Whether it’s a balcony, terrace, patio or roof deck, outdoor space is many an apartment owner’s dream. Desirable – and valuable – as they are, these spaces do present specific maintenance considerations for individual owners, co-op corporations, and condo associations, however. Oftentimes, these considerations are complicated by the fact that without specific knowledge of engineering and construction, the signs of potential problems in these spaces are too easily missed.
The Main Culprit
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when structural issues afflict outdoor spaces in modern buildings, the main culprit is water—and culprit 1A is water mixed with salt. Water causes rust and salt can accelerate the process. Whether in a cold or warm climate, these two basic building blocks of life can combine to erode structures. Alan Gaynor, Founding Principal at Boddewyn Gaynor Architects in New York City, explains: “If water gets between concrete and brick and the structure is not flashed properly, it will rust out the reinforcement bars,” which are a critical component in modern construction.
Michele Boddewyn, President of Boddewyn Gaynor Architects, adds that “snow melts, and the salt greatly reduces the freezing temperature of water, so the water can do additional damage.” Gaynor adds that salt can be the biggest issue, because it’s corrosive enough to rot steel over time. “Amenities like balconies and terraces are vulnerable to weather and wind,” he says. “They don’t get used continually, so the problem can go unnoticed for a long time.”
In addition to weather, spaces such as balconies, terraces, and roof decks can be damaged by the very people lucky enough to have them. The biggest and most dangerous of these man-made issues is overloading. Too much weight can, in the extreme, cause the balcony or terrace to collapse. “Balconies are designed for moderate to average loads,” says Boddewyn. “We are familiar with a situation where a contractor was storing building materials on a balcony. Their weight greatly exceeded what was intended for the balcony, and began to cause a problem.” The contractor had to remove the items immediately, and fortunately no one was injured—or worse.
Marcy Kravit, Managing Director with AKAM On-Site, a property management firm in southeast Florida, describes an incident in which a condominium owner placed a hot tub on a balcony. Nice idea, but once the tub was filled with hundreds of gallons of water, it was far too heavy for the structure. The attorney for the association notified the resident in writing that the hot tub had to be removed immediately.