Emergency Preparedness for Condo Dwellers: A Quick Guide


Sure, some emergencies we can’t do a thing about: If Godzilla decides he really likes the look of the CN Tower, well, the monster wants what the monster wants.  But most emergencies in Toronto are simple to prepare for, and getting ready for the worst isn’t paranoid: it’s banking your thinking ahead of time for when you might need it most.

So in the event of a fire in your building, a multi-day power outage like the 2013 ice storm, or other mundane, non-monster emergencies, here’s a quick guide for being prepared.

Make sure you have the right supplies

Do you have enough towels to block the seams of your front door in case there’s a fire in the hall?  Think about what you might need in the event that your power goes off, in a case of a fire or flood, during a water cut, or to ride out a winter storm—and then go get it.

Candles or flashlights with a backup stock of batteries are great for power outages.  A first-aid kit—not necessarily a formal packaged one, but the basics you need to treat an injury—is always an important thing to have.  Portable battery chargers have come down in price enough that they’re currently quite cheap and can keep your cellphone running for days even if there’s no power in your unit to charge it—which means keeping up with friends, relatives, and the news.

If you use regular medications, try to habitually refill your prescriptions with a few days’ buffer, to make sure you don’t run out of important pills during the kind of weather emergency that makes staying in a much better idea.  And try to keep a few days’ worth of food that can be eaten without refrigeration or stove cooking on hand.

If you have hardwired C02 and carbon monoxide detectors, great—but they won’t work if the power’s down.  Make sure you have enough of the right batteries to keep the battery backup option working and check them regularly to make sure those batteries are still working away inside.

Also important: A few large jugs that will hold drinking water.  If you’re living in a high-rise condo unit, the pumps that bring your tap water up to the twenty-first floor will likely be affected by a power outage.  If the weather’s looking bad, get your pioneer on and fill the bathtub, your water jugs, and a pot or two, and you’ll save yourself the bad-weather trip for bottled water.

Know your condo’s emergency plan

Does your condo have an emergency plan?  Find out, and if so, get your hands on a copy of it.  Not all buildings have comprehensive emergency responses—they’re set by the individual condo boards rather than required by law—but knowing what the procedure puts you one step ahead.

If your condo does have a plan, participate in any practice drills, fire drills, or other events they hold, and know your floor warden by sight.  It’s kind of easy to be too-cool-for-school when it comes to fire drills and alarm testing, especially if you’re in the middle of something, but: Take them seriously.  It’s five minutes of your time, and in the event, you wake up at three a.m. smelling smoke, it’ll be a great help to have those reflexes baked in.

Build your own emergency plan

If your condo building doesn’t have an emergency plan—and you’re not inclined to pitch one to them, which is always a great idea—it’s not too hard to build your own.

Start with routes: If you need to get out of your unit during that Godzilla attack, how would you do it?  Since elevators require power to operate—and units on high floors can’t rely on them during heavy weather—locate the stairwells, emergency exits, and alternate routes to get from your unit to the ground.  Figure out two to three routes from your door to the outdoors, in case one is blocked in the event of a fire.  The Ministry of Community Safety rather strongly discourages using an elevator if the fire alarm’s ringing, and for good reasons, so assume you’ll be taking the stairs.

Secondly, make a list—if your building doesn’t provide one—of important emergency numbers, or property managers’ numbers to contact in case something goes wrong.  Tack that up in a highly visible place—your fridge is a great choice—so that if problems arise, you can get in touch with emergency services, your concierge desk, your property manager’s emergency maintenance line, or whoever else might be appropriate to the task.

Inside your unit, important things to locate for your emergency plan are your fire extinguisher, your water shutoff valve—if it’s in your unit—and your electrical panel.  Being able to go right to one of these can short-circuit an emergency before it has a chance to, well, emerge.

