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Want a piece of the sky? It’s going to cost you 

By: Terrence Belford
Globe and Mail
Published on Friday, Aug. 20, 2010

Whether your condo unit comes with a balcony depends on three things: aesthetics, cost and what will sell

Balconies can be puzzling. Why do some condo buildings have them and some do not? Why do some suites in a building have a balcony while others even on the same floor languish without?

How come some balconies are barely big enough to accommodate one average-sized grown-up while others offer room for sit-down dinners for a family of eight?

The answers to all those questions do not involve anything as random as the luck of the draw or the whims of an architect. Nope, which buildings get balconies and which suites get balconies and which suites get what size of balconies is all a well-thought-out matter of aesthetics, cost and what will sell, a pair of Toronto’s top architects say.

Robert Cadeau is an associate with Architects Alliance. Cliff Korman is senior partner with Kirkor Architects. Between them they have been involved with scores of high-rise condos, and each of them starts by listing those three determining factors.

Granted each adds his own caveats. Mr. Cadeau, for example, says his firm actively tries to include balconies or some other variation on outdoor living space in all its projects.

“We think it adds greatly to quality of life,” he says.

Mr. Korman says the lifestyle of the intended buyers has to play a role. He suggests that anyone buying a 450- to 600-square-foot one-bedroom suite these days will probably only use it to sleep, so – since life will be led outside the condo – why bother adding a balcony.

Besides, adding a balcony will drive up the price. The cost of a balcony may well tip the scale from affordable to unaffordable. Ergo forget the balcony.

Back to the original thesis.

The matter of balconies is resolved early in the planning stage through collaborative effort. First, the marketing guys chip in with their expert view on what will sell and in what price range.

Then the bean-counters go to work, pricing out what individual suites will cost to build. If that means adding a balcony to those small one-bedroom suites will lift them above the cost per unit the builder is looking for, then they do not get balconies.

Then the architects get their shot at designing within those parameters. The process does not always follow those clear-cut steps, but you get the idea.

“The two main elements we consider are the way the space will be used and the exterior look of the building,” Mr. Cadeau says. It involves context – how the building relates to its neighbours.

That means for towers in busy urban centres, most lower-floor suites will not have balconies. “You don’t want the underside of the slab projecting over the sidewalks,” he says.

Nor will upper floor suites in very tall towers for two main reasons, Mr. Korman says. First, suites near the top of towers are buffetted by high winds. Relaxing on a balcony 35 storeys in the air can be more of a challenge than a pleasure. Hence the prevalence of those tiny smokers’ nooks. Residents can step outside for a breath of fresh air but little else.

Balconies also obstruct view. If you live surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic views of the city and lake, you do not want balcony railings and patio furniture interrupting the vista.

Both architects point out that people may not be aware that a balcony has a distinctly negative impact on heating bills. The concrete slab that forms the floor is a continuous extension of the structure’s main floor slab. When winter’s sub-zero temperatures chill the balcony floor, that cold is transferred directly to the floor of the suite.

They also may not realize that creating a balcony more than six- or seven-feet deep presents major problems. Beyond that depth the slab must be significantly thicker to safely achieve the cantilevered effect. Thicker slabs mean more concrete and more reinforcing steel, which raises cost – not to mention the impact chunky slabs have on a structure’s aesthetic appeal.

Call that movie Dances With Concrete.

It seems spacious balconies are quickly becoming just one more preserve of the well-to-do. If you are buying a 900-square-foot and up suite and paying more than $650,000, you can probably expect a big balcony or even a terrace, Mr. Korman says.

As a rule of thumb he suggests small one-bedrooms in downtown areas designed for singles and selling at the most affordable prices do not get a balcony. One-bedroom and den and two-bedroom suites targeted at couples and priced in the mid-range get a balcony big enough for a bistro table and a pair of chairs.

Large two-bedroom and den suites and up, priced in the upper bend of today’s selling range, get balconies large enough to entertain on or a generous terrace.

Balconies it seems are now more than just a place to relax; in newer buildings they are social status and economic indicators.

Posted on Monday, August 23, 2010 at 01:25PM by Registered CommenterElaine in | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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