Robert Lamoureux | Balconies must be inspected, certified for integrity

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected]
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Question No. 1 

Hi Robert, 

First, let me thank you for calling me following my email to you, I know there was so much there, it was best we spoke. 

I own two condos here in Santa Clarita and three in the valley. We were notified about 18 months ago that by 2022 we’d have to have all balconies certified for integrity by either a licensed general contractor, structural or civil engineer or architect. 

My question to you is, where did this originate from and why now, is this necessary? Are you aware? Some call these decks and some call them balconies — what is the difference, I’m confused. 

— Irv M. 

Answer No. 1 

Irv, 

Let’s begin by defining deck and balcony. A balcony is suspended over air space, so if you look below it, there is nothing. A deck is an exterior walking space that is constructed over an existing structure and has a decking system installed onto it, which prevents water intrusion into the structure below. The requirement that you are speaking of is for balconies, not decks. 

In the past many years, there have been several balcony collapses, which have resulted in injury and death, so now the standards are being tightened and these structures need to be certified in good condition. 

If they are found to be lacking, it will be necessary to make repairs within the designated amount of time, per the inspection/notice to repair that would be issued. 

Some of the balcony failures are due to lack of maintenance, especially of the joists that protrude from the structure and cantilever over the existing area below it. Water is the biggest factor in the rotting/destruction of these timbers and, like any other wood, they need to be periodically inspected and maintained. 

Another reason for balcony failure is overloading them beyond their ability to carry weight. This, coupled with a failure to maintain or even an improper original installation or modification, creates a recipe for disaster. 

Railing height is a consideration for inspection, as well. Old requirements are just that, old and outdated. The standards of today are higher, 42 inches, in fact, from finished floor to the top of the handrail — and with less space between the ballast straits (vertical bars), to prevent children from falling through. This measurement, the ID (interior dimension) cannot be greater than 4 inches. 

I have seen inspectors measure every constant and, if even one is greater than 4 inches, they have instructed the entire rail to be redone. 

If the current railing is an original install, you will likely be instructed to update it so it meets current code/standards for safety. 

Note that the inspections that will be done are cursory only, meaning visual. The inspector will do their best to identify the condition of the deck from a visual perspective but, ultimately, they cannot see through the materials to the actual joist condition. So their report will likely state this and, in the end, the liability will fall back on the HOA or homeowner and their respective insurance carrier, depending on how the CC&R is written for that property. 

Best of luck. Good that you are getting started on preparations, especially with several properties involved. 

— Robert

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