Tis the season to enjoy the great outdoors, and multifamily dwellers across the country are soaking in the rays from their decks and balconies. But just how safe are these outdoor amenities?
DECKED OUT: Get the look of wood without splinters. Eon's new ultra decking line boasts a defined natural wood grain-like embossing and is available in three lengths: 12 feet, 16 feet, and 20 feet. The product, which is available in chestnut and sandalwood, does not require staining or repainting and resists stains, mold, and insects, the company says. New ultra clips ensure even spacing, easy installation and removal, and a fastener-free surface. For more information, call Eon at 866-342-5366 or visit www.eonoutdoor.com. It's a question worth asking. In the past five years, there have been more than 350 reported injuries and 17 deaths as a result of deck failures in low-rise communities and single-family homes, according to data tracked by Washington State University and Virginia Tech. “The deck is the most dangerous part of the house,” says Don Bender, a deck safety researcher and director of the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory at Washington State. “However, through proper design, construction, and maintenance, most deck failures are completely avoidable.”
The five main warning signs that a wood deck is unsafe: loose connections such as wobbly railings; missing connections where, for example, the deck is just nailed to the house instead of attached by bolts or lag screws; the corrosion of connectors and fasteners; rotted wood; and cracks in the wood. “Developers and managers should go through the checklist of the five items above on each deck to make sure they are safe,” says Steve Pryor, building systems research and development manager for Simpson Strong-Tie, a manufacturer of structural products. “If there is any doubt, a qualified deck professional or civil [or] structural engineer should be hired to investigate.” Decks should be inspected at least annually, typically in early spring, he adds.
Concrete balconies used for high-rise construction pose different safety issues than their wooden counterparts. One of the biggest challenges is making sure the building's foundation can adequately support the extra weight of the balconies. John Casey, president of New York-based Christa Development Corp., is doing just that as he renovates a 1940s building into a 104-unit high-end condo community called Caribbean in Miami Beach, Fla.
“We are putting balconies around the entire perimeter of the building and had to do a lot of testing to the existing foundation to make sure it would carry the load of the new balconies,” says Casey. These tests include checking the density of the concrete and X-raying the existing piles to ensure the underground rebar is strong enough to support the added construction. The time-consuming tests should pay off when residents see the end product: a mix of expansive glass-railing balconies and wraparound balconies with ocean views. But here, enjoying the outdoors isn't cheap; unit prices start at $2 million.