How to Prevent a Balcony Collapse

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).

Concrete footings

Nice, newly poured concrete footings… a thing of beauty

For example….

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.

Concrete footing

Give that concrete a tap — does it sound hollow or solid?

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?

  1. 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.
  2. If the concrete footing around your balcony is visibly crumbling, you need to have that re-poured right away.
  3. 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.

 


Comments

How to Prevent a Balcony Collapse — 28 Comments

    • I completely agree — sometimes I can’t decide if they honestly just weren’t properly trained, or whether they’re honestly staking people’s lives on saving a couple bucks.

    • I think for fence posts it really depends on the situation. There are fences where concrete would be a waste, but other times it seems appropriate! It’s funny our dads both went full-out with the basketball hoops and the concrete pouring — makes for solid stuff though. :-)

  1. Hey TB–

    I have been to a few parties where there were a dozen or more folks on a balcony, and I can’t help but worry that perhaps that balcony was one of the ones that the contractor took a short cut on!!

    Lucky for us, our deck is just off the ground, and seems to be grounded properly.
    jefferson @seedebtrun recently posted..The End of the ATM?My Profile

    • Yeah man, with lots of people on balconies, I try to just not think about it. Most apartment/condo buildings seem to have their balconies in reasonable shape, but man, you don’t want to happen to be on one that isn’t!

    • Bad contractors give the industry a TERRIBLE name, it’s true. No one trusts us because there are too many bad ones out there! Always check the work that’s been done by a contractor, just to make sure.

    • EH, that’s not a bad thought you had, I mean, you’re a money guy so of course that’s what you thought of. And that is another concern that these building owners should have. Lives are at stake, money is at stake, wasted time is at stake….

  2. That’s terrifying. I have a pretty compulsive fear of tall staircases.

    My brother had his wedding at a conservation park called Spirit Rock in a small Ontario town. There’s a very tall metal staircase that’s pretty well known. Picture:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jnl/34689448/

    It doesn’t look that terrifying in the picture. But it’s at least a 40 foot drop and the staircase is flimsy. By flimsy, I mean it sways when you walk on it. Completely unstable; it desperately needs to be replaced. I wouldn’t even step on it.
    Joe recently posted..Emergency Fund: Do You Really Need One?My Profile

    • I feel like I should drive to this place and offer my services. There’s no excuse for rickety sh*t, especially if a place is well visited — you’re just asking for an accident!

  3. Wow! Smart landlord, to have called somebody who knew what he was doing to fix it. The liability for a collapsing balcony is vast.

    SDXB’s daughter (one of the exploitive relatives mentioned in my comment to the boat-salvaging relatives post, above) was renting a house. In an attempt to repair something, she went out onto a second-floor balcony. While she was standing there, the flooring gave way and she fell through to the ground below, whacking her head on a beam on the way down.

    She sustained a severe head injury that affected her speech and her ability to think, putting her permanently out of work. She was an RN who had been making a good living. A divorcee, she had four children to support.

    The landlord declared bankruptcy by way of getting out of responsibility for his shoddily maintained shack, but her lawyers went after him anyway. The lawsuit continues to this day.
    Funny about Money recently posted..Cost of Education: Another Country Heard FromMy Profile

    • Holy crap! That’s a terrible story — and that douche went for bankruptcy over taking responsibility?! Man oh man. And it’s still an ongoing lawsuit? It’s just crappy. If you’re living in a rental property or are the landlord yourself, it is really important to check on the saftey of balconies (and overhangs, etc) — don’t ever assume that it’s safe because “surely they wouldn’t rent a shoddy place.” I hope SDXB’s daughter is improving in her condition or will win the lawsuit or… something. Man, what a crappy thing.

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