Decks and Balconies – A Love/Hate Relationship for Building Managers

Homeowners and tenants love balconies. For city-dwellers, it may be the only connection they have with the outdoors. Many suburbanites live on their decks all summer long. Even commercial tenants love to provide their employees with the ability to take a break outdoors in nice weather. Why wouldn’t every building have a balcony, deck, verandah or terrace?

A Building Manager’s Nightmare

If outdoor spaces are a tenant’s dream, they can be a nightmare for building owners and managers. Balconies are costly to build, hurt energy efficiency and pose safety issues. Even the soundest structures will show wear after time. And, no matter how hard you try, tenants find ways to lose their common sense and avoid the safety measures you install.

What impacts balcony safety?

  • Railings – According to the International Building Code, decks and balconies attached to commercial and multi-family buildings need to be a minimum height of 42 inches. (Check your local building codes – they might be stricter.) In addition, railings should be sturdy, but not so substantial that people want to sit on them.
  • Structure – Even if your building’s balconies are well-constructed, that integrity will fade over time. Insects or wood rot can attack wood-based structures. Metal and concrete can succumb to corrosion and weather-related deterioration.
  • Load – It may seem like common sense, but you may be surprised how little tenants understand about the load-bearing capacity of their balcony. The best way to manage this is to cover as many rules and regulations as you can in the lease agreement.
  • Fire – Again, it might make perfect sense to you that a fire pit or grill has no place on a wooden deck. Tenants don’t always have perfect sense. This is another instance where lease agreements can help.

What can I do to make sure my balconies are safe?

You should inspect all balconies, decks, verandahs and terraces at least once per year.  Professional engineers like ESS or building inspectors are your best resources for professional results. At a minimum, you or your staff should do the following.

  • Make sure the structure is properly attached to the building. Push and pull on the main support structure to check for movement.
  • Look for pooling of water on the deck or balcony surface, which may indicate poor drainage.
  • Check handrails and balustrades including base and rail attachments to make sure they’re tight.
  • Inspect beams for sagging, cracking or warping. Pay particular attention to beams that span long distances without additional support.
  • Check wooden structures for signs of decay, rot or insect attack. One way to tell is if the wood is spongy when you stick it with a sharp object.

What if I notice a problem with a balcony or deck?

All balconies and decks will show wear over time. Eventually, real safety issues arise. If you hire professional to perform regular inspections, they will identify these issues for you. But, even if you do your own inspections, you should hire certified professionals like ESS to recommend and implement any required repairs. They will make sure the result is as safe and sound as it can be.

If you need help with your balconies or any building engineering issue, contact us today!

Please note that every building and every situation is different. This article is intended as building engineering information only and should not be considered advice on your specific building or situation. You should consult with professional architect or engineer before you rely on this information.

Homeowners and tenants love balconies. For city-dwellers, it may be the only connection they have with the outdoors. Many suburbanites live on their decks all summer long. Even commercial tenants love to provide their employees with the ability to take a break outdoors in nice weather. Why wouldn’t every building have a balcony, deck, verandah or terrace?

A Building Manager’s Nightmare

If outdoor spaces are a tenant’s dream, they can be a nightmare for building owners and managers. Balconies are costly to build, hurt energy efficiency and pose safety issues. Even the soundest structures will show wear after time. And, no matter how hard you try, tenants find ways to lose their common sense and avoid the safety measures you install.

What impacts balcony safety?

  • Railings – According to the International Building Code, decks and balconies attached to commercial and multi-family buildings need to be a minimum height of 42 inches. (Check your local building codes – they might be stricter.) In addition, railings should be sturdy, but not so substantial that people want to sit on them.
  • Structure – Even if your building’s balconies are well-constructed, that integrity will fade over time. Insects or wood rot can attack wood-based structures. Metal and concrete can succumb to corrosion and weather-related deterioration.
  • Load – It may seem like common sense, but you may be surprised how little tenants understand about the load-bearing capacity of their balcony. The best way to manage this is to cover as many rules and regulations as you can in the lease agreement.
  • Fire – Again, it might make perfect sense to you that a fire pit or grill has no place on a wooden deck. Tenants don’t always have perfect sense. This is another instance where lease agreements can help.

What can I do to make sure my balconies are safe?

You should inspect all balconies, decks, verandahs and terraces at least once per year.  Professional engineers like ESS or building inspectors are your best resources for professional results. At a minimum, you or your staff should do the following.

  • Make sure the structure is properly attached to the building. Push and pull on the main support structure to check for movement.
  • Look for pooling of water on the deck or balcony surface, which may indicate poor drainage.
  • Check handrails and balustrades including base and rail attachments to make sure they’re tight.
  • Inspect beams for sagging, cracking or warping. Pay particular attention to beams that span long distances without additional support.
  • Check wooden structures for signs of decay, rot or insect attack. One way to tell is if the wood is spongy when you stick it with a sharp object.

What if I notice a problem with a balcony or deck?

All balconies and decks will show wear over time. Eventually, real safety issues arise. If you hire professional to perform regular inspections, they will identify these issues for you. But, even if you do your own inspections, you should hire certified professionals like ESS to recommend and implement any required repairs. They will make sure the result is as safe and sound as it can be.

If you need help with your balconies or any building engineering issue, contact us today!

Please note that every building and every situation is different. This article is intended as building engineering information only and should not be considered advice on your specific building or situation. You should consult with professional architect or engineer before you rely on this information.

Engineering Support Services has  teamed up with  Isagenix Legacy Foundation to feed, clothe and educate as many kids as we can in 2019.

To reach this goal, 3% of each contract will be donated to the foundation in our client's name.

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