I am worried my apartment balcony is unsafe. What can I do?

Check wooden slats and metal frames of balconies to ensure they can bear weight

Check both the wooden slats of your balcony, and the metal frame to ensure it can bear weight

Check both the wooden slats of your balcony, and the metal frame to ensure it can bear weight

 

I live in an apartment complex which was built in 2001. The first image shows the construction of the balcony (from below), on which timber slats were laid, that are now warping (second image). I am afraid to allow my family, especially children onto it in case the timbers break and there is an accident. The management company inform me that the balcony is my own business.

What are my options? Lift and replace? Cover with marine ply 6mm sheets but leave original timbers in situ? Any other?

Your help and expertise would be greatly appreciated.

Wood buckles due to water ingress in many cases
Wood buckles due to water ingress in many cases

I have reviewed the photographs you sent with your query and I can advise that your balcony detail is not uncommon. While I would not have any immediate concerns regarding the safety of the balcony in this photograph, it would be useful to check the integrity of the timber decking boards – particularly at the cut edges and around fixings where the board would be more susceptible to moisture ingress. Your local chartered building surveyor would be best consulted to assist you with this.

There is the wider question as to the structural longevity of the materials used in the balcony unit. Your balcony is a prefabricated metal structure with a painted/powder-coated finish and a timber deck platform fixed to metal load-bearing supports. The use of these materials together generally provides an aesthetically pleasing finish – particularly following the initial construction – but like everything, they tend to deteriorate over time.

External timber will always require some ongoing maintenance/preservation and repair. I have yet to see a natural timber product that is impervious to at least some effects of external weathering/distortion and decay. However, the fact that the timber has twisted or distorted, is not necessarily an indication of decay but more an indication of moisture ingress which has potentially caused the timber to twist or buckle.

That being said, moisture ingress is the first step in the cycle that eventually will cause decay. In short, for peace of mind and minimum maintenance, it would be prudent that you have the existing timber decking stripped off (as there is no point fixing new deck to something that is decayed) and that this be replaced with a more durable and weatherproof decking board.

Marine plywood would not be a suitable option for multiple reasons I won’t go into and certainly not at 6mm in thickness. Consider alternatives such as fibre cement decking boards or a steel platform which is treated and unlikely to corrode. Again, you should consult your local chartered building surveyor to ensure that whatever material is chosen is fit for purpose structurally.

You haven’t mentioned it in your question, but there also appears to be some spot corrosion of the structural metal frame which carries the platform. There are some blisters to the painted coating and this should be further checked to ensure the load-bearing part of the balcony is in good condition and fit for purpose.

I note that the management company has indicated that the balcony is your responsibility. However, it might be worthwhile querying this with them again. This is not likely to be an isolated issue in the development. I anticipate that they will want some input regarding materials used in any repair to ensure uniformity and the aesthetics of the finishes throughout the development over the longer term.

Aidan McDonald, is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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