Residents of a brand new condo building in North Vancouver are worried about the safety of their building after two glass panels fell at least 30 metres in the last two months.
The strata and developer have not confirmed the cause of the incidents at 1471 Hunter St., which led to broken glass falling onto a ground-level walkway and a common courtyard on the third floor.
The first incident saw a glass panel fall from the 15th floor on Dec. 17.
Intergulf Development Group says the 3-by-4-foot panel of tempered railing glass shattered in place — similar to a car windshield breaking — and the resulting shards fell onto the balconies below.
“It could have shattered for any number of reasons, including blunt force impact or defect,” reads a statement from the developer.
On Monday, a second panel fell from a ninth-floor unit located right above Matt and Kristina Smith’s apartment, covering their balcony with glass shards.
“I thought they were hail,” said Kristina, who discovered the glass in the morning. “I realized they were broken pieces of glass … I can see from the above floor’s balcony that they are missing a glass [panel].”
The couple says they’re worried about the balcony’s glass panels, which they say appear to be leaning on an angle away from the building.
“It’s noticeable when you’re walking out there. You can feel that you’re walking down a little slope,” said Matt Smith, who works as an electrician. “I also put a hand level on the railings and the glass and I noticed that even the glass was sitting at an angle.”
The couple moved into the unit in September as renters and reported the lean to the warranty department for Intergulf on Dec. 8, about a week before the first glass panel shattered from a unit seven floors above theirs.
Matt Smith also sent the email to the building’s strata council and the property management company, Rancho Management Services. As of this week, no one has been to his eighth-floor unit to inspect the balcony.
“I’m concerned about more glass falling until we know what caused it and whether there’s further hazards,” he said.
“Is another panel of glass gonna fall? Well, without an investigation and some communication with the residents, we’re in the dark and I’m concerned about my own [balcony].”
In an email to CBC News, Intergulf’s warranty department says that balconies slope by design for drainage and that the contractor confirmed “there is no possibility of glass panels falling out as a whole and that strata has no need to be concerned about this.”
The strata council declined an interview request from CBC News, but in an emailed statement ruled out the first glass panel shattered after being hit by a bird because no dead bird was found near the area.
“We have urged the railing company to produce a report outlining their findings and the next steps they will be taking,” council said in a statement after the second panel broke.
Intergulf says it has responded to both incidents and is in contact with the strata to “determine the cause and further action to be taken.”
“As a long-standing local builder, we stand behind our product and are working diligently to resolve this issue,” reads an emailed statement.
Glass panel incidents not unique
Incidents where outdoor glass panels either fall or shatter have happened before. Last year, a B.C. Supreme Court judge certified a class action suit over concerns about defects in glass at Vancouver’s Shangri-La residential tower.
The Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. says it’s a growing problem and is working on a research project that tracks these incidents and their causes.
“What we’ve discovered early on is that the fasteners that are used to hold these assemblies together, they will simply loosen over time because of weather conditions,” said Tony Gioventu, the association’s executive director. “Heat and expansion and cold and contraction and then freezing gets into the joints.”
He says it’s up to strata councils to make sure they go through routine inspections and maintenance.
Gioventu did say those incidents are less common in newer builds like the Hunter tower, which only opened to residents last spring.
Typically, a newer building is covered by what’s known as 2-5-10 Year Home Warranty insurance, which includes coverage for two years on labour and materials; five years on the building envelope, including water penetration; and 10 years on the structure of the home.
Gioventu says the glass balconies would likely be considered part of the building envelope.
“If this has occurred once in your building, it’s pretty likely to occur again and you need to inspect other areas of the building for the assemblies to ensure that you know that they’re not coming apart,” he said.
In the meantime, Matt Smith says he and other residents are still waiting for answers about what caused the glass to shatter.
The couple had planned on raising a family in their building, but is now reconsidering.
“In the long run, we don’t see this as sustainable,” explained Matt Smith. “We don’t feel safe and being in the dark makes it so much worse.”