Deadly Decks and Balconies Warning

01 Mar 2016 10:57 am | designer

Archicentre, the building advisory service of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects has issued a deadly warning on the state of Australia’s balconies and decks following another collapse injuring twelve people at Hurstbridge in the north of Melbourne on Saturday night.

General Manager of Archicentre David Hallett said that as a safety measure, all homeowners should carefully check the support beams and posts looking for soft, spongy sections of compressed timber.

“Apart from the possible injury or death to family members or friends, home owners would be foolish to ignore the legal liability and damages claims which could arise from a collapsing deck which is proven to be in poor repair.” Archicentre’s pre-purchase home inspection statistics show that approximately 6% of Australian homes have a timber balcony or deck and that about 2% of these are potentially fatal. Mr Hallett said, “These figures indicate around 8,000 balconies in Australia could be life threatening and there is a need for people to inspect their decks and balconies for rotting timbers and rusty corroding steel fittings which could lead to life threatening balcony collapses.

“In the last few years, balcony collapses in several states have resulted in a number of injuries and deaths with coastal properties in the high risk categories because of the harsh environment and salt damage to metal fittings.” Mr Hallett said that the balcony and timber deck has become a major part of Australia’s domestic scene as people love to enjoy the outdoors and add extra living space to their homes with a view. “However, many of the timber decks of the sixties and seventies were built illegally with inappropriate timber and were rotting and becoming unsafe, especially with extra weight being placed on them. The dinner or party where people gather on the balcony for a drink or a barbeque are high risk activities.” Mr. Hallett said we urge everyone with a balcony or raised deck, whether it’s timber, concrete or features steel supports, to check it out carefully for safety, including an inspection for rotting timbers, shaky hand rails and balustrades, rusting bolts and brackets, rust stains and cracking in concrete balconies. “If people find faults they should take immediate action to repair them and if they are not sure to seek professional advice. “Many home owners often decide to build a balcony themselves and we are urging them to ensure that they obtain council building approval.”

How to look out for a Balcony Collapse

Timber Balconies

  • Identify the species of timber. Oregon 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, like during a split, for instance.
  • Observe for any compression or deformation of the structural timbers.
  • Test the timber by probing with a sharp object like a screwdriver. Dec ayed timber may feel soft and spongy.
  • Gain access underneath using a ladder. Check connection points at the beams with a screwdriver for deterioration. Timber generally rots where two pieces of timber join together. Examine brackets and bolts to make sure they are not rusted.
  • Make sure the timber balcony is properly fixed to the house or that the members run into the house.
  • Check base of timber posts for rot and again check brackets and bolts for signs of rust.
  • Posts need to be securely anchored into the ground and not just bolted into the paving.
  • Check handrails and vertical balustrade to make sure they are not rotted and unstable.

Concrete Balconies

  • Look for signs of deflection. If the balcony leans, there is a problem.
  • Examine the underside of the concrete balcony. Rust stains on exposed steel reinforcing are signs of a serious problem.
  • Check handrails and balustrades to make sure they are not rotted, loose or unstable.
  • The presence of spalling, where chunks of concrete are flaking off, may be a serious problem and needs to be inspected by an expert.

Download a fact sheet on balcony collapse

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Media Enquiries

David Hallett, General Manager Archicentre (03) 9819 4577 Mobile: 0439 439 115

Ron Smith Corporate Media Communications (03) 9818 5700 Mobile: 0417 329 201

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