How safe are glass balconies in apartment blocks?

Property Clinic: We are all too familiar with the tragic consequences of things going wrong; OMCs, owners and occupiers need to be vigilant

I recently viewed a dockland apartment in a building that has several boarded-up areas on the balconies as apparently the glass panels fell off the building to the street below. On closer examination, the balcony glass panels are constructed of two glazed panels that are glued together. Frost and rain seem to have caused the pieces of the panel to separate and loosen from their metal brackets. Is this type of balcony glazing fit for purpose? A better standard for balcony glazing is surely a solid piece of tempered glass. Dublin city is awash with glass balconies.

Does the Department of Housing have a building regulation covering the type of glazing for balconies and the stability required? Who is responsible for public safety, if this type of glazing is an approved standard? Is it the Department of Housing, the building management company, or the owner of the apartment from which the balcony panel falls?

Noel Larkin writes: Manufacturers are able to produce different types of glass depending on the intended purpose and proposed location of the finished product. So, whether it’s for windows or doors, on building facades or as protective screens and barriers such as those you describe, there’s a customised glass product designed to fulfil the role.

Your suggestion that a solid sheet of tempered glass would be more suitable on a balcony is not a sound one. Imagine a table, chair or child’s buggy striking the balcony glass with force on an upper-floor balcony. The single sheet would disintegrate on impact, leaving the balcony open and creating a significant fall risk. This is why laminated glass is used. The broken glass will be held intact by the laminate and will not fall away. Similarly, in high office buildings where glass runs to the floor, laminated glass must be used in the facade. The fact that most office chairs are now wheel-mounted helps explain the need for this safety measure.


It is only in the relatively recent past that glass suitable for use as a screen or barrier has been perfected. Float glass will break into large shards making it unsuitable where there is a risk of human impact. The broken glass could inflict injury. To counteract this, tempered or toughened glass was developed. This type of glass will shatter into many small cubes reducing the risk of cutting. Laminated glass uses a layer of plastic film or resin sandwiched between sheets of toughened glass. This holds the toughened glass in position if it is broken, thus temporarily maintaining the important screen or guarding.

You have not specifically identified the building you mention in your question. I am relieved that the Owners’ Management Company (OMC) appears to have the matter in hand, and has closed off the unsafe balconies. I’d imagine that a programme of inspection has been completed to identify any loose glass or broken fixings. The inspection should allow building surveyors to diagnose the cause of the problem and enable a workable and cost-effective solution to be found. Regrettably, there have been issues with some materials used during the so-called Celtic Tiger era. This has included failure of glass. Sometimes this can be as a result of natural impurities in the glass like nickel sulphide, which causes expansion and shattering. The delaminating you describe, however, sounds like a weathering issue, which suggests the glass product used may not have been suitable for this exposed waterfront location.

It is the responsibility of those who construct buildings to ensure that they comply with the building regulations. Part D (Materials and Workmanship) and part K (Stairways, Ladders, Ramps and Guards) of the regulations together with European standards deal with these matters. Following the introduction of BCAR (Building Control Amendment Regulations) in 2014 in Ireland, a third-party assigned certifier has to sign off on all buildings and this helped eliminate the use of unapproved or substandard materials from the construction industry. As a result, the occurrence of this type of issue should be reduced in the future.

In this case it appears that an issue has been identified and hopefully repairs will be carried out soon. Responsibility for the cost of repairs will depend on whether or not balconies are deemed “common”, as is often the case. In 2018 the SCSI (Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland) recommended to OMCs that balconies should be inspected annually to help identify if there are any early warning signs of potential failure. We are all too familiar with the tragic consequences of things going wrong and, therefore, OMCs, owners and occupiers need to be vigilant.

Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland,