The exterior of your building or house is the first thing people see when they visit you or are just passing by your street.
If they don’t know you at all, the only impression of you left on their mind comes from your home’s architecture and elevation.
This first impression has more value for companies as, unlike residential buildings and houses, they consciously try to build an image in their clients’ and employees’ minds.
Some people might think that an aesthetically pleasing building is all it takes to be a company of value or a house with character, but a building’s construction value goes beyond that.
Service life, operational requirements, and safety standards are all factors that cannot be ignored in an architectural analysis.
High-rise buildings have to follow more safety standards than houses on the ground, increasing their probability of error by tenfolds.
Balconies are a standard addition in residential buildings as they provide natural ventilation and light—something that can save lives in a house-related calamity.
They not only add visual appeal to a building but are a safety staple in most areas.
But at what point does adding a balcony to your building or house become reasonable?
Scroll down to find out!
What Is Considered a Balcony
There is a lot of misconception surrounding balconies and their functionality.
While anything hanging off the side of the building is typically called a balcony, they don’t necessarily serve the purpose.
For instance, a Juliet balcony is just an elaborate window that is good for ventilation but has no deck where you can stand.
An architectural structure hanging off the side of a building must have the following parts for it to be considered a balcony:
- Deck: This is the area that juts out of the side of the building and supports the weight of the occupants. The size of the smallest deck ranges from 1.5 – 2 feet which only makes it suitable for standing. The largest deck can go from 6 to 8 feet, but anything beyond that is only suitable for living room balconies in luxury apartment complexes. An average balcony deck can hold a small dining table with 6 to 8 people depending on the material used in its construction and the quality of construction.
- Railing: Ralinings, balustrades, or guardrails enclose the deck and provide safety. They are necessary to create a boundary around your deck and can be made from concrete, metal, or wood. Most people prefer using concrete or metal railings to secure their deck over wood railings as they are more prone to damage; they cannot withstand harsh weather and constant exposure to certain natural elements.
- Walls: A balcony wall and its supports, like brackets and columns, are crucial for a balcony structure. The viability of a balcony is entirely dependent on the balcony wall as it supports the weight of the deck and railings.
Despite the defined constraints of a balcony structure, there are still some exceptions to the rule, namely mezzanine balconies.
These are balconies inside the building that are part of a floor plan. They are also not for ventilation and play no role in maintaining the aesthetic of a building.
Some people confuse balconies with terraces as the latter has all the parts of a balcony.
But the difference between the two is that while a balcony is a structure on the side of the building, terraces are open floors above it.
They can be accessed by all the residents of the building and serve a communal purpose, whereas balconies are exclusive to a room or part of a building.
Furthermore, balconies are not included in the square footage of your apartment or house despite being part of your living space.
Their square footage is always mentioned separately in house listings as they are considered an additional benefit in a residential building.
What Is the Standard Balcony Railing Height
If not built and regulated according to the housing standards and building codes, balconies are a major safety hazard for both the residents and passersby.
These standards ensure that anyone within the vicinity of a balcony is safe by stipulating the minimum height required for railings and handrails.
All balconies above 30 inches ground level must follow these building codes to ensure they do not infringe on municipal laws.
According to the International Residential Code, balconies in commercial buildings should have a height of 42 inches before being capped off with a sturdy handrail.
As for the residential buildings, they specified the railing height as 36 inches from the deck level. Ideally, railing slats should have 4 inches or less gap between them to prevent kids and pets from slipping between them.
Despite these ballpark numbers, you must consult your country’s building codes before starting your construction project.
Municipal laws vary from state to state, so even when you think you are on the right side of the law by Texas standards, your area of residence in California might have completely different building ordinances.
Different Building Codes & Standards
State laws standardize balcony design, size, and height as different states have different environments and weather conditions.
A balcony in a temperate region cannot have the same building ordinances as the one in an intemperate area or tundra.
More people die from falling and slipping off a scaffold than in a natural calamity per year which adds to the importance of a secure balcony.
Still, as per priority, you should first consider the I-Codes outlined by International Code Council in International Residential Code (IRC) and International Building Code (IBC).
