Concrete Balcony

Are concrete balconies safe?

Ever since “Romeo and Juliet” made them famous, balconies have been popular additions to our homes and living spaces. For co-op and condo communities, balconies can add an extra perk, a few more feet of living space that allow us to enjoy the outdoors and sometime in the sun.  

As with any structure, balconies need a steady diet of care and maintenance to look their best and last their longest. What goes into caring for balconies, and what happens when they need fixing? With proper planning and the right tools, maintenance, and repair can add years of enjoyment and value to your co-op or condominium community.  

A balcony acts as a space that connects the interior of living space with outdoor areas. The balcony space can help bring light into dark spaces as the wall that separates the balcony from the interior space is usually made of movable glass. These welcoming and attractive outdoor living areas can be used for multiple purposes and are a welcoming area for many living and working in various residential and commercial buildings. Much care and attention should be given to these outdoor living spaces as over time they’re subjected to inclement weather, wear and tear, as well as the condition in which the building is in that they are an extension of. Over the course of time, balconies can deteriorate and can become a hazard rather than being a versatile outdoor space for tenants to enjoy.  

The balcony concrete of residential and commercial structures is a cantilevered extension of the living room floor slab. Within the balcony concrete, reinforcing steel is situated in varying sizes and layouts. Typically, two mats (layers) of reinforcing steel are present, but there can also be one mat present. Over the course of time, the reinforcing steel corrodes in varying degrees, whether atmospheric or not. Ongoing maintenance and reviews can reduce large expenditures for building owners as well as their respective tenants. Prolonging maintenance and repairs can have the opposite desired result.

Check out Hitch Property Constructions for a wide range of balcony repairs.

How They Work

For the most part these days, balconies are built out of steel and concrete with a few wood and steel models mixed in here and there. According to Stan Wellinsky, vice president of Valcourt Building Services LLC in Elizabeth, New Jersey, there are two kinds of concrete balconies: continuous slab, which is simply an extension of a building’s concrete floor slab, and those which are constructed from steel frames that are mounted to the structure externally. Steel planks extend from the building’s frame and are then filled with concrete. On both types of balconies, railings are added after initial construction and are either embedded into the balcony or surface mounted.  

Concrete Balcony

What is Concrete Deterioration?

According to Donald Chalaire, PE, from Chalaire and Associates, Inc., concrete deterioration can be defined as cracked and spalled pieces of concrete falling off a building surface. “Concrete is being pushed outward because of expansion of the steel bars due to corrosion,” he says. “The expansion is the result of iron being converted to scaling rust. The scaling rust needs much more space and has enough power to break the concrete.”

If deteriorating concrete is left unchecked, serious safety concerns emerge. “When the deterioration is severe, it can affect the inside of units and can even cause catastrophic failure if not taken care of over some time,” says Steve Young, P.E., President of Howard J. Miller P.E., Inc. “Most of the time, though, people are aware that it is looking bad and attend to it before the balcony falls off the building,” he says.

What Causes Concrete to Deteriorate?

Concrete corrosion is caused by rainwater and chlorides getting into concrete down to the level of the steel bars. “Over time, the outer surfaces exposed to weather absorb more and more mild acids and chlorides that penetrate deeper and deeper into the concrete,” Chalaire says. 

Different variables affect the time it takes for the contaminants to reach the steel bars. How the water gets into the concrete, how long the cycles of wetness and dryness occur, and the variations of exposure all play a role. For waterfront buildings, this typically occurs every 15–20 years but can be shortened to just a few years if the concrete is very porous or the steel bars are not embedded deep enough. “The corrosion begins when the contaminants reach the steel bars, and the rust begins to consume them,” says Chalaire.

What Are Some Signs of a Serious Problem?

Terri Chalaire, P.E., from Chalaire and Associates, Inc., explains that cracks in ceilings and floors are common in concrete-framed structures, new or older. “The cracks can be significant and contribute to dangerous conditions and concrete damage, or they can be insignificant, not causing a structural problem or other concern, or they can be somewhere in the middle, possibly allowing water intrusion and problems down the road,” she says. An experienced professional will be able to diagnose the issue based on the shape and size of the crack, the configuration of the steel reinforcing bar in the slab, the general configuration of the slab, and the location of the crack relative to the balcony configuration. For those without extensive knowledge of concrete, some signs of a serious problem include:

How Often are Repairs Necessary?

