How often do you feel the need to check the condition of your deck or balcony? If your house is relatively new the answer is probably “Never”. But, in fact, any verandah, deck or balcony over 10 years old – especially if it’s largely constructed from timber and even more especially if it’s in a coastal area – should be professionally checked. There are often no visual indicators that the structure has deteriorated so it’s important to seek expert advice.
Believe it or not up to 12,000 balconies and decks in this country could be at risk of collapse. according to the Australian Institute of Architects. The figure is based on nationwide inspections undertaken by Archicentre, a subsidiary of the Institute.
The trouble is that there is no requirement for mandatory inspection of decks in any State or Territory except ACT and, indeed, the rules vary from State to State. As accidents and fatalities mount, there are numerous coronial recommendations to improve the safety of decks and balconies all over Australia but, so far, little has been done. As one commentator put it, “If you get into an elevator there will be a warning about the maximum number of people who can get in. If you go to a National Park viewing platform there will be a sign telling you the maximum number of people who should be on the deck.” But there are no guidelines for the home owner and, frankly, most owners and landlords wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what weight restrictions they should impose on decks attached to their properties.
So what should you look for?
This guide can be a starting point for any home owner but it shouldn’t replace a professional assessment.
• What timber has been used? Is it suitable for external use?
• Is there any compression or deformity in the structure?
• Does the timber feel soft and spongy when you probe it (for instance, poke it with a screwdriver)? If so, it is decayed.
• Timber often rots at junctions and joints. Check them for decay.
• Make sure the balcony or deck is properly fixed to the main house using the correct bolts and fasteners.
• Check the base of timber posts for rot and look at metal brackets or bolts for signs of rust.
• Are the posts bolted into the paving (a problem!) or securely anchored to the ground?
• Are the handrails and balustrades in good order? Is there any rot or loose posts?
• Has the balcony moved? If it slopes away from the building there may be a problem.
• Examine the underside of the balcony for rust stains or exposed steel. Again, this could be a serious problem.
• Are the handrails and balustrades in good order? If pieces of concrete have dropped off revealing rusted reinforcement you should treat this as very serious and call in an expert straight away.
If you have any doubt, don’t take a chance with decking or balconies of any kind. Call in an expert and keep people off the deck meanwhile.
Until Australia adopts a more stringent line with safety issues connected to decks, balconies, verandahs and any external structure on buildings it is, unfortunately, up to the owner or occupier to keep a watchful eye on the property in order to avoid what could be a catastrophic accident. It’s a big responsibility but one we should all treat seriously.
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