Five Energy Conserving Tips for Your Toronto Condo

Energy Conserving Tips

Green building design is one of the best trends to hit Toronto in the last two decades.  Whether it’s solar panels on the roof, the Green Bin program branching out to high-rises, or current plans to expand the Deep Lake Water Cooling System, it’s getting easier and easier to keep your carbon footprint small in the GTA.

But with so many tips for the energy-conscious being directed to that rarest of Toronto creatures, the detached home you own (and can renovate!)—and many condominium units in Toronto’s newer developments allowing owners and tenants to meter their hydro separately—we’re hoping to present a few tips to conserve energy in your condo.  Whether you’re thinking of your own utility bill, keeping your overall condo fees low, or keeping things green, here are a few energy conserving tips to make an impact in your space.

1) Not using it? Don’t plug it in

It’s what they told us in grade school—if you’re not using it, turn it off—and it’s still the cornerstone of good energy conservation.  Getting into good habits with your light switches, television, radio, computers, and other appliances saves not just power, but the wear and tear on your electronics.

Get into the habit of shutting off light switches as you leave a room, using “task lighting”—a desk lamp in your work space, or a table lamp in your reading nook—instead of lighting up the whole room.  This is a habit where condo living has a real advantage: Big, beautiful windows on many recent Toronto condominium buildings mean great access to natural light and, depending on which direction your unit faces, potentially not having to turn a light on all day from May to October.

If you’re already doing that—and waiting for the real energy savings—unplug small electronics that draw power even when you’re not using them, such as your printer, Playstation or cellphone charger.  Only plug those in when you’re charging your phone (or leveling up, or printing those movie tickets) and you’ll see a small but steady impact on your hydro use.

2) Think fluorescent, not incandescent

Fluorescent and LED bulbs are pretty neat stuff—they’re those twisty ones you see in your local hardware store.  For a little more cost upfront, they give off much less heat, last eight to fifteen times longer, and use one third to one fifth the electricity that your old-school incandescent bulb eats up.  Since your lights are a major source of power usage, that’s a big deal when it comes to your environmental impact—and your hydro bill.

Switching to fluorescent or LED does mean a bit of an investment—they go for about five bucks a bulb at most big-box stores—but it’s an investment that pays off in the long, long time they take to burn out.  Pop ‘em in and enjoy not changing the light bulb for, oh, most of a year.

 3) Wash big—and in the evening

That condo washer-dryer unit can be one of the best parts of condominium life: liberating hours a week from babysitting loads at the laundromat (and making sure you have enough quarters).  It’s easy to go a little cigars-and-caviar nuts with your own tiny laundry room.  But it’s also a major contributor to your hydro usage.

Using your washer-dryer efficiently—full loads, washed during off-peak hours on the Toronto Hydro time-of-use system—cuts down on not just your electricity use, but how much money you’re spending on laundry detergent and time you’re spending sorting those socks.  Doing laundry on the cold water setting saves even more power, and let’s face it: that’s what your mother said to do with your bright colours anyway.

A clothesline or heavy clothes rack on your balcony can also do wonders on those warm spring and summer days, and give your clean laundry that fresh smell that dryer sheet companies pay to fake.

The same logic applies to your dishwasher (cigars, caviar, champagne cork): run it absolutely full, in the evenings or weekends when power is plentiful and cheap, and save time, money, and your little piece of the planet.  If your dishwasher takes pods, President’s Choice and other brands make a great selection of dishwasher pods designed for the lightest cycle going.  At seven bucks for 25 cycles, they’re both affordable and a great way to get the most out of the most power-friendly cycle your dish robot has.

4) End-run the AC problem

So that gorgeous glass-walled condo that’s letting you keep the lights off all spring and summer?  Problem with that: The heat it lets in, all summer long, means blasting the AC and using tons of power. Or does it?

There are reasons your condo corporation probably tells you to buy curtains that are white on the outside, and that’s because they reflect heat like nothing else.  A good set of curtains, kept drawn during the day when you’re out doing your thing, will keep the summer heat out of your condo unit and make sure it’s nice and cool when you get home—without running the AC.  If you’re renting your unit, and installing curtains isn’t an option, paper folding screens placed in front of windows do a similar trick—and create a really nice look besides.  Both these additions are easy, cheap, and also act as great insulation in the winter, when it’s the cold outside—and keeping the heat on inside—you’re worrying about.

If you get a nice cross-breeze, there are ways to use those windows in your favour, too: Forgo the AC on all but the hottest days in favour of keeping air in your unit moving.  Cracking a few windows is a free, environmentally friendly solution to beating the heat.

Sometimes, using less AC is as simple as making sure your air circulation vents aren’t blocked by furniture. Your AC will have to run that much harder if it’s mostly air-conditioning the back of a bookshelf.

