Balconies add floor space, character and value to a residential development, says Nick Haughton of Sapphire Balustrades, who offers guidance for giving new homes the ‘wow’ factor with a well-designed balcony.
Beautiful and functional features
Recent research shows that 88% of people looking to purchase or rent an apartment felt a balcony would make a property more desirable. It’s not surprising, therefore, that balconies have become increasingly popular for many new homes, particularly modern city apartments. Whether it’s a Juliet or a walk-on cantilever balcony structure, a balcony is a key design element of a building’s external architecture. Also, as an integral part of the façade these beautiful and functional features require considered design and specification at an early stage of a project to avoid potentially costly problems, and maximise the potential sales value further down the line.
The choice of balcony type is critical to the building appearance and is fundamental to ensuring the development’s aesthetic and performance demands are met. From our experience, if you get the balconies and balustrades right they’ll pay for themselves in added-value, but get it wrong and it will show. So let’s start by looking at the different types of balcony and their application, starting with Juliet (or Juliette) balconies which are essentially specialist balustrades protecting opening French doors on an upper floor. This option is an effective way of bringing an open, outdoor feel to an indoor space when a projecting, or step-out, balcony, isn’t practical. Then there are built-in or integrated balconies. These are open areas set into the building façade, generally with a balustrade protecting the open face. Projecting balconies allow the user to step out onto a platform protected by a perimeter balustrade. Projecting balconies can either be cantilevered out from the building structure, or the more traditional self-supporting style, common on low rise buildings, with their own columns or ‘legs’ to minimise the cantilever forces normally taken by the building frame.
Offsite manufactured solutions
Sapphire has developed offsite manufactured solutions for step-out balconies which save valuable time and cost on site. The complete balcony and balustrade can be manufactured in our factory ready to be craned into position and connected on site. Proven in use on a recent residential project in west London, our offsite balcony system, featuring a patent-pending cassette concept and innovative, patent-protected balcony connections, made it possible to install 22 complete balcony units, including glass balustrades and sub-deck, in just six hours using one crane and one installation team.
Having selected the balcony type, there is the question of which balustrade to choose from a wide range of styles and materials available. As well as ensuring the safety of those using the balcony, balustrades play an important aesthetic role. Glass is widely used for balcony balustrades as it provides the perfect balance of light, visibility, and safety, whilst being very low maintenance. An extensive choice of glass thicknesses and types is available, including tinted and self-cleaning. Perhaps surprisingly, glass infill panels for balcony balustrades are often a more cost-effective solution than mesh or vertical bars, for example, whilst having a higher perceived value, which is critical for maximising a property development’s return on investment. This is because of the new Sapphire cassette balcony structure, which incorporates a base fixing for frameless structural glass.
Corrosion is one of the most common problems with any external balustrade and it’s not just an aesthetic consideration as rust can impair structural integrity. To overcome this we recommend aluminium or 316 marine grade stainless steel for handrails and uprights. Our advice is to beware of using mild steel, even if galvanized, or using the wrong grade of stainless steel for external balcony balustrades. Using a satin polished 304 grade stainless steel may seem a reasonable solution, however it will show corrosion and unsightly staining over time, so externally we would always recommend a 316 grade stainless steel. Alternatively, aluminium offers a guaranteed rust-free solution for balcony balustrades and is a cost-effective alternative to mild steel, both at initial investment and over the building’s lifetime. An anodised or powder coated finish can be specified, and by opting for the latter the balcony balustrades can be produced to match features such as window frames and doors to create a co-ordinated look to the façade.
So to sum up, balconies make a difference to a residential development both inside and out. They are desirable features that can boost an apartment’s sales appeal, particularly if they offer attractive views. Externally they can often create the architectural signature that sets one apartment building apart from the ordinary. In order to maximise these benefits balcony design and specification really shouldn’t be left to chance. Choosing the right balustrade and balcony system, with the help and advice of an experienced manufacturer, will pay dividends and ensure the balconies retain their added value appeal for many years to come.