Quality work should not need to be repaired for 10–20 years; however, in any given association, repairs will likely be needed every few years. “Unfortunately, repairs performed at one location do not mean there won’t be problems at other nearby or unrelated locations,” Terri explains. “Brand new concrete at one unit does not mean the 20-year-old concrete at another unit will last forever.” She advises property managers to monitor buildings and make a note of any repairs that will need to be completed, then have them all completed at one time. If this process is repeated every few years, it should help to minimize repair projects and costs of projects.

Why Seek Out a Professional?

While well-intentioned, repairs performed by a handyman or association staff could cause bigger problems. If not done properly, the repair could loosen and fall, causing injury or property damage for which the association would be liable. Professionals will have extensive knowledge of the published standards and codes that guide concrete repairs. Two different professionals are often needed to assess and conduct concrete repairs. First, a professional engineer should be contacted to inspect an area and write a proper repair method. 

Selecting a professional contractor who holds a General Contractor (GC) license is the next step. “An effective way to achieve comparable bids is to have an engineering survey performed, and specifications and bid package are written,” says Terri. “This package can be provided to multiple contractors. An engineering company with a Certificate of Authorization issued by the state can provide these surveys and specifications, which can also be used later to obtain a building permit for the work.”

Carpet on Balconies

While there may be some resistance to the idea of removing carpet to inspect balconies, it is necessary, according to Donald. “I have seen much evidence of the harm carpeting on balconies has caused in Florida, where chloride infusion into concrete is the main cause of deterioration,” he says. 

He advises against the carpet on exterior balconies because it enhances concrete corrosion and cracking. After a rain shower, the carpeting will remain wet long after other smooth surfaces have dried. Besides, rains can’t flush away the salt from carpets as it can from other surfaces. 

Ponding Water

Another problem that can accelerate deterioration is ponding water due to inadequate slopes or excessive waviness. “All water that hits balcony surfaces should have a path for runoff,” says Donald. Water ponding with plenty of sun and wind exposure will eventually dry out but shaded, or hidden areas take longer—ponding areas covered by tile or pavers almost never dry out, according to Donald.

What Steps Can You Take to Avoid Problems/Potential Dangers with Your Balconies?

Young recommends a series of simple steps for proper balcony and railing maintenance. 

  • Initially, hire an engineer to inspect balconies and advise on necessary repairs
  • Hire an engineer to conduct routine inspections every two to five years
  • Waterproof all balconies
  • Involve an engineer while you are collecting bids from qualified contractors
  • Have an engineer inspect all repair work as it is being done
  • When installing shutters, make sure the fastener penetrating the concrete is sealed so that no water can enter the concrete. 

If covering a balcony with tiles:

  • Balcony must be waterproofed before covering with tiles
  • If replacing old tiles, the facilities manager should inspect the balcony after the old tiles are removed and before new tiles are installed
  • Be aware that tiles can hide potential problems leading to more extensive problems with higher restoration costs

Implementing some simple, preventative measures, knowing what to look for, and having a regular inspection/maintenance plan in place will allow residents and guests to utilize the balconies in your community safely.

Looking for balcony repairs Melbourne? Look no further. Hitch Property Constructions has you covered.

Tips To Help Keep Your Balcony Safe & Sturdy

Get Regular Inspections

Of course, property owners need to conduct an inspection of their building and balconies regularly. However, it is also helpful to hire a professional to provide a high quality, detailed inspection on an annual basis. Generally, doing this in the early spring – before high use of the balconies happens – is necessary mainly because the freezing temperatures in the winter can create structural insecurities.

Look for warped wood and rotted out pieces. Refasten any loose boards present with new screws and anchors. Additionally, look for any splintering areas. Cracks in the cement or other material need to be noticed, especially if they are growing over time. Here are some additional things to know:

  • Large cracks in concrete and stone require professional repair. When these are present on the floor of the balcony, an expert is needed to improve the structural integrity of the balcony.
  • Support posts and balusters also are subject to wearing down over time and can pose just as much risk to the balcony user. Look for rotting, excessive rusting, and areas of damage.
  • Railings are one of the most common areas to deteriorate. Rust, rotting wood and looseness are big factors here. Ensure these are secured properly.
  • The railing floor brackets and wall brackets can come loose over time. This can create an easy situation for someone to fall. Check these every few months for safety.

Can You Make Repairs Yourself?

If you notice small cracks or crumbling cement, it may be possible to do some work yourself. It is always wise, though, to hire a professional to handle the repairs for you instead.

