Balcony or deck collapses during recent years caused by bad building practice or poor maintenance have caused serious injury and in some cases resulted in tragic deaths.
Elevated balconies and decks – whether constructed of timber, steel or concrete – are exposed to the extremes of climate and need to be periodically checked for deterioration because of the risk they can pose for residents and visitors. Homeowners and tenants should check their deck annually for rotting timbers, shaky hand rails, loose balustrades, corroded fittings, rust stains or cracking and seek professional advice if necessary.
The following information is not meant to replace a professional assessment by a qualified person such as an architect or engineer, but it does provide an indication of what to beware of:
Identify the species of timber and make sure it is suitable for external use. Oregon, for example, may not be appropriate for external structures. It is distinguishable by a broad softwood grain pattern and by a pinkish colour when fresh surfaces are exposed, for instance where timber has split.
- Check for any compression or deformation of the structural members.
- Test the timber by probing it with a sharp object like a screwdriver. Decayed timber will feel soft and spongy.
- Check connection points at the beams with a screwdriver for deterioration as timber can rot at junctions.
- Make sure the timber balcony is properly fixed to the main house structure, for instance, using bolts or where timber framing extends into the house structure .
- Check the base of timber posts for rot and check brackets and bolts for signs of rust.
- Posts need to be securely anchored into the ground and not just bolted into paving.
- Check handrails and balustrades to make sure they are not rotted or unstable.
- Look for signs of deflection. If the balcony slopes away noticeably away from the building, there may be a problem.
- Examine the underside of the concrete balcony. Rust stains or exposed steel reinforcement are signs of a serious problem.
- Check handrails and balustrades to make sure they are not loose or unstable.
- The presence of spalling, where chunks of concrete are crumbling off, may be a serious problem and indicates the need for inspection by an expert immediately.
If you’re unsure, get some advice from an independent professional and restrict the use of the deck or balcony until you can be sure it’s safe.