5) Stay out of hot water

We might not normally think of water use when considering electricity conservation, but heating up water is one of the major ways our electricity goes to waste—making up 14% on average of a condo building’s hydro bill—and this goes double for high-rise condo units, where the water has to be brought up to the 20th floor by an electrical pump.  So if your hydro usage is too high for comfort, it’s worth thinking about hot water and how you use it.

Those 45-minute hot showers contribute to your hydro bill; so does thawing that chicken out for dinner under continuously-running warm water, instead of putting it in the fridge to thaw the night before.  Keeping your kitchen faucet in good repair, not running the water during your morning shave, and other small water conservation hacks also take you most of the way to reducing your electricity usage.

Like most of life, conserving energy in your condo is about the little things.  Phase one or two in every week, slowly, and before you know it your hydro usage will be down—and your hydro bill or condo fees will follow.

Moving Made Easy: Where to Get Your Boxes for Moving

Moving Boxes

So you’ve signed your new lease, set your moving date, and it’s time to start packing!  One problem: Where to get that many boxes for moving and packing materials—especially around a popular spring or summer moving date?

Luckily, there are lots of sources—and services!—right in your neighbourhood that’ll net you good, strong cardboard boxes to keep your dishes or breakables safe.

1) Your local LBCO or Beer Store

There’s an LCBO or Beer Store in almost every Toronto neighbourhood—and they’re a not-so-secret heaven if you’re planning a move.  Due to the LCBO’s frequent shipping schedule, they’ve got a constant supply of strong, sturdy boxes built to handle weight, and they’re more than happy to part with as many as you can carry.  It’s a great idea to call ahead to your local location and make sure you get in before their recycling day—and that there are boxes of a sufficient size—but for the condo-oriented mover, this is a sure, and free, bet.

2) Your local bookstore

The other business in your neighbourhood that has a constant supply of sturdy, large, tough cardboard boxes?  Your local bookstore.  Large chain bookstore locations may be harder to talk into handing over boxes, as they use more complicated supply and shipping chains, but smaller, independent bookstores are your best-kept secret when it comes to Moving Day.  Call ahead, stop in, and walk out with armfuls of huge boxes built for the fattest hardcover on your shelf.

 3) Buy from a moving box service

Like anything else in Toronto, if you have a moving box problem, someone’s thought of a way to solve it—and has a website.  If carrying boxes around your neighbourhood just isn’t workable due to time, or distance, or any other factor, there’s more than one local startup that’ll bring them straight to you.

The Box Spot has two locations—one on Bloor West, and one on Mount Pleasant—and has been providing both standard and specialty boxes for moving for 31 years.  With everything from specially built LCD TV packaging to floor runners, inserts for your glasses, computer cases, and even custom-built boxes, this is a strong option for anyone looking at a difficult or finicky move.  One-stop shopping also has definite upsides: The Box Spot is also a source for bubble wrap, tape, labels, markers, and everything else you’d need to keep your breakables safe and your boxes organized.

Local business Boxed Inn is also a moving company—and understands what makes a good moving box.  Their in-person location on The Queensway is complemented by an online store, where you can browse boxes, bubble wrap, entire pre-organized moving kits, and accessories from home.  With prices starting at $1.99 per carton and strong year-round bundling deals, Boxed Inn is good at making the business of buying boxes affordable.  They also rent environmentally conscious plastic containers for those who don’t want to create waste, and deliver throughout the GTA for free.

In Leslieville, The Box Guys are the source to beat for moving boxes, kits, supplies, and shipping accessories.  While their free shipping only starts at orders of $99 or above, they do have a lowest price guarantee, committing to beat competitor pricing.  Their range of specialty offerings includes mattress bags, wardrobe boxes, guitar boxes, and lamp boxes, and their handy online store stays current with what stock is available on the floor and what stock will face an ordering delay.

Another great—and underrated—source for purchasable boxes are van rental companies, such as Budget Truck Rental, who offer year-round discount coupons on moving supply purchases.  Budget has a great variety of box sizes and packing material, including furniture blankets, and a handy moving supply calculator to gauge what you’ll really need.  Moving supplies aren’t available at every Budget location, so it’s good policy to call ahead, and unfortunately, Budget is pickup only.

4) Buy from a hardware store

While moving boxes aren’t what we’d think to find between the toilet plungers and penny nails, some old-school Toronto hardware stores have a great selection of boxes for moving.  Rotblott’s Discount Warehouse at Adelaide and Brant does a tidy business catering to the film and theatre industries and companies like Steam Whistle Brewing, and so they’re an unconventional but natural source for the kinds of heavy-duty boxes that brewers and set dressers need in their day-to-day work.  Their online store offers fairly standard prices per box and a few specialty items, with a buy ten, get one free deal in place.

