Home Buyers should ask for Balcony Building Permits and Current Safety Check
Angus Kell, ACT & NSW State Manager of Archicentre said people buying properties with large decks, or high balconies, especially in coastal areas, should request a copy of the building permit for the structure and an independent current assessment of its safety by a registered inspector from a reputable organisation.
Mr Kell said it is important people purchasing homes have access to appropriate building permits to gain an understanding of when the deck was built and approved by the local council.
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 (8000) are potentially fatal.
Following another balcony collapse in New South Wales over the weekend, where twelve teenagers were injured, Mr Kell said selling a house with an unsafe balcony could be compared to selling a car with no brakes.
"The potential for multiple law suits against agents and vendors of homes sold with illegally built or unsafe balconies is a very real issue given the fact that many of the collapses can happen with large numbers of people on the deck.
"Anyone who purchases a home with a balcony that is in disrepair and which collapses injuring people or themselves could find themselves in no mans land with insurance claims as they are responsible for maintaining their home in good order."
Archicentre stresses there is a need for people to continually inspect their decks and balconies for rotting timbers and rusty corroding steel fittings which could lead to life threatening balcony collapses.
Mr Kell said 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.
"As a safety measure, all homeowners should thoroughly check the timbers, fixings and structure that support and attach the deck to the home, and check the bracing members and support beams of the deck, timber posts and steel columns looking for soft, spongy sections of compressed timber and rusting steel."
These are the main issues Archicentre architects come across during safety checks on decks and pre- purchase housing inspections being conducted across Australia.
"If people find faults they should take immediate action to repair them and if they are not sure to seek professional advice."
Archicentre Home Owners Check List
1) 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.
2) Observe for any compression or deformation of the structural members.
3) Test the timber by probing with a sharp object like a screwdriver. Decayed timber may feel soft and spongy.
4) 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.
5) Make sure the timber balcony is properly fixed to the house or that the members run into the house.
6) Check base of timber posts for rot and again check brackets and bolts for signs of rust.
7) Posts need to be securely anchored into the ground and not just bolted into the paving.
8) Check handrails and vertical balustrade to make sure they are not rotted and unstable.
1) Look for signs of concrete balcony slab deflection. If so there is a problem.
2) Examine the underside of the concrete balcony. Rust stains on exposed steel reinforcing are signs of a serious problem.
3) Check handrails and balustrades to make sure they are not rotted, loose or unstable.
4) The presence of spalling, where chunks of concrete are flaking off, may be a serious problem and needs to be inspected by an expert.
Archicentre, the design and property service of the Australian Institute of Architects.
Full article: http://www.archicentre.com.au/media/2010JUNE15-NSWBalconySafety.htm