Condo Corner & Home Tech: Home security products & the woes of condo terraces

Are condo terraces as great as they’re cracked up to be?

Who doesn’t like to enjoy a summer on the patio with a cold brew or to catch some rays? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a patio of your own? Well for the fortunate few who are lucky enough to have a condo with an expansive terrace or balcony space this could be a valuable feature for any home, especially when indoor space is limited, and an asset to those who love to entertain (and a must if you’re a smoker). Having a large terrace could command premiums of $20,000 to $50,000+ (depending on its size) over units without one, but they could be sources of major headaches as well.

Interestingly enough, as much as condo dwellers or purchasers prefer to have a balcony, the reality is that they are not that well used, and it has become pretty much a storage space for bikes and other stuff that which has no place for inside (which many condos prohibit). In the true Canadian spirit many of us enjoy barbequing for much of the year, but in any condo building BBQ’s are prohibited from balconies and terraces unless they are equipped with a gas line, and only a few condo developers supply them due to its cost. Fire codes prohibit propane tanks from being stored or transported through a building. Another concern to think about, balconies on high floors could be uncomfortably windy and not a great environment to be in if you or your guests are afraid of heights.

Condo balconies are a rarity in cities like New York where they have a similar climate as we do, but due to big city noise and dirt, and with their extreme real estate values interior floor area is much more valued than outdoor space. Terraces are often limited to some high-ticket penthouses where light and views are more appreciated and the chaos of the street are not so apparent at the top of the building, and they often serve as trophy features for these dream apartments. In Toronto, there has been more and more new condos that have fewer or lack balconies for individual units, instead resorting to a communal outdoor amenity space, so we may be starting to head in that direction.

Terraces are prone to constant debris landing on them, intentional and unintentional. Having served on a number of condominium boards I’ve heard and seen it all: from all kinds of litter and patio furniture, to people vomiting over their balconies from a late night party, to residents using their balconies as litter boxes for their pets — a former neighbour of mine got the doggie golden shower while having her morning coffee on her balcony! You are at the mercy of all the careless neighbours above you. 

A fire at 200 Wellesley Street East in 2010 displaced at least 1,200 people temporarily and sent at least 14 people to hospital, some with very serious injuries. (photo: CBC)

The most dangerous of them all is the careless disposal of cigarette butts off balconies where the city of Toronto has seen a spike of balcony fires last summer and will most likely continue this summer, this CBC article from early last summer talks about the severity of this issue. It’s often hard to catch these people in the act, especially if you live in a large condo building with countless floors and anonymous balconies hovering over you. However, with home cameras and surveillance systems gaining in popularity and prices being more affordable and simpler to set up, more people are installing them on their balconies and terraces to catch such offenders with excellent results.

Product review: Nest Cam IQ indoor

Nest Cam IQ: What’s inside the box.

This leads up to my home tech review of the Nest Cam IQ indoor, their latest of their home camera line which I received recently. Already owning the Nest Thermostat and Nest Protect (smoke/CO2 detector) installed in my home, I am a huge fan of their products due to the Apple-like coolness of the design, its ease of use and customization, and how much it improves the safety and energy efficiency of your home (my thermostat paid for itself in just a year in energy savings in my previous loft). The IQ indoor camera is one of the many new brilliant smart home products steadily introduced by Nest. All of their products communicate with each other which could be controlled from any smart phone, computer or device, home or away. A friend of mine had installed an earlier generation Nest Cam Outdoor on his terrace which he caught their neighbours a few floors above throwing burning cigarette butts off their balcony, which they were reported to the police and fire department (see camera still below).   

A couple is seen throwing a lit cigarette off their balcony onto someone’s terrace through this Nest Cam footage (the flying lit cigarette is the white streak to the right of the frame).

While security within condo units has been generally good in Toronto, a part of condo life involves authorized strangers entering your home on an occasional yet regular basis. This includes regular fire alarm inspections, servicing of heat pump units, trades for building repairs, etc., they are usually accompanied by a security guard and often advance notice is given and a note is left behind if they have been in your home, but that is sometimes not the case. There are limited home security devices for apartment living, but the Nest Cam does an excellent job at this and requires very little time and effort to set up or install. Nest also recently launched their Nest Secure line which is a series of a-la-carte devices (motion sensors, door & window sensors, and fobs) to further protect your home or if you want a simpler lower tech solution.

The Nest Cam IQ is a simple plug and play device which works off your WiFi. It’s small and easy enough to be placed anywhere in your home, which is great as you could put it away when you have guests over to not make them feel uncomfortable at a sight of a camera. The IQ uses artificial intelligence to detect any movement or people within the camera’s view, which it then zooms in on the person and performs facial recognition and sends an alert to your phone. There is a two way speaker/mic which you can communicate to whoever is in your home.

 

Nest phone app views, courtesy of Trustedreviews.com.

Having it set up on the first day, I was still discovering all the features and functions, and had the camera on while I was home. The camera was able to perform facial recognition images on my TV from across the room — it was cool at first but became pretty annoying as I was getting constant alerts every time a new person’s face appears on my TV. You could set the camera to automatically turn on and off based on the location of your phone or through the home/away function of the Nest Thermostat (if connected).

The picture is amazing clear and sharp with its HD 4k camera and wide angle lens could capture a good expanse of the room or scene. Nest also offers Nest Aware which is a optional service which it can save up to 30 days worth of video footage for a monthly fee (a 30 day trial is included).

The Nest Cam IQ is one impressive piece of home tech, but it may seem a bit overkill if you are using it simply to catch the very rare home intruder or to spy on your pets, but it does offer peace of mind and a cool toy to play around with — Nest Cam Generation 1 with more basic features and a non-HD camera could be had for much less.

Retail price: IQ indoor $399, IQ outdoor $429, generation 1 cams start at $249. 

-Alan, April 13, 2018.

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