Toronto Star Housing Feature: Recycled condos: More than the sum of its parts February 6, 2010


The Recycled Condo. EVERYTHING old is new again
By Stephen Weir

It looks news. It smells fresh. It has a new home warranty. Yet, some of the parts of its sum have been around at least once before. Recycled materials are beginning to be used in the construction of new condos, not to save money but to save the planet.
When it comes to constructing Toronto condominiums EVERTHING old, from broken glass to discarded animal skin, is new again. In a drive to be green, developers are using recycled materials in almost every aspect of the building cycle.
There isn’t a totally recycled condominium in Canada … yet. But a visit to a number of new building projects offers a glimpse of the future fast approaching. One building uses century-old wood for flooring in new half-million dollar condos, another uses concrete blocks made with old broken wine bottles. And then there is the building that has recycled leather car upholstery on the walls and floor.
“ There is a consumer demand for all things green – including the use of recycled materials,” explained Mark Cohen, Founding Partner of The CondoStore Marketing Systems. “ And, at the same there are new developers coming on the market with a social conscious and a real desire to follow the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle).”
“ We all have a responsibility in this day and age to preserve our environment and the communities that we live in,” said Cohen. “It is good to see condo developers playing their part because their developments have a huge impact on the urban environment.
CondoStore Marketing Systems is a Toronto based firm that specializes in marketing condominiums and large-scale subdivision in and outside the GTA.
Like the bionic man, there are bits and pieces of recycled material being used all-over Toronto and the rest of the country. Were these parts combined one could create the completely recycled condo tower. Beginning under the dirt and working our way upward, the Toronto Star looks at the use of recycled materials.

Ground Level – When Pro-Green Demolition took down the massive Molson Brewery along Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard; it was able to recycle most of the concrete used in the block-long building. The concrete was pulverized and used as bedding material under the grounds and the roadway leading into the West Harbour City condominium development, which replaced the old brewery.
Franco Provenzano, the company president, said that most of the concrete recovered from the brewery did get used – be it on the Lakeshore or somewhere else in Toronto.
"That puppy (the Molson beer factory) was over-built. There was at least 3,000 metric tonnes of recyclable steel (encased in the cement) in there. It was as though they were getting ready for World War Three," says Frank Provenzano, one of four brothers who own and operate ProGreen Demolition, a Concord company that specializes in recovering recyclable materials from the buildings it tears down.

The Concrete Foundation - A York University building has it. Condo towers in California, British Columbia and the Majestic Court project in Unionville (Markham) use it too.
Some call it EcoSmart Concrete; others have dubbed it Fly Ash Concrete. It is a new building product that reduces the amount of cement used in concrete by replacing about half of it with blast furnace slag --fly ash – the residue that is left when coal is burned to produce power.
In 2001 York University built its large Computer Science Building using fly ash concrete. It was a test to see if concrete mixed with recycled fly ash could be a viable high-rise building material.
“No detrimental cost effects were experienced in this project. On the contrary, fly ash costs about half the price of cement and is readily available. As well, the labour required to place fly ash concrete proved to be less than conventional concrete due to its workability,” reports Busby and Associates Architects, the firm that oversaw the project.

Between the walls. The ugly, rough concrete block has been a part of construction projects since the 1830s. The standard block is rectangular with two large holes in the middle (for metal tie beams).
Cement blocks are often used in the walls and basements of housing projects. Now more and more of the blocks are turning up at Condo sites (including the Liberty Village condominium project), where they are used to build interior walls between suites.
Originally the recipe for the common block was a mixture of poured cement and sand. Now, in these recycling times, one Canadian company is making blocks from cement and pulverized glass harvested from Toronto’s blue box programme.

“We are seeing it (being used) in higher end condo projects,” said Don Gordon President & CEO of the Midland, Ontario based Atlas Block Co. Ltd. There is a demand for our new concrete block (which he calls the PCR Block). Up to 30% of the block is made from ground and processed glass. With the glass inside the cement there is less sound transference than with the old style block – which is important for condo owners. They add an insulation value, they contribute significantly to builders looking to meet environmental building standards and they are cost competitive.”
“We have been on this path (developing a glass and cement block) for about three years. We are doing this because we think this the right thing to do. We want to focus on reducing our environment footprint and this is such a beautiful idea,” he continued. “This block will last at least a century. People will lose their appetite for the building long before the block wears away. Then they can tear them down and grind them up and use them again.”

Between the walls even more – It is pink. It is green. It keeps out the heat and cold and dampens noise. Insulation is as much a part of a condominium build as glass, steel and wood.
Insulation is used in the walls between suites to reduce noise. It is also placed on outer walls to keep out the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The most popular forms of insulation are bales of fiberglass (often coloured pink) and rigid slabs of polystyrene insulation.
Canadian fiberglass insulation is a mixture of sand, glass and paper wrap. Both recycled glass and sand are rapidly replenished, inexhaustible resources. Owens Corning Canada, a major supplier of insulation to the condo building industry says they produce a recycled product that saves more than 12 times the energy used to produce it in its first year of installation.
“ The minimum recycle content of our (pink) glass fiber insulation in Canada is 60%. I don't have specifics for the source of the recycled glass we use, but it comprises post-industrial and post-consumer waste from local sources like Toronto’s grey box recycling programme,” said Owens Corning insulation expert Nigel Ravenscroft. “Glass fiber insulation products produced at our Scarborough plant include much higher levels of recycled glass, 60% is the minimum claimed. We supply building insulation for the Toronto market primarily from plants located in Toronto and Valleyfield which minimizes transportation emissions.”
“Our rigid extruded-polystyrene insulation contains a minimum of 20% recycled polystyrene,” said Ravenscroft. “Our compression packaging is the most efficient in the industry, which means you get more insulation on a delivery truck. The carbon footprint in terms of transport is getting smaller every year.”