If you do have to head out

In case you do have to bail on your unit for a while so that an emergency can be contained, make sure you have the following:

  • A kit with any important medications, toiletries, and a change of clothes;
  • Your important documents, such as passports, health cards, photo ID, birth certificates, and so forth;
  • Your cell phone and a portable battery or charger;
  • Ready cash, in the case of credit cards, are a no-go.

Turn off any appliances or lights before leaving your unit, and make sure your door is locked.

Best of luck, and remember: One small preparedness adventure might be goofy, but it also might save your life.

Five Creative Uses for That Condo Den

Condo Den

It’s more common right now to see a Toronto condo listing for a one bedroom-plus-den than a regular one-bedroom.  While there can be a lot of cynicism around why den spaces are included when a condo building is designed, those compact rooms are full of potential to be more than an extra storage space.

Here are five creative ideas to turn that den into a cozy, comfortable, functional room and get the most out of your one-bedroom-plus.

The library

The big problem with condos when you’re a big reader is finding space for books—and a den is the perfect place to not just show off your books, but relax and read.  If you’re a fiction fan, grad student, journalist, or anyone else who likes to have their library at hand, turning that den into a reading space can be a Pinterest-perfect solution.

Concentrate your bookshelves in your condo den, put down a nice warm area rug, and add a comfortable chair, a lamp, or even just a nest of throw pillows, and that extra room will turn into a cozy, laid-back reading space with absolutely minimal effort.

Puppy’s first bedroom

If you’re in a unit and building that allows pets, turning your den into a dedicated space for your dog, cat, rabbit, or the animal friend of your choice can be a great way to both use that space and make condo living that much easier on your pet—most animals are happy to have a little space that’s their own.

If you’re a dog owner, your den can be a great home for your crate, dog bed, toy box, extra pet food, and a rack for your leash and plastic bags.  If you’ve got cats, you can set up Cat Wonderland with a kitty condo, toys, extra food and litter, and maybe even your litterbox if your cats are solidly litter-trained and you’ve got a mat beneath it.

It’s the same drill for pets who are cage-bound or swimmers: Setting up a dedicated space for them can help keep your condo clean, reduce potential damage, and make them more comfortable in their own homes.

The project lab

If you’re crafty—a maker, a knitter, designer, or artist—that den can morph into your dedicated project space.  Most condo dens are just large enough to accommodate a sewing machine, pattern table, and fabric stash, an easel, or a set of tools and some hardware.

Hook yourself up with a sturdy table, some storage shelves, a work lamp, and some laminate or plastic mats laid down on the floors to catch spills, and congratulations: you’ve turned your den space into home base for most any creative project you’ve got on the go.

A warning, though: Be careful with any projects that involve paint, solvents, or other things that aren’t great to breathe.  While painting in small doses isn’t right out for a condo unit—and with the proper protection for the walls and floors—it’s not great for your health, and ventilation is always key.

The nursery

If you’re looking to start a family, but not ready to upgrade into a larger space, the den in a one-bedroom-plus can make a solid nursery for baby’s first year or two—all the time before they start needing a little privacy of their own.

Separate your den space off with a paper screen or other portable divider—well-anchored to keep it out of prying toddler hands!—to give yourself some changing-time privacy, and you can treat your condo den just like any other newborn’s room.  Just large enough for a crib, changing table, mobile, and toys, condo dens frequently have a closet included, and that can be ground zero for the onesies, towels, and diapers you’ll need to have at hand.

Laundry room

While it’s not the most glamorous use for your den, it’s one of the most practical: Set up your den with some great lighting, your ironing board, a table for folding and sorting your clothes, and a few laundry storage baskets, and kiss the days of hanging wet clothes over your shower pole goodbye.

If your den’s near your washer and dryer, setting up a laundry room in that space can keep your bedroom and bathroom much tidier by taking all the laundry tasks into their own special place.  It also means not having to maneuver around the rest of your life to fold and put away clothes, and while it may seem small, has the potential to make a lot of your life that much easier.

Happy decorating!