5) Craigslist, Kijiji, or other social media sites

Sometimes the most economical way to get a lot of boxes for moving in one place is obvious: from someone who just moved.  Trade and sales sites like Craigslist or Kijiji and message boards like Reddit often feature requests—or offers—for moving boxes looking for a new lease on life.

If you’d like a collection of moving boxes that’ve already proven their worth in battle, a simple search on “boxes for moving” in Craigslist Toronto’s Free Stuff section is almost guaranteed to find you a hit, provided you’re in the right neighbourhood to pick them up.  Or if someone you know has recently done a move, calling dibs on their unpacked boxes is a great way to get boxes cheap—and do your friend a favour by clearing the boxes out of their new place!

Six Questions to Ask When Choosing a Toronto Moving Company

Toronto Moving Company

You’re almost ready for Moving Day!  You’ve found your brand new condominium unit, started packing, and now it’s time for one of the more delicate decisions in your move: finding moving company who will treat your stuff gently, carry it quickly, and not charge a whole extra month’s rent to do it.

Toronto has a lot of moving companies, and choosing from them can be difficult.  Here are six tips on what to look at when picking your movers.

    1) Location, location, location

It’s a little-known fact that some Toronto movers start the clock once their van or truck starts driving—from their offices to your soon-to-be-vacated home.  This obviously isn’t ideal, so when looking for movers, it’s best to ask if they bill from their departure from the office or their arrival at your place.  Obviously the second’s ideal, but if you’re taken by a moving company who charges from departure, check to see how close they are to your old unit: every block’s going to cost you.

    2) The insurance question

While this also comes standard, it’s important to make sure your moving company has insurance: Not just insurance for your precious breakables, but insurance in case one of their employees takes a tumble down your front steps and has to take a detour to Toronto General.  If the moving company doesn’t insure their movers, you might be liable for accidents, and that’s no way to start—or end—a move.

    3) Size matters

Not every moving company has the same complement of truck sizes: some specialize in larger, longer trucks and some love those cute little cargo vans.  Once you have a sense of how much stuff you’ll be moving, find out what kinds of trucks your favourite companies hive, whether they’re available on your moving day, and very importantly, how well they’ll legally park in front of both your new and old homes.  There’s nothing worse than circling the block for an hour trying desperately to find a place to load or unload—or having to cover your movers’ parking ticket, because they can’t legally park near your home.

    4) So does your manpower

How many movers does your moving company think it’ll take to get you safely moved—and does that mean additional costs?  Moving companies will estimate different man (or lady) hours for your move, and quote accordingly.  It’s a great idea to compare those estimates; if one company’s quoting two burly bodybuilders when everyone else says three or four, they might be a little too optimistic to get your move done well.

The other important question when it comes to staff and movers is whether your moving company will be chill or less chill about you carrying and stacking.  Some companies aren’t comfortable with the liability issues that might come from customers lifting boxes, loading trucks, or hefting furniture up the stairs.  Your own personal mileage will vary—some people like to pitch in, and others would rather sit back—but a moving company’s policy on the matter is an important thing to know ahead of time.

    5) Good reviews—and a professional approach to the bad ones

It’s a bit of a cliché, but: Yelp, baby.  Toronto customers are eager, happy, and willing to crowdsource information about every company in town, including moving companies, so if you can’t get personal recommendations from friends, take advantage of crowdsourcing review sites to check out how loved or hated your prospective movers are by all the other people who’ve hired them.

It’s rare to see a company that doesn’t have at least one unhappy customer, so even more telling than the ratio of good to bad reviews is how that company responds to the negative press.  If they’re combative, abusive, accuse the customer of lying, or less than professional in any way, that tells you a bad thing about how any potential dispute with you will be handled.  Also, if there’s a pattern to the negative reviews—the same issues being brought up by different people, over and over again—that’s likely a sign that this is a company to avoid.

    6) Informed, transparent, market-rates estimates

First off: They’ll give you an estimate.  Secondly, they ask lots of questions when they do it, such as the type of home you’re moving from and to, the distance between them, the amount of sheer stuff and type of furniture you have, whether there are stairs involved or an elevator, and more.  Moving companies may ask you for the number of boxes you have, and that’s a good piece of information to have on hand when calling for an estimate.

Ask what their rates include: mileage, gas, and supplies such as tape, furniture blankets, extra boxes, and more?

See how those rates stack up against the five other estimates you’ve got (and yes: this is a great place to compare prices and do your homework).  But also: See how receptive the moving company is to your questions.  If someone’s difficult to deal with over the phone, it’s more than likely they’ll be difficult to deal with in person, and Moving Day is not a time you’ll want any of that.

