Posted by: energyblogwalter | December 20, 2008

Re: Like it or not, condos will keep going up :: Toronto Star Dec 20th, 2008

(email to author Christopher Hume)

Hi Mr Hume,

While it’s true that condos will keep going up, they do so for entirely the wrong reasons that has nothing to do with reality.  This headline and article points to an egregious waste of energy and the fate of Baby Boomers to stick us with their narcissism and never ending cleanup bill.  Ouch.  I can only see condos as great repositories of metal brick and glass which later on we will dismantle to build houses.  The Renovation Economy.

Please bear with me as I first would like to explain the why first, then I think the how of condos versus houses will make more sense.

According to the IEA World Report (Paris Nov 2008 ) oil is depleting at about 6.7% per year.  Thus there would be half available oil in 10 years or so (magic number 70/6.7 = 10.4 years).  All the while world population keeps increasing.  With a slowdown now this might help us but the math doesn’t change much, just delays the inevitable.

Let’s say I take 1000mL of water and it gets cut in half due to a natural depletion, I now have 500mL.  However say my demand doubled at the same time.  Now I have only 250mL not 500.  So I have a quarter of what’s left.  Thus I get 1/2^n relationship.  (one over 2 to the n power, where n is the rate of demand).  With a doubling of demand (n=2) I get a quarter left.  Tripling (n=3) I get an 8th, quadrupling (n=4) I get a 16th etc.  Pretty straightforward.

With oil, as other countries grow they keep more of their own oil for domestic usage to power their growing populations.  Less to export.  Therefore 6.7% is only a minimum decline rate and seems to be a far more serious example than the one above.  A special case is Mexico who are in a double digit decline crash, and would have otherwise affected the US market in 3 years had it not been for this recession.

Doesn’t matter.  Pick your math.  How this problem goes down or whatever timeline we choose, it’s clear our ability to expect energy to be the same everyday is changing.

Alrightie then, so oil depletion is good to know.  What does this have to do with condos?  Our ability to use energy will have to change on a fundamental level and condos do nothing for people in terms of energy.

A condo with too many people occupying the same space means multiple times the energy requirements needed for everyone, which the marketplace does not account for.  Fossil fuels are mandatory for these to exist.  No combination of alternative energies can make these cleaner.  With natural gas likely to pick up demand while oil wains with an appropriate price spike to match, this will make condos increasingly more expensive to live in.  The maintenance fee will never go down.  Only a few sun-sided residents might make some electricity or grow some food.  But the majority of people cannot net meter their energy since they don’t make any.  Very few options for condos.

A homeowner by contrast has land, and some sunlight so can engage in solar thermal, geo-thermal heating, composting, gardening, water management, all kinds of things that reduce external energy needs.  Even food production.  Excesses in electricity generation can be net metered back into the grid to pay off the mortgage quicker.  Some even have fireplaces.  Options and with more options adding all the time.  Mind you I’m not referring to high tech like solar panels, just basic acceptance of the sun and land as inclusive to the building’s energy uses.  Oh, and these already exist.

I will have to fix this mess.  This will be my burden.  I’m trying to get to university as a mature student now, seeing throughout media and business that there is neither the will to face reality nor the competence to prepare and build for it.

#1: We failed basic math.
#2: Celebrating population growth must stop and be redistributed across the region based on accessible energy.
#3: A new balance will be needed based on #1 and #2, maybe as houses or low-rise buildings with four floors etc, but not condos.

Condos are an oil-age construct and exist due to cheap energy and a bubble market.  Without these things, their existence becomes an epitaph to a generation of colossal waste and stupidity.  Don’t throw you hands up and say we have to accept condo development.  Their time has come and gone whether you accept that or not.

I’m sorry for the really really long reply!  I enjoy your articles and if there was anyone to understand the opportunities within our urban design in a postcarbon world its someone like yourself.  My resistance is not futile.

Best Regards,

sources I like:

End of Suburbia Documentary DVD (clearing house of energy news, IEA report etc)

oh and watch the airlines, they are the oil-canaries in the coal mine.  When they go, get a house.


  1. Toronto Star Link to article ::

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