November 3, 2008


Installing high-tech glazing is one of the standard ways of improving the efficiency of older high-rise buildings.

Toronto mayor David Miller gives push for plan to retrofit of post-war towers

Renewing the city’s aging stock of apartment towers could be “the Cinderella story of Toronto’s 21st century” possibly worth $95 billion by 2030 and create 838,000 jobs, says a report written by a panel of experts.

Dr. Ted Kesik, professor in the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto who has been studying the issue with colleague Ivan Saleff, says the dream of renovating the exterior and interiors of high rise buildings in the post-war building boom is not just a feel-good project.

He says while the core structures of flying-form concrete could last hundreds of years, it is the exteriors that are failing.

Until now the standard response was to paint over and perhaps re-glaze but such cosmetic measures just don’t go far enough in an era of rising energy prices.

Led by prominent experts like Kesik and Saleff, as well as architects like Graeme Stewart and Michael McLelland of ERA Architects Inc., Toronto Mayor David Miller has put his weight behind a pilot project to look at what it will take to renew just a couple of Toronto’s high rises.

It’s estimated that about 1,000 high-rise buildings across Toronto have units are about 20 per cent less energy efficient than the average single family home. The renewal plan could reduce those energy costsby 50 per cent .

The pilot project consists of two buildings at Kipling and Finch avenues; one at Markham Road and Eglinton Avenue E., two buildings at Jarvis Street-Wellesley Avenue and one at Don Mills Road and Sheppard Avenue.

The Tower Renewal report, written by Kesik, Saleff, ERA and others, says replacing a 20-storey tower apartment is between $50 and $60 million while a refit, is $4 and $5 million for new insulated roofing, new windows, overcladding of walls and balconies, replacement of HVAC systems, lighting-system retrofit and replacement of plumbing fixtures with water-conserving technology.

Payback is between 10 and 12 years, with returns of 13 to 17 per cent depending on how high energy prices climb.

“We’re really about 15 years behind Europe,” says ERA’s Stewart, a firm that has specialized in renovations of historical and older building structures.

He says without renewal of the buildings there could be few housing options for lower-income Torontonians as those buildings begin a slow death spiral.

The group has been working with as many areas of the construction industry and government as possible to build consensus, including the trade unions that will provide the skilled labour.

Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters Union Local 27 and a director of training, says while the skills on tap are sufficient, there are some issues to be worked out.

“Some of the health and safety training we have, such as working in confined spaces,” he says. “But we also need to look at working at heights. What kind of equipment is best suited. What should be the standard? And then train workers on how to use it.”

He says the concept is the cutting edge of a green revolution that will have ripple effects in manufacturing for cladding, glazing and other materials, along with job creation for union workers.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring young people and new immigrants into the construction industry,” he says.

“Right now it’s a napkin sketch,” says Stewart. “With 1,000 buildings we don’t have the resources or manpower to do them all right now but we can build towards that. Already there are a couple of schools like Seneca who are interested in developing programs.”

Brian Shedden, Building Science Specialist Ontario, is vice-president of client services at J. McBride & Sons Ltd who was also on the technical steering committee of the Tower Renewal report, says a combination of high energy prices and decay makes now the right time to tackle the aging buildings.

“These buildings are really all of the same vintage, built when fuel was cheap and they are all beginning to fall apart at the same time,” says Shedden.

It also bodes well for the construction industry, he says: “If the new construction market cools off, as it appears that it is, there will be an opportunity to re-allocate workers to the retrofit side of the market.

“This is not really a prototype. Progressive owners have been going this way for a long time already, especially in the condo market, but it is the rental and social housing market that is way behind.”

Print | Comment


These projects have been selected from 483 projects with a total value of $1,715,828,019 that Reed Construction Data Building Reports reported on Monday.


$140,000,000 Toronto ON Prebid


$86,000,000 Carleton Place ON Prebid


$44,614,480 Burlington ON Tenders

Daily Top 10



Site/Field Coordinator

Alberta-Red Deer

Operations Foreman
British Columbia-Vancouver

Earthworks Estimator

Junior Construction Manager
Alberta-Fort McMurray

Estimator/Project Manager


Heavy Duty Mechanic


More jobs 


Your gateway to
the top careers
in construction
and design