Pressured build schedules and a greater focus on sustainability have led to demand for ready-made, environmentally friendly balconies which take the headache out of design, specification and construction. Peter Melia, UK business development manager at Neaco, explains
With multi-storey buildings more prevalent than ever in the new homes market, balconies are an increasingly prominent feature in residential schemes across the UK. Town house designs comprising at least three storeys have become a staple of countless developments and, after a period in the doldrums, the apartment market has experienced resurgence in recent years. For a developer seeking a competitive advantage, a balcony is usually the most distinctive external feature of a building and the right choice of style adds immediate kerb appeal. In the case of apartments, an attractive outside space can also add significant value to the sale price a property. The greater significance of balconies has driven an evolution in balcony design with higher standards in a number of aspects, most notably aesthetics and efficiency of construction.
Traditional railed balconies are often stipulated in planning requirements for refurbishment and conversions, especially when listed buildings are involved, but railing can create an unsightly cage-like appearance, so where possible many designers are choosing glass panelled styles, ideally requiring minimal structural support. This also maximises visibility and solar penetration to give interiors a spacious and airy feel – when potential homebuyers step inside a property, natural light can play a crucial part in determining their first impression.
Balconies are invariably one of the last installations to be completed at any residential development and as a result they are often subject to the ‘squeeze’ at the end of a tight build schedule. With that in mind, developers can ease their headaches by sourcing cost-effective balconies which can be easily installed with minimal fuss. Solutions fabricated on site – often with hot works such as welding – are a recipe for waste and mess, consuming unnecessary time and energy. As well as being environmentally unfriendly, these methods can be an eyesore for housebuilders mindful of their development’s visual appeal.
Buyers and specifiers now overwhelmingly prefer a more practical alternative offering a high architectural aesthetic: modular balconies constructed from pre-fabricated components, all sourced from one supplier. Providing an easy specification – usually complete with handrails, balustrade, infill and flooring – these systems can be delivered on site and installed by a developer’s construction team or, in the case of some companies, the manufacturer’s own technical support. Mounted to the developer’s supports, they are very straightforward to install with no waste products or off-cuts, minimising construction time, mess and energy consumption. In contrast, balconies which comprise materials from multiple sources can be a scheduling nightmare – if one supplier fails to deliver on time, the whole installation is set back – so all-in-one modular solutions also provide peace of mind.
A smooth, clean finish can further enhance the appearance, so ideally a modular balcony should provide assembly with an internal connection system, eliminating the need for unsightly external fixtures. A popular choice of material for balustrades and handrails is aluminum (which can be powder coated in a colour chosen to fit the development’s design scheme) but satin polished stainless steel provides a luxury-specification alternative. Using suitable manufacturing and treatment processes, both options can provide a rust-free, maintenance-free installation which is corrosion resistant (even in exposed locations) to ensure that the development maintains its aesthetic virtues.
The balcony decking should also be maintenance-free and as a result developers are increasingly shifting away from timber, with its need for ongoing treatment, as the traditional choice of material. Many designers prefer aluminium alloy with its high residual value and durability. For any decking system, the drainage gaps must be wide enough to preventing pooling in heavy rain, but not so wide that they compromise privacy with exposure to views above and below, or induce vertigo by making the drop below the balcony visible through the floor.
With all of these elements in place, modular balconies can combine efficient installation with an attractive appearance which is built to last. By applying similar design principles, the same combination can be achieved with modular Juliet balconies: again, minimum use of rails and maximum use of toughened glass can create a visually appealing feature which allows plenty of sunlight to pass through into the interior. They are even easier to install and, with the better designs on the market, no stanchions are necessary – for example, glass panels can be held securely between a top rail and subtle stem brackets installed below.
From a technical viewpoint, all balconies should meet performance requirements in accordance with BS 6180:2011. With their standard range of components, uniformity in design and single source of supply, modular balconies make these performance requirements easier to check and control; buyers can request written confirmation from their supplier.
With so many practical and aesthetic benefits to offer, it’s easy to see why so many developers are concluding that modular solutions are the best way to give each storey the perfect finish.