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Glass Balconies – A Clear Choice

Both beautiful and functional, balconies with glazed balustrades are an increasingly clear choice architectural feature for new homes, particularly modern city apartments. As well as adding the ‘wow-factor’ they also provide valuable outdoor space for high rise residents in private developments and social housing schemes. Nick Haughton of Sapphire Balustrades looks at the latest balcony design and manufacturing techniques and highlights the innovative use of offsite fabrication to produce bolt-on balconies complete with glass balustrades for a luxury residential development in London.

The beauty of glass
Balconies form an integral part of a residential building’s façade and so their appearance is critical to overall architectural style, in fact balconies are so integrated with a building’s appeal, they are one of the few areas where a well-designed style can make the difference between good and great – making one building stand out whilst another lacks charm. Designed and manufactured to complement a development’s exterior design, render or cladding materials, balconies can be large ‘walk-on’ structures or smaller ‘Juliet’ (or Juliette) types. Although essentially balustrades around double doors, Juliet balconies can make an apartment feel more spacious and bring an open, outdoor feel to an indoor space. Whatever the individual design specification, it’s not surprising that glass is considered the clear choice for balcony balustrades because it provides the perfect balance of light, visibility, and safety. Glass also offers architects greater design versatility because, being a transparent material, it blends more easily with different building styles and surroundings.

Low maintenance material
The transparent nature of glass is, of course, one of its main benefits when it comes to balcony balustrades as it allows plenty of light to penetrate into the interior. This helps to create a light and airy feel in the room to which the balcony is attached and can even make the indoor space feel larger. The use of glass balustrades around a residential balcony also ensures an unimpeded view, which can be a real bonus if the balcony offers views of a park, water, or striking urban skyline. Another longer term advantage of glass is that it requires minimal maintenance compared with metal railings, for example, which will require regular polishing or re-painting over time. Also, unlike timber or metal balustrades, glass can’t rot or rust.

Cost-effective solution
Glass infill panels for balcony balustrades are often a more cost-effective solution than mesh or vertical bars both at procurement stage and through on-going use, whilst having the appearance of a higher perceived value. Whilst the glass needs to be either toughened, or toughened laminated to meet British Standards, an extensive choice of different types is available to achieve the desired look and performance. Balustrades can be manufactured using a structural frameless glass system, semi-frameless, or fully framed and can incorporate opaque, tinted or even self-cleaning glass. Curved glass can be used to create a stunning effect, although extra design considerations for developers and designers include the high additional expense of this option, the limitations of radii, and the potential differences of appearance between curved glass and flat glass if the two are applied alongside each other.

Offsite fabrication
Modern balustrading systems for all types of balconies, together with advances in construction techniques and building materials are making it simpler, faster and more cost effective to design and manufacture high quality solutions to exacting specifications. The innovative use of offsite fabrication, for example, can be seen in a glass balcony project completed by Sapphire for The Regent, a new Linden Homes development in Battersea built by Galliford Try. Sapphire designed, manufactured and installed over 100 balcony units for the luxury London apartments, complete with glass and stainless steel balustrades. All of these were manufactured and fully assembled in the production facility ready for fast track installation.

Fabricating balconies in production line conditions enabled Sapphire to maintain a high degree of quality control over the finished units. In addition, site time and associated costs, such as scaffolding hire, can be minimised, and product quality can be kept consistently high compared with completing all of the work on site. Projecting balconies for the apartments were manufactured and assembled offsite by Sapphire whilst on-site works by other trades were being completed (eg fenestration etc). With the building prepared the finished balconies, complete with timber decking and glass and stainless steel balustrades, were delivered to site stacked inside each other to optimise lorry loads and reduce transport emissions and costs. In order to minimise offloading time in a busy area with restricted parking, Sapphire supplied the balconies pre-slung with lifting straps ready to be craned into position before being fixed to the Schoeck thermal bridging anchors pre-cast into the building structure. Larger balconies (up to 10.8m in length) were supplied to site in two sections to ensure safe lifting. Full height privacy screens in satin-etched glass were provided along these large, shared balconies to provide some privacy for residents.

Balustrades for The Regent’s balconies were fabricated from Sapphire’s Onyx stainless steel system with 10mm clear toughened glass infill panels to optimise views and increase light into the luxury living spaces. Handrails and balusters (uprights) were specified with a satin polished finish in 316 marine grade stainless steel, designed to withstand potential damage from atmospheric corrosion. Sapphire uses this higher grade of stainless steel as standard for all the elements of its external systems to ensure installed balconies and balustrades retain their structural integrity and aesthetic appeal with minimal maintenance.

Custom design
Balcony balusters were secured directly to the balcony frame, with fixings concealed by the timber decking for a clean, uncluttered look. As part of the project’s bespoke specification, Sapphire designed a special powder-coated trim to cover decking edges. In addition to providing a neat edge, the trim creates an aesthetic ‘shadow gap’ between the balcony frame and the decking _ one of the custom design features required by the architect as part of the exterior specification.

With so many aesthetic and practical benefits, plus the perception of ‘added value’, glass looks set to remain the preferred infill panel choice for many residential balcony projects. Recent research conducted also discovered that it was the clear choice of the majority of participants, who are influenced in the selection of an apartment by the balconies’ appeal, of which glass was the most influential. Although it is often perceived as an ‘expensive’ option, glass isn’t necessarily beyond the reach of projects with a limited budget. By working with an experienced balustrade manufacturer with the relevant expertise in glass design, and the capacity to handle high volume glass infill throughput, architects and developers alike will find that glass can be both a beautiful and cost effective design solution.

To view a video of Sapphire’s balcony installation at Gwynne Road in London please click here.

Still looking to be convinced as to glass being the clear choice? Well explore the benefits glass gives for maintenance after its started it’s life.

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