INDEPENDENT NEWS

BIA Warns of Potentially Unsafe Balconies

Published: Wed 18 Dec 2002 02:37 PM
BIA Warns of Potentially Unsafe Balconies and Balustrades
The Building Industry Authority today issued a public reminder that certain balconies and balustrades on houses and apartments could be in danger of collapsing and causing a serious accident.
BIA Chief Executive Dr Bill Porteous said it was timely to remind people of the potential danger as Christmas and the summer holiday season drew near, with an associated increase in outdoor living.
Balconies, decks, and similar structures at risk are those that rely for their structural support on timber beams that may, or may not, be hidden behind cladding. Those at greatest risk include balconies on buildings with flat, lightweight claddings with plaster-type finishes, balconies supported by untreated kiln-dried timber, and balconies on which water pools.
A balustrade is a barrier built around the edge of a balcony, deck, or similar construction, to prevent people from falling. The types at risk are "enclosed balustrades" covered with a flat, lightweight cladding with a plaster-type finish. Water can leak inside the cladding and rot the framing timber. If this has happened, the balustrade may appear solid but can no longer support the weight of a person leaning on it.
The BIA advises people with at-risk balconies or balustrades to seek advice from an appropriately qualified expert.
"Assessing the extent of the risk is difficult because in many cases the danger is literally hidden behind the cladding – there is no external evidence. However, it is a real risk."
"If people are worried about a balcony, deck or balustrade, they should get it checked by an expert as soon as possible. In the meantime, we strongly advise that they should not use it at all.”
Risk Factors
Balconies at greatest risk are those: using untreated kiln-dried timber for structural support on buildings clad with lightweight materials with plaster finishes with a surface on which water forms puddles that move when walked on, or where there are damp spots or stains below where the balcony joins the main construction. These signs may be seen from inside or outside the house. These balconies are mostly found on split level, or 2-3 storey houses or multi-storey apartment buildings.
Balustrades at greatest risk are those: clad with lightweight materials with plaster finishes with a flat top on which the water sits with a railing attached to the top where water can leak down screw holes or other penetrations that wobble or where damp spots or stains can be seen on the cladding. These balustrades are mostly found on split level or 2-3 storey houses or multi-storey apartment buildings. They may or may not be associated with at-risk balconies.
It is important to stress that, in the case of either structure, there may not be evident warning signs and the danger may be completely hidden.
If I'm concerned, what should I do? Get it checked by an expert as quickly as possible. Any delay could be unsafe and the problem will only get worse. Expert advisers will also be able to give you the best advice on any repair work needed and the estimated costs.
How do I find a qualified expert? If you need help finding an expert adviser, the following organizations can assist: BRANZ: call 0900 5 90 90, or visit: www.branz.co.nz or Institute of Building Surveyors: call 0800 113 400, or visit www.buildingsurveyors.co.nz. Alternatively, your local city or district council will be able to help you find an adviser.
Further information on at-risk balconies and balustrades is available on www.bia.govt.nz

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