I have been lucky enough to get to a bunch of new condominium launches in the city over the last few months and with the exception of a few, I would say that on the whole developers are getting more and more creative with their designs, architecture and interiors. Marketing companies, the machines behind the condos, are coming up with some great names and slogans all meant to capture our imaginations. The goal in all this is simple; get the customer into the door and sell them a condo. It’s not rocket science. I’ve probably seen a thousand different floor plans and surprisingly the layouts are all fairly standard. What is evident is that suite sizes are getting smaller. 20 years ago, a standard one-bedroom suite was 700+/- square feet today its’ more like 450 square feet. When you think about it, the reasons are clear; it costs more to build so in order to build affordable units you need to build them smaller. When it is less expensive to buy, more first time buyers can get into the market.
Well, having smaller suite sizes is all well and good, but I believe there are fundamental changes in the design of these suites that need to be addressed. It is clear that when you live in a small apartment you need to shift your lifestyle accordingly. Think for a moment about appliances. The diminutive condos being built today offer 30” fridges and stoves, and 24” dishwashers. It seems absurd to have full size appliances when smaller ones could free up more living space. Today, there are many manufactures who build smaller appliances for smaller homes. They require less space and use less energy. Builders will argue that they get better deals when they buy in bulk but who is actually driving the sales here? I think it’s the builder who has the ability to demand smaller appliances for smaller units.
Of course the big challenge in all this is getting the purchasers to buy into changing their lifestyles a little. A smaller fridge means shopping for the next few days and not the week or month. With rising food costs, maybe we should be adapting a more European lifestyle anyway. Less food going to waste means less food in the dumpster too. Today we don’t necessarily consider how appliances impact our lives, we just take them for granted, but in 50 years there is no question that we will be living in a much different world. How we purchase and consume food may, in fact, cause us to re-evaluate our appliance needs.
Last weekend I took #1 son to the Royal Ontario Museum in an effort to occupy a busy guy on a cold and wet weekend day. We stumbled upon a great exhibit aptly entitled “Water”. It was an interesting diversion. According to one of the displays, Canada has the third largest fresh water supply in the world, coupled with a much smaller population. On average we consume 87 gallons of water a day, but here is a strange but true fact, there is actually 29 million gallons of water available to each and every person in Canada. Based on that statistic, I think we are going to survive just fine.
So why am I mentioning this? Well its’ not so much the water we use that concerns me, its’ the water that dump back into the system. First of all, let me say that I am not a militant environmentalist. I actually don’t consider myself all that “green”. I drive a Yukon but at least its’ a hybrid so lets’ just say I’m green with a small “g”. I’m actually way more pragmatic and tend to focus on what all this water use will mean in the near future.
Consider a recent survey released by Unilever and RBC and featured in the Globe and Mail a few weeks ago. “Nearly three-quarters of Canadians admit in a new survey they treat their toilet like a garbage can, flushing down food, hair, bugs, cigarette butts and other items they should throw away in another manner. Each flush wastes six to 20 litres of water, meaning the continued use of household toilets as trash cans significantly adds up, with potentially serious implications for Canada’s water supply.”
As anyone who has sailed in the Toronto Harbour can attest to, in the few hours after a big rain storm, the harbour is absolutely littered with waste from the streets including what we sailors refer to as Balloon Fish (you would call them used condoms). The reality is that when we have a big storm, the city cannot deal with the additional waste so it bypasses the treatment plants and goes straight into the lake. One word….Gross.
Now imagine if you will, what will happen in 20 years when Toronto has 1 million more condo units in the downtown core. That means, at the very minimum 2 million more people adding to the treatment plants on a daily basis. All of a sudden, the idea of limiting water use, or more specifically waste water, seems quite important. So we are faced with some choices. First we can invest heavily in upgrading our sewer systems (read- digging up the existing decades old sewer pipes on your street), build better and more efficient sewage treatment plants, or attack it from the source, which is to limit how we use our water. Already households are being retrofitted with wireless water meter reading devices, but this is simply a way to pay for the water we use. It doesn’t really address how we use it. While probably a next to impossible task, perhaps it would be better to monitor and meter the waste we push out rather than the water we consume.
I think a better system, one that can be initiated now, would be to install mini water treatment plants in residential and commercial buildings. These plants would capture grey water, scrub it and then recycle it for use in toilets, and irrigation. The use of grey water is not a new idea. It is currently used in many areas around the Globe, from private homes to areas with water supply shortages. Here is a diagram of how a basic grey water system works except that instead of directing water into a planter bed, it is used to flush toilets. Perhaps we will need to keep the lid down so Fido doesn’t drink from the bowl. Its’ time we thought about it.
Special thanks to Carl Lindstrom of Greywater.com for the diagram.