Environment - Climate Change

November 3, 2023 Published by Toronto and Area Chapter - By Murray Johnson

Managing Air Quality in Highrise Condominiums

From the Fall 2023 issue of CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine.

The Solution Isn't as Simple as Turning Off the Air Coming Into the Building

The 2023 wildfire smoke migration in the GTA and southern Ontario has caused many of us to consider the impact of smoke-filled air ingress into condominium corridors, and by default, individual suites. This ingress can be most offensive in buildings with an older demographic or very young families.

Often, the first reaction is to turn off the make up air units and stop the ingress of poor-quality air. Problem solved, right? Wrong! Particularly in older buildings where the suites do not have Energy Recovery Ventilation or Heat Recovery Ventilation, the make up air is not only the sole source of fresh air but is also the primary way of keeping odors from travelling between suites. Turning off the building's make up air unit would allow cooking odors etc. from individual suites to migrate into other suites. This could be even worse for condominium communities that do not have a No-Smoking bylaw in place. Turning off the unit also means not complying with Property Standards by-laws which require ventilation 24/7.

Another option might be to install improved filtration in the make up air unit if the equipment can accommodate it. Different levels of filtration are available, including HEPA and carbon filters. These better filters come with an energy cost because the equipment has to work that much harder to draw air across the better filter. Depending on your demographic, this energy cost may be worth it.

So, should buildings upgrade their filters year-round or is there a better plan? In 2018 the City of Toronto embarked on a Roadside Air Quality Pilot Study to see what effect traffic had on air quality. The findings of that study reveal some interesting points that might also factor into your decision-making. The study found more roadside pollution in the form of nitric oxide, ultrafine particles and black carbon during the colder winter season. Conversely, the summer and shoulder seasons have a significantly lower level of traffic-related pollution.

A condominium corporation might also consider other factors such as nearby construction or proximity to industrial complexes or air quality alerts.

It would seem that condominiums should not just be using the same old filters without thought. They should perhaps keep a stock of different quality filters on hand so that better-quality filters can be used in winter or when construction is ongoing in the area and when air quality warnings are in place. Consideration of better-quality filters should always be in consultation with the building HVAC technician or be subject to the tolerances of the make up air unit.

Condominiums should also think about other fresh air equipment in the building, in addition to the equipment that serves corridors as many buildings have separate fresh air equipment dedicated to the pool area and/or lobby. In our humble opinion, the minor cost of the improved filtration is a better alternative than shutting down the equipment.

Murray Johnson
Crossbridge Condominium Services Ltd. VP, Client Operations


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