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Falling condo glass may be underreported, councillor suggests

Workers removing glass panels from the balconies of a Lanterra condominium at the corner of Bay and Grosvenor Sts. in downtown Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Worries about shattering glass and exactly whom residents of Toronto condominiums should turn to when any structural issues arise kept the phones ringing at one city councillor's office Thursday.

"It's brought people out of the woodwork," said downtown councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

Her ward contains some of the five condos that have recently showered some city streets with glass. She called for a broad investigation earlier this week after a woman was injured by balcony glass that fell from the 31st floor of one building.

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Since then, Ms. Wong-Tam (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) said residents from inside and outside her ward have alerted her to previously unreported instances of glass breaking and other condo problems.

She and her staff fielded about 50 calls Thursday, many of them concerning the glass issue. Some instances of shattering glass had gone unreported because there's no streamlined process or contact at the city, she said.

"There's a sense of confusion. When your balcony glass breaks, who do you contact?" she said.

Provincially, Trinity-Spadina MPP Rosario Marchese is calling for stricter condo legislation overall.

"There is a lack of protection for the more than one million condo owners in Ontario," he said in a statement late Thursday.

The falling glass has sent reverberations through the condo and glass industries.

Barry Fenton, president and chief executive officer of Lanterra Developments, said the company is taking steps to immediately remove tempered glass from its three buildings on Bedford Road, Grenville and Grosvenor streets. Seven of nine balcony-glass incidents that have occurred since last December were at those buildings, according to city officials.

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Furthermore, Mr. Fenton said Lanterra would replace the glass with laminated glass, "a better product," and will use it for all future projects.

All the falling glass incidents involved tempered glass rather than the more expensive laminated glass, which is similar to the kind used in car windshields.

"We're reacting to an industry issue that has arisen," Mr. Fenton explained. "We had two ways to deal with it. One was to replace the tempered glass with tempered glass. And the other was to step up … even at our cost."

While Mr. Fenton said he had yet to receive cost estimates, according to Doug Perovic, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Toronto, laminated glass is 50 to 200 per cent more expensive than tempered glass.

Mr. Fenton said Lanterra would be using Toro Aluminum Railings Inc., the same company that supplied the original glass, to carry out the replacements.

And although the problem of falling balcony glass from Lanterra buildings is "a Toro issue," he said, "we haven't lost confidence in Toro as a company."

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The people who supply glass to developers are also grappling with the problem.

"It's big news around everybody in the industry," said Frank Fulton, board president of the Ontario Glass and Metal Association. He said it's unlikely there would be so many incidents unless the glass was attached improperly – with too much pressure on the edges, where tempered glass is weakest.

Glass experts say impurities in the glass can also lead to spontaneous breakage.

Still, Mr. Fulton said it's "scary" because tempered glass is used so widely due to its low cost. "I would venture to say they're 98 per cent tempered glass," he said of balconies and other parts of Toronto building exteriors such as sliding doors. "There's millions of pieces of them."

On Thursday, the city ordered that engineering reports from Lanterra and the other developers with falling glass be submitted to the city by Aug. 31, according to Ms. Wong-Tam. Once they're in, the developers will have 10 days to come up with an action plan, she said, while city staff pore over the reports.

She said there's still a need to discuss updating the province's building code and other issues with upper levels of government. On the local level, she said, a central reporting phone line for condo issues should be considered.

While anxieties mount, Prof. Perovic cautions against blowing the problem out of proportion.

"In terms of statistical significance of failure, this is minuscule compared to the number of windows that are made and installed."

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