May 10, 2023 | Condo Balconies and Sunrooms
What older condos make up for in better square footage and life-size appliances, they lack in modern appeal. Many of them that have not been revamped in decades will likely require some big updates. And for many, this renovation update is not just about creating a better washroom or updating to a dishwasher that doesn’t sound like a garbage disposal. It can also be about totally repurposing a room to be something that it was not intended to be. A very good example of this would be the idea of taking out the sunroom and making it an office or making it part of your living area. I’ve even seen large sunrooms made into a second bedroom or a guest room. Many 80s sunrooms were separated by sliding glass doors to create an enclosed space. So people removed the sliding doors and the accompanying tracks, redid the floor, and created more usable space. Because the sunroom was no longer enclosed, it did not have the problem of being too hot and stuffy in the summer and cold in the winter. The temperature could be better regulated because it was now part of the larger space with better AC and heat regulation.
But why were sunrooms put into condos anyway? For some reason, back in the ’80s, many condos were built with a sunroom in mind. It was an enclosed area where you could grow plants, read, and have some downtime with a cold glass of Dr Pepper. The truth is that most people never really used these sunrooms. Canadian weather made them too drafty in the winter and too hot in the summer. Regardless, in the ’80s, condos were often built to mimic resorts. They were often about the lifestyle of not owning a house with the yard work and maintenance. It was more about playing tennis, swimming, and reading a good book in the sunroom. Flash forward to now, and the sunroom seems a bit ridiculous. Condos are still marketed as an easier lifestyle, but they are a much more practical form of real estate too. For some, it is still about retiring to an easier lifestyle, but for many more, it is about simply getting into the market, living in a central location, and having a starter home/condo.
If we’re being honest, the sunrooms were off of the developers’ floor plans by the time we hit the mid-’90s. No one would build them because no one was using them.
It certainly made sense that the sunset was met for the ’80s condo sunroom. But what if I were to tell you that the sunroom may be making a comeback… I know. It’s hard to imagine! But let me explain how the sunroom (now under a different name) could be coming back. Not quite the same as last time, but still a sunroom as far as I’m concerned – just a new and improved version.
Let me start by explaining the Toronto condo conundrum of today. Simply put, the demand for more space is putting pressure on the balcony. Back in the ’80s, there was a lot of room to build Toronto condos. Parking lots were ready to be snapped up all over the place. These days, there is still room, but developers have to be creative. And most of us are aware that we have a big supply issue in Toronto. More people come to our city, but we’re not keeping up with the demand. Condo units are becoming tinier. So these days, there has been some contemplation in development circles about removing the balcony to use that space for more square footage.For a deeper dive into this, you may want to read Peter Song’s blog on sustainable architecture here. In a nutshell, many now believe that condo dwellers would prefer more square footage in a tiny condo over a balcony.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. People do like balconies. When I go out and look at condos with clients, some kind of outdoor space is often a requirement. Still, the cold, hard truth is that many condo dwellers with balconies rarely use them. And usually, it’s for the same reason as the sunroom. It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. And when you go above the 20th story, it often gets pretty windy up there. If given the choice, many Toronto condo dwellers would prefer more space over a balcony.
Still, I feel like people would not just give up the balcony. It’s hard-wired into many of us to want to have easy access to the outside. We also want more space. We would like to have our cake and eat it too. For those of us who would like a more flexible space that allows us to still have some outdoor space or an office, there is also the idea that we can create an “enclosed balcony.” In my mind, this is another version of the sunroom, but with some differences. 80s sunrooms were often all glass with windows that may have had one small portion open to the outside or just windows with no opening. The enclosed balcony allows you to open up a lot more, almost as if you were sitting on a balcony. In some cases, you can remove the front windows entirely so you are open to the outside. It’s more like a traditional European balcony from over a century ago that’s an inspiration – see photo at the top of this page. It can be enclosed in lousy weather, but for nicer weather, you can have French windows that slide open wide off of your enclosed balcony. It can double as a balcony with removable windows or windows that widely slide open for the warmer days or an enclosed space for days when the windows should be shut. I’m sure it won’t look quite the same in a modern condo, but the concept is the same. It’s a more flexible option that lets you have your balcony and alternative space too – however you like to use it.
So, we may have come full circle back to the sunroom, now called an “enclosed balcony.” Not exactly the same thing, but still a new and improved version of the 80s sunroom.