Hong Kong – an air conditioner in every window

With an average temperatures of 30ºC with 80 percent humidity through the summer months, it is no surprise that air conditioning is a popular fixture all over Hong Kong, and has influenced the design of buildings.

Laundry drying in the windows of Hong Kong apartments

You’ll see air conditioning units perched in front of windows.

Air conditioners and drying racks hang from apartment windows

Bolted onto any spot that fits.

Wall of air conditioners on Argyle Street

This construction site amenities block being completely encircled with them.

Need more air-conditioning?

But the ad-hoc installation of air conditions into the windows isn’t the most aesthetic addition, so by the 1970s designers started including specially built air conditioner platforms to their buildings.

Housing Authority tower under construction

An integral part of the building design.

Floor upon floor of through wall air conditioners in a Hong Kong building

Allowing residents to easily install an air conditioner without blocking their view to the outside.

Typical Housing Authority apartment tower

But the development of mini-split systems presented a difficulty – the outdoor condenser units didn’t fit in the spaces intended for the older ‘window box’ air conditioners.

Spilt systems replace old window box air conditioners

But manufacturers saw this as a problem they could solve, and developed mini-split systems with a low profile outdoor unit.

Split system air conditioner designed to be retrofitted onto a 'window box' air conditioner shelf

Which could squeeze onto the shelf designed for a ‘window box’ air conditioner.

Split system air conditioner installed on a shelf designed for a through-wall unit

As for the old air conditioners? They get sent off for scrap.

Scrapyard full of abandoned air conditioners

Footnote: air conditioner platforms and saleable area of apartments

In 2000 it was flagged that Hong Kong property developers were counting the area occupied by air-conditioners in the overall floor area of apartments.

The inclusion of air-conditioner platforms in the saleable area of units at the Sino Land-led consortium’s Island Resort in Siu Sai Wan has renewed concerns about inadequate regulatory controls on residential sales.

Surveyors said such an inclusion was unusual and it could confuse consumers about the efficiency ratio of the units and the effective selling prices.

They said it might be necessary to review the definition of saleable area if other developers followed suit.

‘It is rare that a developer builds a platform to install air-conditioners in a mass housing project,’ said Tony Tse Wai-chuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors’ general practice committee.

Air-conditioner platforms were usually seen in houses or luxury flats at least 1,500 square feet in size.

Those units had a centralised air-conditioning system and needed a room to install the related facilities, Mr Tse said.

In that case, some developers might include them in the saleable area.

Mr Tse said the move by Sino Land to include the platforms in the saleable area was acceptable based on the existing definition.

The definition of saleable area means the floor exclusively allocated to the unit, including balconies and verandas but excluding common areas such as stairs, lift shafts, lobbies and communal toilets.

Mr Tse said the platforms at Island Resort were not for common use, so they could be included in the saleable area.

One key issue is the lack of a standard definition of gross floor area.

Different developers include different proportions of common areas in the gross floor area.

But Hong Kong purchasers are used to thinking in terms of gross floor area when prices are all quoted on such a basis.

In the case of Island Resort, the air-conditioner platforms are also included in the gross floor area.

On such a basis, the average price for the first 68 units to be sold is $4,288 per sq ft.

Analysts said the inclusion inflated the gross floor area and resulted in a lower average price, which could set a wrong base to compare the prices with other projects.

John Hui, vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Real Estate Administration, said there was no statutory definition of saleable area, even though the present definition was commonly accepted and adopted in lease conditions in consent schemes.

‘Consumers may need to do a bit more homework before they make a move to purchase,’ Mr Hui said.

He said the inclusion of the platform in the saleable area was a marketing strategy.

In terms of the actual area homebuyers can use in the unit, which means a deduction of the air-conditioner platform and other areas, the price will be higher.

With the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors issuing a clarification around the definition of “saleable area” in 2008.

Under the current regulations, no land premium is required for building an air-conditioning plant room, which used to be designed for detached houses to store a centralised air-conditioner. But some flat owners have in fact paid for the room, as some developers include it as part of the saleable area.

The new definition announced by the institute yesterday includes the ‘utility platform’ – a balcony-like platform – but not the air-conditioning plant room as saleable area.

‘The air-conditioning plant room is commonly found in multi-storey residential developments in recent years,’ the institute’s vice-president, Stephen Yip Moon-wah, said. ‘It should not be counted as saleable area because people living in the flat do not practically use it.’

A number of surveyors said that some developers were abusing the right to build an air-conditioning plant room. They were building the rooms larger and describing them as storerooms.

Air-conditioning plant rooms are commonly found in floor maps of newly built developments. In the floor map of one luxury apartment in Kowloon Tong, the air-conditioning plant room is roughly the size of the kitchen or small bedroom.

The size of a plant room can vary from 10 sq ft to over 30 sq ft, said Charles Chan Chiu-kwok, managing director of valuation and professional services at property consultant Savills.

There is no maximum area set for the plant room under current building regulations, ‘but its size has to be justifiable and approved by the Buildings Department’, he added.

‘Some developers include the room’s area as saleable area because, they say, the room is exclusively used by flat owners,’ Mr Chan said.

Surveyor Pang Siu-kei said buyers might mistake the plant room for a storeroom because developers’ floor plans do not explain what they are. ‘Some buyers eventually turn the plant room into a storeroom and hang the air-conditioners outside the buildings,’ he said.

However, Mr Pang said the utility platform should be counted as saleable area since it can be used for drying clothes or storing a washing machine.

‘The function of a utility platform is similar to a balcony. They should be counted, as they are useable,’ said Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, the chairman of the institute’s saleable area working group.

Dr Poon said yesterday that the institute had not changed the definition of saleable area but clarified it to avoid different interpretations by developers. He said the clarification was made after consulting the views of the government and developers.

And the Hong Kong Government eventually defining “saleable area” in the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance:

Saleable area means the floor area of the residential property, which includes the floor area of (i) a balcony, (ii) a utility platform and (iii) a verandah so long as it forms part of the residential property. However, it excludes an air-conditioning plant room, a bay window, a cockloft, a flat roof, a garden, a parking space, a roof, a stairhood, a terrace or a yard even it forms part of the residential property.

Liked it? Take a second to support Marcus Wong on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
This entry was posted in Everyday Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Hong Kong – an air conditioner in every window

  1. Andrew Cee says:

    Rather interesting. It was becoming absurd when a central air con plant room was included in floor space.

    I’m surprised that in the new laws an external services platform is included in property space.

    I would guess that in new apartment towers, cheaper for residents centralised air con would be the norm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *