Condo Buildings

Condo living has many beneficial features, including reduced home maintenance, shared costs, and lower environmental impact. If you are someone who is susceptible to environmental stressors, odour, or air quality concerns, condo living may not be for you.

One large building with numerous occupants poses challenges to air quality and odour exposure. As different families generate different odours and environmental loads, multiple-family dwellings are becoming hotspots for air quality complaints.

All buildings work as an interconnected system, building pressure differentials caused by temperature, wind, or mechanical systems may put your condo unit in an unknown, potential pollutant pathway.

Odours, smoke, and particles from other condo units may find their way into your living space. All buildings have ductwork, pipe chases, elevator shafts, hallways, stairwells, and building leakage between different dwelling units and floor levels. As one owner cannot control the air quality from a neighbouring unit, cross-contamination or unknown migration of the air quality may occur.

It is best to consider the following general rules of building science when choosing which condo unit to purchase or rent.

     1. All air quality conditions go up! That is to say, all buildings suffer from thermal buoyancy or stack effect.

Stack effect is constant, fluctuates with the seasons, and is next to impossible to stop. Imagine starting a barbecue on the ground floor lobby of a condo building. Soon enough, the penthouse will smell of smoke and your extra spicy rib recipe. So too, with cigarettes and marijuana smoke from units below.

     2. If you live in the condo above the pool, chances are you will, at some point, smell chlorine. Common condo living complaints received at our offices are smoke and cigarette odours, cooking, cleaning products, chlorine smell, and parking garage exhaust. Almost all our complaints are derived from living above, and on rare occasions, from living beside malodorous neighbours.

     3. All odours require a “driving force” to move from one location to another. Stack effect is always present but not the only way to “smell your neighbour.” Building mechanical pressure differentials can pressurize or depressurize different dwelling units providing the impetus for odour migration between condos. Wind exhaust fan use and personal living habits can affect odour migration.

     4. Typically, large commercial condo construction consists of concrete slab platform floors and steel studs. As the steel studs used to frame walls are designed with wire chassis (holes in the stud for passing wires), each wall cavity poses a source of communication subject to building pressure differentials.

For an odour or smoke to pass from one condo to the next requires a driving force, there must be a pressure differential between dwelling units to migrate the odour between the shared wall cavities in two adjacent dwellings. The trick is to know where that air migration is coming from.

     5. Finding and sealing all “communication spots” between condo units helps. Utilizing mechanical systems to pressurize or depressurize your unit is also beneficial. Dealing with neighbours and condo management can sometimes be tricky. Making organized inspections to multiple units is next to impossible.

     6. If you are planning on purchasing or renting a condo unit, consider visiting the site during peak occupancy to determine if you can smell your neighbours.