With new high-rise condominium apartments coming on the very competitive Toronto real-estate market all the time, every developer has the job of convincing home-hunters why they should buy his product, and not the other guy's.
Some companies boast about the sleek, chic architectural design of their buildings. Others advertise their towers' proximity to the subway, to interesting shops, to entertainment hot-spots and other urban resources.
For its part, Tridel Corporation, one of the Greater Toronto Area's most prolific suppliers of condo units, wants its new and upcoming projects to be renowned for their energy efficiency, reduced environmental impact and other green virtues. The firm is also on the record a wanting to make its suites as high-tech as science and the price-point allow.
To demonstrate what the apartment of the not-so-distant future could look and feel like, Tridel has set aside a 1,096-square-foot unit in its new Rêve tower (located near the deep-downtown corner of Bathurst Street and Front Street West), loaded it with the latest environmental and communications gadgetry, and invited the public to come in and take a look.
The so-called "ecosuite," which I visited last week, is open for viewing every day except Friday. It's not for sale, I was told by James Ritchie, one of my guides, who is Tridel's senior vice-president for sales and marketing. If it were, he said, the price would be just shy of $800,000 - roughly $100,000 more than the price of a unit the same size in the same building, but minus the bells and whistles.
Designed for Tridel by consultant Jamie James, president of the non-profit research agency Tower Labs, the compact 14th-storey ecosuite is laid out in an entirely conventional modern manner. There are two bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen and living area, a separate dining room, and (perhaps a little more unusually) no balcony.
But that floor plan is where the similarity to something you might find in any condo tower stops cold.
Here's an illustration of one thing that makes this unit different.
Most of us have to fumble with separate light switches, thermostats and security key-pads when going in and out of our homes.
The owner of the ecosuite would be able to control every aspect of his or her personal environment – heating, cooling, lighting, whether the blinds are up or down, what music is playing when the front door opens – from a digital screen installed just inside the front door, or from a lap-top computer, or, for that matter, a phone.
This centralized communications node, engineered by Cisco Systems, is fully programmable by the user: The set-up "can be trained to mimic a lifestyle," Mr. Ritchie said. "Welcome" and "goodbye" switches at the door, when flipped, create whatever atmosphere the owner desires upon entry or exit. Moreover, this electronic scheme continually monitors and passes on precise information about energy usage, the weather and even what's happening on the street (via security cameras mounted on the exterior of the building). It all adds up to modern living, at least as that concept is understood by the generations for whom life among tiny glowing screens is second nature.
Though brand-new, by the way, Rêve does not contain the complicated central wiring and data-processing facilities necessary to make the ecosuite's monitoring and control feature an option for all home-owners. The future is not far off, however: Mr. Ritchie said that a Tridel building under construction a few blocks away will be smart enough to support the Cisco system.
The green touches in the ecosuite, for the most part, are invisible. You'd never guess the planks in the floor were fashioned from salvaged furniture, for instance, or that the sparkling counter tops in the kitchen were crafted from recycled glass. Six solar panels, out of sight on the roof, supply heated water and electricity to the unit. And an energy recovery ventilator, which Mr. James said is among the most sophisticated devices of its kind, heats the air it draws in from the outside with energy rescued from the air it's pumping out. The ecosuite's net energy cost savings, compared to those of a condo unit constructed simply according to the city's current building code: an estimated 40 per cent.
When I suggested that the ecosuite should be considered "experimental," Mr. James bridled a bit. Most of the high-performance technologies involved, he said, are well understood.
But call it what you will, the unit is a case study for Tridel. It's meant to show if these advanced systems and novel products are commercially and technically feasible in tall buildings of the kind the developer is putting up across Toronto. If they do turn out to be practical and affordable, the ways green-conscious, tech-savvy Hogtown condo dwellers spend their time and their energy dollars could definitely change in the years to come.