British Columbia

Luxury condo buildings guzzle electricity, says BC Hydro report

A BC Hydro report says newer high-rise buildings use twice as much electricity as high-rises built in the 1980s even though the newer buildings are marketed as energy efficient.

'Everything's running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,' says spokesperson

BC Hydro says the average building’s electricity use increased by 65 per cent between 1999 and 2009. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A BC Hydro report says newer high-rise buildings use twice as much electricity as highrises built in the 1980s even though the newer buildings are marketed as energy efficient.

The Crown corporation's report released Friday says luxurious amenities like pools, hot tubs, fitness centres, saunas, and even bowling alleys are contributing to the dramatic increase in buildings' energy footprint.

Spokesperson Tanya Fish says, when it comes to electricity, condo dwellers don't realize how much those perks cost.

Fish said there's a disconnect between what dwellers think they are consuming and what their building is actually consuming.

"They're not seeing the cost of the extra amenities on their monthly BC Hydro bill," she said. Instead those costs are covered by strata fees.

In addition to having more amenities, newer buildings tend to be bigger, include more units than older ones, and steadily consume electricity throughout the day.

BC Hydro says while 50 per cent of energy use from buildings comes from individual units, common building operations are responsible for the other half.

"Oftentimes everything's running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," says Fish. "Lights in hallways and lobbies are always on, elevators are always running.

"All this is contributing to that overall cost of the building as opposed to a single family home."

Poor insulation

According to the report, the biggest jump in consumption happened between 1999 and 2009 when the average building's electricity use increased by 65 per cent.

But Vancouver architect Michael Geller says building standards, not hot tubs, are to blame.

"The major contributor to the increase in energy consumption over the last, say, 20 years was the propensity to go to these glass boxes," Geller said.

Many recent buildings were built with concrete and glass, which he said are "two very poor energy performing materials."

New codes, higher standards

Geller said building codes have changed over the years. For example, in 2016, the City of Vancouver created the Zero Emissions Building Plan, which set new targets for energy efficiency and reducing emissions.

The province followed up in 2017 when it launched the Energy Step Code, which aims to achieve a net-zero energy building code in British Columbia by 2032. Net-zero energy buildings produce as much clean energy as they consume. They are up to 80 percent more energy efficient than a typical new building, and use renewable energy systems to produce the remaining energy they need.

While BC Hydro is confident it can provide enough energy to power the grid, the report noted that as more people live in apartments and condos because of their relative affordability, energy demands could change.

"It will change demand in certain areas," said Fish.

"Looking at downtown Vancouver, where there is high density, obviously there's more demand for electricity so those are things that are important for us as we plan for the future."

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