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Maintaining Safety on Balconies in Summer

Summer is prime time for balcony use as people take advantage of their outdoor space to enjoy warmer weather. We’ve conducted research into how residents maintain safety on their balconies in summer to help guide balcony design and specification to ensure the safety of residents.

Socialising and dining

Balconies make the ideal outdoor space for entertaining a few friends in summer but care is needed to ensure the safety of the resident and their neighbours.

The first risk is that of spilling a drink on a balcony without soffits is that the potentially hot liquid can spill onto neighbours below.

Secondly, barbeques are very popular but extremely hazardous on balconies. The London Fire Brigade say they “attend 1 fire per week in the summer months due to barbeque fires” causing considerable damage to balconies and the building façade.

Smoking

Cigarette butts are one of the highest underlying factors in the rise in balcony fires. Balconies often become furnished with highly combustible furniture making an ideal fuel source for discarded cigarettes. Shortly before the Grenfell disaster, a balcony fire occurred in Greenwich which was thought to be caused by a cigarette igniting a bean bag. In this case, the fire brigade were able to stop it spreading, however considerable damage to both the balcony it happened on and smoke damage to the façade and balcony above are clear.

How can this be prevented? Having flame retardant furniture certainly supports safe balcony use while also ensuring balconies are designed with non-combustible materials at all heights.

Pools

Paddling pools are surprisingly common on balconies as many residents are unaware of the significant weight loading a pool full of water adds to a balcony.

We design floor loadings to Eurocode’s (higher) figure rather than the British Standards. We strive for a much more rigid connection as standard, typically aiming for half of L/180 means that even if loaded with a pool, the pool would need to be extremely deep to be dangerous.

Sapphire’s recommendations

Safe balcony use can’t just be taken for granted.

Specifiers and those involved in balcony design, need to make conscious decisions as part of CDM requirements for end users safe balcony use. Considerations should include but not be limited to:

·         Structural glass or kick stands for vertical bar balustrades to minimise the risk items dropping

·         Even if not requested by the organisations like NHBC, is it best to specify soffits.

·         Class A decking

·         Structural calculations which consider potential resident use such as the addition of paddling pools

·         Clear communication with residents regarding use of balconies, e.g. avoiding bamboo privacy screens, furniture which makes balustrades climbable, pools etc

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