiful urban common space along with other practical benefits.

“It manages rainwater, and cools the building, which saves air conditioning costs,” says Ottawa architect Robert Smith, who was on the original council of the National Capital Green Building Council.

Smith left EMA Architects in May of last year to start his own firm with a vision for socially responsible architecture, or green buildings. He is concerned that governments have not yet made environment a priority, so it’s up to the public to demand green and sustainable buildings.

“Even if you’re already living in a condo building, you’re already helping the environment,” says Smith.

The cost of a condo with energy efficient appliances is far less than buying a house and outfitting it with new ones. A condo may seem small, but it’s a great way to avoid clutter.

“People are always taking up more space than they need,” says Rausseo. “But in a condo or apartment, there are [usually] no rooms that aren’t used. To some extent this can minimize consumerism, in that you won’t buy something you don’t need if there’s no room for it.”

It’s also less space to clean, and for the most part, condo and apartment buildings are close to transit hubs because facilitating car parking for an entire building is expensive and complicated.

High density living “encourages the idea that you can walk where you need to go, or take public transit,” says Rausseo. Not buying that car and relying on foot, bicycle and public transit are widely acknowledged as the best way of helping the environment.

Trouble is, many of us are brainwashed since birth to want that little house on a little lot with a little lawn. “A condo is good for certain people, and then there are people who can’t think outside of the white picket fence,” admits Caja Hoffmann, an associate of Robert J Smith Architects.

If you’re already living in a condo or apartment, there are other things you can do to further reduce your damage to the planet. You can reduce electricity and water consumption by switching compact fluorescent bulbs, wearing slippers and sweaters instead of cranking the heat, and using an aerator for faucets and showers.

And if the shared appliances in your building aren’t energy efficient, explain to the landlord that newer appliances will save a fortune in energy costs.

We all have the power to do our bit — even while living an exciting urban lifestyle.