12 tips to ensure your deck is safe this party season
Phyllis, December 2015
It’s summer entertainment season, and there’s no better place for a party than on the deck or balcony. Unfortunately, party season often comes with news reports of people being injured when these structures collapse due to the weight. Christmas festivities and New Year's celebrations are the most dangerous times for deck and balcony collapses, according to Archicentre, the building design, and inspection service of the Australian Institute of Architects. Sydney Architect and Archicentre Director, Michael Jones, says anyone planning to hold a Christmas or New Year's Eve function that will see a crowd of people occupying the balcony or deck should check that it is safe and not at risk of collapse. “Balconies are usually used by a small family group of three to four people, however, when fifteen to twenty adults, or more, gather on a balcony, the stress on the structure often reaches breaking point and the balcony collapses causing serious injury,” he warns. “Added to this weight factor is often the large barbecues, plus tables, chairs and heavy planter boxes filled with flowering plants to brighten the alfresco dining area. Large stone tables have also become a trend for outdoor living along with steel and cast iron outdoor furniture, which increases the load factor on the deck or balcony.” Michael says the danger is heightened when these balconies or decks are several metres off the ground. Dangerous balconies can also be deadly for anyone who may be standing under them during a collapse. “There have been a number of balcony and deck collapses in the past few years with injuries and even deaths of people involved, and each event has left a potential trail of expensive legal and medical expenses for home owners and the people involved,” Michael explains. “These cases have highlighted the need for home owners to have regular checks on the safety of their decks or balconies to avoid injury and potentially costly court cases.” He says balconies and decks, whether built of timber, steel or concrete, are exposed to the extremes of climate and need to be periodically checked for deterioration, because of their height and deterioration of materials, or in some cases illegal and poor building practices. “Anyone with a balcony or raised deck should check it out carefully for safety, including an inspection for rotting timbers, shaky hand rails and balustrades, and corroded bolts and brackets, rust stains and cracking in concrete balconies,” he says. “People renting properties should also check decks or balconies and notify their real estate agents if any dangerous conditions are discovered. If people find faults they should take immediate action to repair them and if they are not sure to seek professional advice from an engineer or architect.” Archicentre offers the following tips to ensure your balcony or deck is safe:
- 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 members.
- Test the timber by probing with a sharp object like a screwdriver. Decayed 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.
- 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.