Do balconies need to be accessible?

Are you thinking of installing a balcony in your building? You’ll want to know many things and rules about the construction requirements and process. So, do balconies need to be accessible?

Yes, balconies need to be accessible, even if it’s a small Juliet balcony. There are several types, such as cantilevered, stacked-on, mezzanine, and hung balconies. You have to consider rules on railings, inspection, direction, and size during construction. It’s important to work with professionals.

However, a faux balcony doesn’t need to be accessible. These balconies are only for ornamental purposes. They don’t have floors, so there’s no point in making them accessible to the house. Here, we discuss whether balconies need to be accessible, common types of balconies, and rules around building one.

What are Balconies?

Balconies are platforms attached to buildings above the ground level. They usually project from the wall, and there’s a balustrade, railing, or wall surrounding the balconies. Since balconies serve the occupants of a house, they have to be accessible. So there’s usually a door in the house that links to the balcony. Even in small balconies like Juliet balconies, there’s still a door that connects the house to the balcony.

Types of Balconies

There are several balconies based on the construction, size, and structure. The common ones include:

1.  Cantilevered Balconies

This type of balcony is attached to the house. So, it imposes a burden on the building. That’s why construction generally requires an architect. However, the balcony’s weight shouldn’t be too much for the building to bear. Most cantilevered balconies use concrete and timber joists with a maximum 1500 – 1800 mm depth. Cantilevered balconies have to be built along with the house.

This allows the architect and builder to consider the impact of the load on the building. One of the major complaints about this balcony is its movement. This happens due to its bounce; cantilevered balconies bounce because of the depth. The higher the depth, the higher the bounce.

2.  Hung Balconies

These balconies are perpendicular to the building. You can tell that this kind of balcony by the construction. It’s a concrete slab that connects to the house outside. Strong steel cables attach the concrete slab to the wall of the building. Hung balconies aren’t that common even though they’re minimalist.

3.  Stacked-on Pillars

This is likely the safest type of balcony. You can install it independent of the house. It has pillars and posts that support it, ensuring its weight doesn’t affect the building. This makes it easy to remove and replace if need be. The stacked-on balcony has the best structural integrity. You can build it anytime.

4.  Mezzanine Balcony

This is an actual balcony, except it’s indoors. This kind has the same features as all balconies and is quite common in tall buildings. While it might not serve a functional outdoor purpose, it’ll make the space more interesting. You can use it for other purposes too.

Rules on Balcony Construction

If you want to build a balcony, you’ll need to comply with the building codes. The code varies from one location to another. You’ll need to make inquiries from your local authority to determine what is applicable. Here are some of the basic rules that balcony construction focuses on:

1.  Railings

Generally, the building codes in most localities require that any exterior floor surface 30 inches above ground have a railing. That means a balcony must have a railing. The balconies usually require a railing of about 42 inches tall from the deck. They also need to have a horizontal rail that’ll make it easy to grip. Most building codes also require that balcony rails shouldn’t have above 4 inches slats in between. They also should be more than 4 inches above the balcony surface. 

2.  Construction

Most times, balconies will be built at the height of the floor that they attach to. In some cases, the building code requires above-grade balconies. These balconies attach above the floor’s surface. The codes also determine the size and weight of the balcony, especially in apartment buildings.

Although most balconies are only attached to one side of the building, not all balconies are like this. Some may have support on all sides. But even those still have to follow similar rules.

3.  Inspection

This is an important aspect of balcony construction. There’ll likely be local building inspectors to check that it’s up to code during the construction. But even after construction, it’s still important to still inspect regularly. This applies especially to wood construction, as they’re most prone to failing. Likewise, the guardrails require regular inspection. This way, you ensure that it’s still sturdy and won’t collapse when you rest on it.

4.  Direction

You’ll also need to determine the direction you want your balcony to face. Usually, the best direction is in the south because this is how you’ll be able to get full sunlight if you’re living in the northern hemisphere. But facing the south could mean too much sunlight in the summer.

However, it’s not only the sun that matters for direction. You also have to consider the view that you get from the balcony. A serene park view will be much better than a busy street with traffic. In addition, the building codes or homeowner’s association might stipulate how to position the balcony.

5.  Size

The size of the balcony is also crucial. Building codes will generally stipulate the maximum size and the weight that a balcony of such size can take. The size will also depend on the space you have available and the plan you have for the balcony. Given the high cost of construction, which can be influenced by price, you don’t have to make it bigger than necessary. Your house might only have enough space to take a Juliet balcony instead of a full balcony. 

In Conclusion

Balconies need to be accessible, and that’s just one of the few rules you’ll have to comply with when building them. Unlike some constructions that you can handle yourself, the balcony requires permits to comply with the building codes. It’s best to use a professional contractor to ensure perfection.

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