By: Rebecca Reilly
Balcony railings are very vulnerable given their exposure to weather cycles. If periodic inspections and preventive repairs are not performed, railing can deteriorate and become unsafe.
Balcony railings can be constructed of a variety of different materials including, aluminum, steel, cast iron and glass. Glass railings must be periodically inspected for cracks. According to NYCas Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), a cracked glass railing is always considered an unsafe condition. To ensure that the metal is properly protected, steel and cast iron railings should be scraped, primed and painted every few years. Although coating the steel or cast iron is a constant maintenance item, it is significantly less costly than replacing rusted railings.
Building managers should monitor the transition between railing materials. When dissimilar metals come into contact, a galvanic reaction may occur, causing the metals to corrode. For example, an aluminum railing that is anchored directly to structural steel will likely deteriorate when exposed to air and moisture. To avoid this type of corrosion, a railing system design should not include dissimilar metals;A or if it is absolutely necessary to use dissimilar metals, the metals should be separated by a buffer to prevent corrosion.
Building personnel should also routinely check railing fasteners and welds. Overtime, railing fasteners can loosen or dislodge. If railing welds are visibly deteriorated, building management should retain an engineer to design a proper repair. In order to prevent possible galvanic reaction, fasteners should be made of similar, or compatible, materials as the railing.
Building owners should ensure that balcony railing attachments are properly waterproofed. Balcony railings are often set in railing sleeves that are attached to structural steel. Water can infiltrate the sleeves and balcony slabs at these railing penetration locations. Over severalA freeze/thaw cycles,A this water infiltration can lead to serious de
terioration, such as spalled concrete slabs and rusted railing sleeves. Additionally, railings set in grout, will deflect if the grout deteriorates. In order to prevent water infiltration, sealant at these penetrations should be routinely replaced. Typically sealant has a 5 year lifespan. After that, it may begin to crack and allow water to enter the sleeve. Methods for proper drainage should exist at all balcony railing posts to prevent water infiltration into the railing sleeve.
Typically, railings should be manufactured with weeps at at the ends of the railing post; however, weeps can be drilled into railing posts after installation. Two weeps should be installed on the post with one hole slightly higher than the other. The post should be filled with sealant until the height of the lower hole. This will ensure that the water will exit the railing post instead of entering the balcony slab. Railing attachment points along the facade should also be properly waterproofed to prevent deterioration. Additionally, concrete balcony slabs should be waterproofed after any repairs are performed. There are a variety of available waterproofing systems with variable life cycles and price points.
If severe or worsening deterioration is observed, balcony access must be restricted and railings should be repaired immediately. If building management has any doubts regarding the deterioration of a balcony railing, a building envelope professional should be retained to recommend balcony repairs and provide a maintenance program.
As a reminder, balcony and railing inspections for New York City buildings over six stories are required by law. These mandatory inspections were added to NYCas FISPA (Facade Inspection Safety Program) during the 7th cycle.