A Space of One’s Own Balconies, Terraces and Keeping Them Safe

In New York City, where space is at a premium, balconies and terraces offer co-op and condo owners a way to maximize their living space while also providing unparalleled views of the city they love. They are the small oases to which we escape for a glimpse of sunlight, the feel of a warm breeze or simply to hear the sounds of the city, reminding us of the life and vitality humming so far below. A balcony is also a place where we can look side to side and see our neighbors face to face, offering a wave, hello or intellectual discussion with the people with whom we share our walls, halls and elevators.

Just as we expect airplanes and bridges to hold us aloft without worry, we presume the same for our balconies. Safety for a balcony must be as big a concern as aesthetics and space. New Yorkers were reminded of that premise this past summer when a young woman fell 16 stories to her death when the railing of her narrow balcony collapsed as she leaned against it. An investigation later determined that the aluminum railing was installed in 1931 when the building was originally constructed, and did not have the welded rivets required by today's building standards.

This was not the first time a tragedy of this nature had happened in the city. As recently as 2010, a young man fell 24 stories after the railings on his balcony collapsed.

Both of these stories are stark reminders of the importance of good construction and consistent inspections to ensure not only a sound structure upon initial completion but longevity in the years and decades that follow.

Starting Strong

The vast majority of balconies and terraces are designed as part of the architect’s master vision for the building. “They are usually built with the building itself and incorporated into the basic design,” says Michael Pucci, presiden of FM Pucci & Associates Ltd., construction consultants based in New York. “They use fundamental elements of the building itself. Usually steel and concrete.”

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