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Which Balcony?

Balconies are becoming a ‘must-have’ feature for many new homes, particularly modern city apartments. Because they form an integral part of a residential building’s façade, these beautiful and functional architectural features require considered design and specification at an early stage of a project. Nick Haughton of Sapphire Balustrades offers this practical guide to answer the ‘which balcony’ question by exploring styles and highlights, how offsite fabrication of complete balconies with balustrades provided a cost-effective and quality assured solution for new luxury apartments in south east London.

The choice of which balcony system is critical to achieving the desired aesthetic and functional specification, whether it’s a Juliet or a walk-on balcony structure. A well-designed balcony, which complements a development’s architectural style, adds floor space, character and value to new homes. However, balcony specification is about more than just getting the right look; product choice is also likely to be influenced by factors such as geographics, planning, space or budget restrictions. So what are the main options, and the associated design and technical considerations, when it comes to different balcony styles?

Let’s start with the Juliet. Although essentially a specialist balustrade protecting an opening French door on an upper floor, this type of balcony is still an effective way of bringing an open, outdoor feel to an indoor space when a projecting balcony isn’t practical. This style of balcony is cost-effective, however, it is limited in application as it has no deck construction and therefore cannot be used as a break-out area. In developments which balcony design needs to meet the requirements of the London Housing Design Guide, the choice of which balcony will usually move away from Juliet balconies as they don’t offer the outdoor space.

Now let’s consider projecting balconies, starting with an integrated solution. This is where the balcony platform is an integral part of the building’s structural frame rather than being bolted on to it (for example roof top terrace areas or on top of a lower level flat roof). Such applications are often used on communal areas or where, for example, the penthouse is set back from the rest of the building edge. Because these applications are often concrete, balustrade fixings for the guarding can be achieved in multiple ways but involve a number of trades increasing risk of damage to apartments and interfacing issues.

We now come to self-supporting balconies, which protrude from the building using a metal balcony frame. The weight of the balcony structure, deck and balustrade is supported by columns or ‘legs’ to minimise the cantilever forces normally taken by the building frame. This type of balcony is often the preferred choice of architects and designers as it combines the aesthetic and practical appeal of a walk-on balcony with a relatively simple support system which imposes minimal loads on the building frame. They are, perhaps, more common on timber or light weight building constructions.

Steel structure cantilever
Perhaps the most popular option now for new homes is the steel structure cantilever balcony which, as the name suggests, cantilevers from the building frame with no visible means of support, apart from the fixing to the façade. Cantilever balconies, complete with balustrades, can be fabricated offsite to minimise cost and time on site. These types of balcony structure can be used with bolt-on, slide-on or clip-on stubs/anchors back to the main building structure.

Cold bridging
Thermal conductivity is an important consideration when specifying fixings for most balcony types. Balcony connection points can cause a cold bridge from the cold balcony to the warm inside, so a thermal break must be specified to reduce the risk of condensation forming at cold points inside the building.

Offsite fabrication
Innovative offsite manufacturing techniques were utilised by Sapphire to produce over 50 projecting balconies for luxury apartments at Enterprise House, a development by Hill Partnerships in the London Borough of Bromley. The stylish collection of one, two and three bedroom homes reflects the award-winning housebuilder’s reputation for innovation, both in design and build, including the use of modern methods of construction for apartment balconies.

Enterprise House features bespoke balconies and balustrades based on Sapphire’s versatile Aluma glazed system combining privacy glass with aluminium balusters (uprights) powder-coated in a smart slate grey finish. Complete balconies with balustrades and timber decking were manufactured in Sapphire’s state-of-the-art offsite production facility and delivered to site fully assembled ready to be craned into position and fixed to the façade of the building.

Quality control
Manufacturing and assembling complete balcony units for Enterprise House in factory production line conditions ensured a high degree of quality control. Additionally, Sapphire’s innovative design enabled finished balconies to be stacked inside each other to optimise lorry loads and reduce transport costs and carbon emissions. The 10mm toughened glass panels have concealed fixings to create a clean line. Panels to the front of each balcony feature pre-etched glass for aesthetic and privacy purposes.

For added sales appeal Enterprise House has a large roof terrace on the building’s fifth floor where apartment-owners can enjoy far reaching views across London. To complement this facility, and ensure users’ safety, Sapphire installed its Crystal structural glass balustrades and stainless steel handrails around the roof perimeter at a height that prohibits climbing by small children, while a glazed balustrade from Sapphire’s Aluma range divides front and back terrace areas.

Pioneering developments
To meet growing demand for balconies in the housebuilding sector, Sapphire has been exploring new ways to address some of the technical design issues associated with these attractive architectural features. In addition to optimising offsite fabrication in order to supply complete balconies ready to install on site, the company has developed innovative connectors for faster, simpler fixing to façades. Sapphire has also added an Ultra-Slim steel-framed system to its bolt-on balcony range in which structural glass balustrade base fixings and balcony frame are integrated into one. This pioneering design concept enables very slim balcony profiles for optimum aesthetics in all kinds of residential application.

Professional advice
With numerous benefits for homebuyers and property developers alike, balconies are likely to retain their added value appeal for many years to come. At Sapphire, we believe involving an experienced balcony and balustrade manufacturer at an early stage of the balcony design and specification process can make a significant difference. Seeking professional advice on choosing the right balcony system and fixing details for a particular project will ensure the desired aesthetic result, and can also help to minimise time and risk associated costs on site for contractors and developers.

Which balcony is best suited to your project?
We can support you in the decision process to arrive at which balcony will suite best support you through the design of your balconies. Contact us to get specialist advice for your projects specific requirements or to book a technical cpd presentation.