Windows - Most window glass used in Toronto buildings is manufactured using the recycle friendly "float" process. It is sort of like making taffy. Silica sand and other materials (soda and lime) are melted overtop of a hot bath liquid tin. As part of the bake, 30% or more recycled glass (cullet) is mixed in.
The big concern in using the cullet is that impurities from the recycled glass could literally taint the finished product. However, the savings both to the environment and the bottom line make the use of clean cullet a North American standard for glassmakers.

Steel – Toronto’s skyline is built on steel. Without structural steel girders the condominium tower would never have been invented. Steel provides strength, shape and longevity to the modern skyscraper. The strength to weight ratios is so high that steel is used on practically every construction site in the city.
As well steel is used more and more for framing, roofing and decking on large scale condo projects. Most Ontario steelmakers produce steel products that are cooked with up to 30% recycled steel.

Flooring - Nice new floors in your condo? Nice maybe but probably not 100% new. Builders targeting areas within their projects where recycled materials can be effectively used need only look down.
Some of the most unique methods of utilizing recycled material in new buildings can be found underfoot. The rubber undersides to carpeting often contain rubber that has been literally around again – recycled car tires are plentiful and cheap. Recycled tiles using everything from recycled wine bottle cork to reclaimed porcelain and clay are finding their way into condo projects.
Downtown, at the Clear Spirit building in the Distillery District, century old wood, harvested from one of the project’s soon-to-be torn down rack houses (buildings where barrels of liquor were stored) is being converted into flooring. Wood that was used to hold up barrels of booze is now lining the condo’s lobby walls and the floors of suites.
“It is more a philosophical statement than a business decision,” said Jamie Goad, one of the principals of the Distillery District. “We are trying to promote the experience of living in the Distillery. When people move in here, they are part of the community and by using this lumber it makes the connection between the past and the future.”
“ The trees were probably cut a hundred years ago. Because it was first growth trees the wood is straight and true” he continued “Fabulous wood. Tight grain. Almost clear. Can’t buy it for love or money. The Rack House has to come down so we are really glad we can save the wood.”
New homeowners in Tridel’s Renaissance complex in Richmond Hill (Major Mackenzie Drive and Yonge St) can upgrade the flooring and wall coverings in their new condo units with tiles made from recycled leather.
“ We have had an amazing response from architects who like the look and durability of our leather flooring (tiles and planks). We have shown in a model home in Calgary – Cow Town of course – and here in the Greater Toronto area,” said Karen Deel, brand manager with Mississauga’s Toryls Smart Floors.
“Leather flooring has been around forever. In Europe there are churches and castles that have 700 year old leather floors,” explained Deel. “It is interesting that in terms of Canadian consumers, only a small portion are totally green. They are coming to our leather flooring for other reasons. The floor has a certain high-end style. There are health reasons too, the floors do not emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds that affect air quality) and the cork underlay is also environmentally sensitive.”
Christian Nadeau, a Montreal lawyer who now operates EcoDomo Recycled Leather Tiles in Maryland, is credited with launching the product in the United States. EcoDomo works with Toryls here in Canada. Their tiles are used on floors, walls and even elevator interiors.
“ I get my cow hide leather in South America. Most of it comes from car seat manufacturers. I buy up the leftovers, the leather that would normally end up in a land fill site,” Nadeau told the Star. “We tear the material into a fiber, blend with water, tree bark and latex, the product comes out 100 mm thick, and then is compressed to 3 mm thickness.”
The blending of the leather is done in Argentina and then the product is shipped to the USA, where a protective coating and backing is applied to the tile. “I work with the Amish community in Maryland – we send it out UPS and it comes back on a horse and buggy.”
“Leather is durable. It looks classy and the costs are coming down ($14 to $28 US per square ft),” he continued. “ There is no end to our supply of leather. We have received an offer from Wilson, the football manufacturer to supply us with 50 tons of recycled leather a month!”

The Big Picture “ This is just the beginning,” said CondoStore’s Mark Cohen. “We can expect a raising of the bar when it comes to using recycled materials. More and more consumers are looking to feel good about how they live. It is the responsibility of the developers, to fulfill that desire. This will effect their buying decisions and ultimately the success of their projects.”
“There is a desire among Toronto's condo builders to stay ahead of
the pack … even on an international level. The industry here wants to use the latest in green technology and recycling initiatives.”


Top: Library Leather flooring made by EcoDomo Recycled Leather Tiles
Middle: Glass bottles are used in the creation of recycled concrete blocks by Atlas the Block Company


It is time to start to think "GREEN". Recycled steal, pulverized glass, recycled car tires and leather.. all the terms should be a part of our every day language..
Thank you for saving the nature for our children!
All has been recycled. Thank you for saving the nature for our children too!

Paula M
A condominium is similar to an apartment with the real difference being that the tenants own their units.

Toronto Condominiums
Kate Louise said…
For expecting a raise of the bar it becomes essential using recycled materials. It is the responsibility of the developers, to fulfill that desire and it will definitely effect the buying decisions.

Home Renting Services Toronto
Awesome post you have here! Thank you very much for sharing! A very interesting topic.

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