Condo Smarts: It may be time to reevaluate air conditioning regulations

Does the coroner’s report on deaths during the heat dome impose an obligation on our strata to change our statutes?

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Dear Tony:

Our condo company has a bylaw that prohibits the installation of any wall or window air conditioners. Our building was built in the mid 80s and was a leaking condo repair in 2002. As part of the repairs, we were advised at the time to pass a bylaw prohibiting any type of penetrations or openings on the envelope of our building. Because most of our owners have been through the repair cycles they are now extremely paranoid about all types of wall mounted cooling units, but our board is also aware of the dangers of extreme heat, especially with so many the elderly.

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Does the coroner’s report on deaths during the heat dome impose an obligation on our strata to change our statutes?

—Adriana D.

Dear Adriana:

The coroner’s report highlighted the severity of extreme heat events and the need for cooling and public safety. It’s time for everyone to assess their air conditioning regulations. Very few multi-family buildings in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island have collective or individual cooling systems.

Our climate was historically moderate and natural cooling was the easiest economic choice for developers and owners. Climatic events, such as the heat dome or a polar vortex, forced us to modify the design of our buildings and our mechanical systems. Everyone assumes that warmth during the winter is essential for survival. We must recognize that cooling during periods of extreme heat is also essential.

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Each building system has unique designs, property uses, and property assignments such as common ownership and strata lots. Depending on the type of buildings, such as apartments, high-rises, townhouses, or bare land strata corporations, there can be a variety of air conditioning options.

Bare land and townhouse properties will be the easiest to modify, as heat pumps/cooling can be retrofitted to heating systems or mounted at ground level next to units.

Low-rise apartment-style homes or stacked townhouses may require wall penetration to allow for the installation of a heat pump or cooling system.

Mid-rise and high-rise buildings may allow balcony-mounted heat pumps and will be a hassle, especially if the exterior walls are all glass.

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Each building will require an assessment of the type of cooling systems available, how they will be installed, the location of the installation, whether a property allows such modifications, and the impact on common property use or appearance.

I agree, a homeowner should exercise caution when approving any modification that results in any type of holes in the building envelope, but it is possible to have installations detailed to ensure safe performance.

I would recommend your strata consult with a building envelope engineer to examine your property, recommend locations and installation methods. If a homeowner applies for permission to install a heat pump, the process will be clear.

Homeowners should also consider converting their rooftop make-up air systems to heat pumps. Most homeowners only have units that generate heat during the winter, so in the summer when it’s 40C, the system pumps 40C off the roof plus heat into the building when it should be cool. A rooftop heat pump is electric, reduces GHGs and, more importantly, will reduce the ambient temperature of common areas of the building during extreme heat events.

Set up a communal space with cooling as a refuge and schedule wellness checks within your community. Most buildings have some sort of landscaping. Keep your trees healthy and cared for, they significantly reduce exposure and street and building temperatures.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association. Email [email protected]

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