Crack fillers, which are generally applied using a caulk gun, work well for minor problems. You will need to choose the right product for the surface and material. You’ll also have to prepare the area properly and use a putty knife to level it. In addition to this, any concrete patching product needs ample time to dry and set. It will take time to make these repairs.

In any situation, if the surface, railings, or support structures of a balcony have any signs of damage or deterioration, take action. What you see on the surface is also an indication of what is happening deep within the cement pad or other structure. This is why you need an expertly trained professional to inspect (go here for a balcony checklist) and handle any and all repairs on your balcony for you. Do this on a regular basis to ensure the safety of anyone who uses it.

What Are the Dangers of Second-Floor Balconies?

Accidental Falls

Second-floor balconies pose risks to children and pets. A curious or adventurous child may get onto a balcony, climb the railing and fall off onto the ground below. Falls at moderate heights can seriously injure or kill a small child. Pets can get out through windows or the balcony door and attempt to jump or fall from the balcony to the ground, resulting in serious injury or even death. You can lessen this risk by making sure your balcony door is secured with a lock and using other safety measures, such as railings without gaps children and pets can slip through.

Instability

Damage to a second-floor balcony isn’t always immediately visible. Weather elements and the passage of time affect the balcony’s structural materials. A person faces danger if she walks out onto a second-floor balcony with rotting floor wood, for example. The wood may crack, leading the person to trip or fall. Even concrete balconies suffer deterioration and surface cracks from exposure to strong winds and harsh weather conditions.

Collapse

A second-floor balcony with serious damage or weak spots in the right structural places could collapse under the added weight. Balconies on the second floor have weight limits because they aren’t anchored directly into the ground for support. Excessive weight, such as a large group of people entering at one time, could cause the balcony to collapse. A structural defect caused by improper construction may also result in a second-floor balcony collapse.

Use

A second-floor balcony may pose some more hidden dangers. Storing heavy items on the balcony, for instance, might pose a risk to passersby if strong winds knock an item onto the ground below. A child might trip over objects on a balcony and injure themselves or fall over a short railing. Keep balcony items out of the way of the walking space and close to railings. Observe weight limits if you’re placing heavy objects, such as large garden planters, on your balcony.

Safety

Balcony safety is a major concern, especially when it comes to falling concrete. Missing concrete is often visible on balconies. Missing portions of concrete that have fallen at some point are usually visible but are merely discarded from the ground. It’s important to note that a small rock sized piece of concrete can kill or injure people below. In addition to concrete, railings keep tenants and items placed in the space safe and secure. The concentration of reinforcing steel is heaviest at the balcony perimeter. This is also the area where railings are installed. Balcony railings are either surface mounted or welded to plates within the concrete perimeter of the balcony. Prolonged deterioration of the perimeter reinforcing steel can result in the railing deteriorating, causing major safety issues.

Hitch Property Constructions has a wide range of the Melbourne balcony repairs right here. 

Prevention

There are consequences for neglect. Most importantly, human safety, as well as the liability and litigation that come after that any undesired circumstances as a result. These situations can be easily avoided. Concrete balconies should be inspected by qualified engineering professionals who have a track record of reviewing and restoring balconies. Building owners should only have an experienced eye can determine the condition. It is recommended that a qualified engineering consultant in concrete restoration is obtained to review a building’s balconies on an ongoing basis. Ideally, this should happen at the very least on an annual basis.

A condition review begins with all items being removed from the balcony. The consultant chain drags, or hammer sounds, each balcony to detect concrete delaminations. A trained consultant will also be able to review the balconies for deficiencies visually. A comprehensive report outlining the findings and an estimated budget to address any of the defined findings should be provided to the appropriate parties. The engineer of record stamps the reports.

It should be noted that Occupational, Health and Safety has closed unsafe balcony spaces which posed safety hazards to the public. The aforementioned scenario usually results in immediate repairs, and this becomes much costlier for building owners to address than if the repairs are identified and undertaken beforehand. A proactive approach results in a safer outdoor space for tenants and the general public as well as increased certainty and peace of mind for building owners, operators and managers.

With proper care and attention, a balcony can last for many years, providing a perfect oasis in which building residents can enjoy the outdoors and enjoy each other’s company. Every dollar spent on maintenance and repair will be well worth the satisfaction of preserving a valuable investment. Who knows? If Romeo and Juliet had a better balcony, things might have turned out differently.  

Scroll to Top