Rules For Commercial & Residential Buildings—International Code Council (ICC):
If you are working on a commercial building or a multi-story residential building, you must align its structure as per International Building Code (IBC).
However, for a one-story or double-story residential building, you should consult with International Residential Code (IRC).
All building codes introduced by IRC are investigated and approved by the government and can be used nationwide.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not designed to make your life hard or delay your building’s construction but to make your facilities safe and accident-proof.
Although International Code Council writes most residential rules, we still have specialized governing bodies for different building types, ensuring your balcony design is safe.
Some of them are listed below:
Rules for Inaccessible Facilities—Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA):
This administration falls under the domain of the Department of Labor, and they use it to stipulate balcony railing requirements and building standards for inaccessible facilities like factories and storerooms.
Considering the rigorous nature of these buildings and their environmental consequences, the building ordinances established by OSHA are strict and excessive.
For instance, balconies in these buildings are often designed around a fire hazard or ventilation issue instead of just acting as an aesthetic outlet.
The OSHA rule book includes a section dedicated to making these buildings fall-protected; the balcony and handrail standards fall under this and apply to all balconies 42 inches above the ground.
If the patio is 48 inches above the base level, it must have a guardrail for an additional layer of protection.
The OSHA rules require the guardrails to be at least 14 to 16 inches thick with a reinforced deck. Decks in factories are subject to daily heavy lifting compared to residential balconies.
Therefore, they should be able to hold at least 200 pounds. Residential balconies have a weight capacity of 60 to 100 pounds, far from what is required in factories and other commercial buildings.
Residential projects are exempted from the rule book of the Occupational Safety and health administration (OSHA).
Rules For Balcony Stairs—National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):
This organization deals with the safety aspect of balconies near fire exits; therefore, its laws are not widely applicable.
The NFPA rules are primarily concerned with preparing a balcony structure for fire hazards and provide detailed guidelines for balcony stairs.
According to their recommendations, the balcony railings, either for its stairs or deck, should have a 38 inches height.
They should have 4 inches for guardrails around the deck and merely a 2-inch gap between stairs railing slats.
NFPA makes it necessary to have balcony stairs when the building is four-story high or more.
The guardrail height for these stairs is between 34 and 38 inches. Measurements are made from the edge of the stairs until the handrail.
The standards for balcony heights are established to make living spaces safer for occupants and the people milling around buildings.
The building codes differ from state to state and are even influenced by the type of building you are working on.
Residential buildings have easy-to-manage and affordable building ordinances, but commercial buildings and inaccessible facilities like warehouses must follow OSHA and NFPA laws besides municipal regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the typical residential railing height?
For residential properties, the International Residential Code (IRC) requires balcony railings to be 36 inches high.
This height is appropriate for ensuring the safety of occupants, including young children and elderly individuals.
What is the required railing height for a second-story balcony?
The required railing height for a second-story balcony depends on local building codes. Generally, the same residential railing height of 36 inches applies to second-story balconies as well.
However, always consult your local building department for specific requirements in your area.
How is balcony height measured in different units?
Balcony height is typically measured in inches or centimeters. To convert from inches to centimeters, you can multiply the measurement in inches by 2.54.
For example, a 36-inch high railing would be approximately 91.44 centimeters tall.
What are the regulations for commercial balcony railing height?
For commercial properties and fencing use, the railing height requirements may be different.
Typically, railings should be 42 or 48 inches high, depending on the specific application and local building codes.
It’s essential to consult with your local building department for specific requirements in your area.
What is the standard glass railing height?
The standard glass railing height for residential properties is the same as other railing types, which is 36 inches.
For commercial properties, glass railings should also follow the 42 or 48-inch height requirements.
Ensure that the glass railing system you choose meets the necessary safety standards and building codes.
Are there any specific requirements for high-rise balcony railings?
High-rise balcony railings must adhere to local building codes and safety requirements. While the general railing height requirements may still apply, additional safety measures, such as reinforced materials and wind resistance, may be necessary.
Consult your local building department and a qualified professional for specific guidance on high-rise balcony railings.