Make your list, call a few companies, compare, and know what you need ahead of time—and you’ll have the perfect match for your moving day.

Condo Sized Furniture Stores in Toronto

Condo Sized Furniture

Congratulations!  You’ve moved into your brand-new condo unit—and that old furniture doesn’t fit.  Whether you’re downsizing from a house or graduating from the student furniture you’ve had for years, here are some ondo sized furniture stores in Toronto to find that compact TV unit, those stylish bedroom shelves, and that fold-up standing desk—and make your new space great.

High-End

Liberty Village’s CasaLife specializes in classic, lush loft-style furniture: leather chairs, elaborate dining tables, and glamorous ottomans that will add a touch of flair to your larger condo or loft space—if you can meet the price tag.  But the higher price point doesn’t just provide solidly built furniture: many of CasaLife’s pieces come with options to choose from, and their customizable features can make that unique accent piece stand out.

If you’re the type to rattle off furniture designers by name, Design Within Reach is your first port of call.  This King West store specializes in unique, modern designers—no knock-offs—including exclusive-to-them collections.  The price tag isn’t modest, but with a client list that reads like the Fortune 100, it’s geared for elegance, quality, and flair.

Mid-Range

CB2—a Crate & Barrel offshoot at the corner of Queen and Bathurst—is chock full of decidedly modern looks aimed straight at that sleek, open-concept downtown condo.  Painted metal tables and glass fit right into a reclaimed industrial aesthetic, and multifunctional touches like bar stool chairs and secretary desks let you make prep space into eating space or work space in the blink of an eye.

If you’re more into an antique, art deco, or vintage look, Mrs. Huizenga’s, at the foot of Roncesvalles, is one of Toronto’s better-kept secrets.  A bright, curated collection of vintage furniture and unique decorative pieces, Mrs. Huizenga’s is a great source for bar stool chairs, luxuriant end tables, storage-efficient armoires, and other one-of-a-kind accent pieces that can make the most of your condo space.

Also at Queen and Bathurst, Urban Barn does what it says on the tin: rustic, solid, contemporary pieces with a stable stock list—it’s rare to have your piece backordered here.  Sitting at the lower end of mid-range, Urban Barn’s wood-and-metal aesthetic, paired with its bright upholstery prints, is a great choice if you’re looking to warm up a glass or concrete space.

Brooklyn’s West Elm opened its first international store in Toronto’s Liberty Village, surrounded by condo dwellers with a taste for a clean, crafty aesthetic and contemporary design.  West Elm offers both rustic and modern looks that customize well when combined with their collection of textiles, cushions, and décor.

Affordable

Brand-new consignment store Elle & Eve opened January 29th on Orfus Road, with 10,000 square feet of furniture for lovers of the baroque.  It’s a furniture store with a fascinating twist: Consignment providers can choose between a traditional consignment arrangement or charitable consignment, which allows Elle & Eve to donate the proceeds of the item’s sale to the charity of the consignor’s choice.  So far, Elle & Eve’s offerings lean toward mid-century and vintage, but they’re sure to develop as the concept finds its feet.

Liberty Village’s EQ3‘s tidy showroom is geared for everything a new condo dweller could ever want, with a section explicitly for apartment sofas and a clean, simple loft aesthetic.  Simple, compact, and light are the focus here, with pieces ranging from quite affordable to a higher-end line made from reclaimed teak.  What’s more, EQ3 also stocks bedding, rugs, lighting, mirrors, and diningware, making it a great destination for a little one-stop shopping.

The Hudson’s Bay Company focuses more on clothes and housewares these days, but in the less-trafficked corners of their stores, they also stock a large range of rustic and mid-century furniture at reasonable prices, including lightweight sofas of all sizes, bright accent pieces, and dining sets that fit compactly into an open-concept space.  The trick, though, is to check out their semi-annual sales—that’s when you can make a decent deal into a great one.

It’s an oldie, but a goodie: Ikea‘s been in the business of build-it-yourself furniture that makes the most of your space since most of us were young enough for meatballs and the ball pit.  Their famous in-store showrooms demonstrate how you can maximize your condo space, and they specialize in clean lines, customizable finishes, and affordable storage solutions that don’t get in your way.  Best of all, they deliver, making it that much easier to get your new bookshelves or media centre home.

Local

Another option for finding condo-sized furniture is to buy local. Toronto has a local maker, KROFT+CO that designs and makes furniture for urban living. They pride themselves on sourcing, designing and making everything in Toronto. Their furniture has a simple, modern and clean aesthetic that is dimensioned for condo living. KROFT+CO furniture can be purchased online or at their upcoming retail outlet.