In the city where I live, there’s been a ton of balcony collapses in the past 15 years or so. You might say it’s a little pandemic here in the city. One reason why this is happening is because building owners notice that balconies need to be repaired, but the contractor they hire doesn’t always do the best job (or building owners don’t even notice that repair is needed).
I just finished a job on this 6-story tall apartment building in the city. The balconies are all open-air, and they all cantilever. So there’s these 6”x6” posts that run the entire length of the building and those posts are for the balconies to attach onto.
The balconies were originally built properly—6”x6” posts for balcony support is just fine. But after many years, the concrete holding the posts into the ground starts to crumble.
I remember as a kid helping my dad put up our basketball hoop. We dug this big, deep hole in the ground, put the basketball hoop pole in it, and filled the hole with concrete. When the concrete dried, our basketball hoop was set and wouldn’t going anywhere. Same concept for these balcony posts.
So the building owner noticed the crumbling concrete and called a contractor in to re-pour the concrete footings, as they’re called.
So what happened? The contractors came in and poured a skim coat of concrete over the top of the footings. Not cool, not cool. That does nothing to fix the problem, nothing. It’s like if you break a bone and it’s sticking out of your skin and the doctor gives you a pat on the back. That really does nothing to fix the problem!
A skim coat of concrete might make it look better, but the concrete beneath, the concrete that’s holding those balcony posts up, is still crumbling and still unsafe.
Entirely new concrete footings need to be poured to fix the problem. And so when my company got called to fix the problem for real (smart building owner knew it wasn’t done right!), I had to dig down and chip through ½ foot of concrete, jack up the entire balcony, and pour new footings in. I also put new metal braces on to connect the posts to the balconies.
So how do you know if your balcony is doomed?
- If your balcony is held up by posts that are held firm by a concrete footing at the bottom, you should give that concrete a tap. If the concrete sounds hollow, you’re in trouble. A few swings of the hammer and that concrete would break up…not cool. A hollow sound means that the concrete is doing almost nothing to support that balcony. If you hear a solid sound, that’s good. That means you’re set.
- If the concrete footing around your balcony is visibly crumbling, you need to have that re-poured right away.
- And more obviously, if you stand on your balcony and it’s rickety or shaking, you probably will want to (A) get off the balcony (duh), and (B) check brackets, braces, screws, and footings.