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Material Guidance & Sustainability

Maintenance & Replacement

Maintenance and Replacement Key Points

  • Conduct visual checks periodically
  • Cassette® components are designed with ease of maintenance in mind

Like any product, to achieve optimal performance and longevity, maintenance and replacement of parts must be carried out systematically. Whilst routine planned maintenance of the balcony structure may not be required, we advise for a periodic (max 5 yearly) investigation of a representative proportion of the installations to be made. This is to identify any premature ageing or developing conditions. This should involve visual checks looking for material deterioration (e.g. rotting or delamination), component tightness, and damage (e.g. chips on glass) which could lead to premature ageing or failure.

To assist with maintenance, we have worked to simplify product design to enable safe but replaceable components where possible and have experience of assisting designers to incorporate components like abseiling hooks on specific projects for maintenance and cleaning purposes.

Cleaning Drip Trays

Cleaning Drip Trays Key Points

  • NHBC like to avoid a single drainage outlet
  • Drip tray inspection is simple and from above

When looking at drainage the NHBC consider what happens when outlets are blocked. Our Cassette® balconies have multiple drip trays which have two benefits. Firstly, on a free draining balcony water collects and moves to the front of each drip tray avoiding reliance on a single outlet. Secondly, individual drip trays can be replaced from below making cleaning drip trays much easier.

Glass Removal & Replacement

Whilst gaps between deck boards  are small, which avoids items (e.g. leaves) from collecting in drip trays or forming a blockage in positive drained balcony outlets, cleaning and inspection is simple.

Sapphire’s WPC decking boards are fitted using hidden clips, allowing the removal of balcony deck boards from above. This enables inspection and cleaning to be carried out simply. When such checks are carried out, the balcony’s Cassette® structure should also be assessed at the same time for corrosion or deterioration of materials, and tightness of bolts and clamps.

Operating Instructions Key Points

  • Consider inherent risks in the design
  • Occupants should be informed of risks and limitations
  • Consider emergency conditions in design
Inherent risks

By their very nature, balconies and balustrades are often at high altitude and form edge protection. To reduce safety risk exposure or product issues, the design must take appropriate precautions to achieve or exceed regulatory requirements and industry guidance.

Consideration of operating Instructions risks should include:

  • Climatic conditions – occupants should be aware that wind and weather conditions can vary significantly from that experienced at adjacent ground level. Particularly with decking, the surface may become slippery if wet.
  • Safe working load – balconies are typically designed to resist a 2.5kN/m2 live load. Occupants should be prohibited from storing heavy items (paddling pools, large plants, etc) on the balcony
  • Fire prevention measures – users must take suitable precautions when using a balcony to smoke or cook etc.
  • Material properties – balconies often use products and fragile material like glass which must be carefully specified to avoid deterioration or failure but to also have suitable replacement strategies if required.
  • Child use – many balconies are used by children. Climbabilty, gaps, etc should be considered and appropriate regulation requirements fulfilled.
Emergency conditions

Whilst each project should have its specific O&M (Operation and maintenance) manuals for the balconies, emergency conditions must be part of the design considerations so that if an emergency condition such as a product failed, the safety risk is minimised as quickly as possible. For example, with glass, should a glass panel fail through impact, vandalism or failure, this could result in an exposed edge and should have an emergency procedure.

Lifespans of Balconies

Key Lifespan Points

  • Balconies are one of the few structural elements exposed to weathering.
  • Lifespan duration depends on maintenance and mid-life replacement.
  • CAB say the recycling rate for architectural aluminium is 92- 98%, as only 5% of the original energy is required to recycle it.

Guidance in BS7543 Table 1 suggests different categories of ‘design life’ for the different building components and structures. Most external cladding, windows and doors are categorised as ‘maintainable’… Foundation and structural elements are categorised and ‘lifelong’ and therefore should last the life of the building.

Building structures should typically be designed for ‘normal’ 60-year lifespans. It is generally anticipated that the structure will last longer than this. However, it should be considered that the structural elements of a balcony (unlike most other structural elements of a building) are exposed to weather conditions and not protected by the façade. Balcony designers and specifiers, therefore, need to give careful consideration as to what will happen to the balconies when a building reaches its design life

Regular maintenance

Regular maintenance is covered in the following section. The two which could perhaps cause more of an effect on balconies lifespans are:

  1. The build-up of dirt in drip trays and gutters, causing water to back up. This should be addressed through a regular cleaning cycle.
  2. Local deterioration or damage to PPC. Whilst specification of a coating application which has good pretreatment is essential, if issues occur, they should be addressed quickly from access equipment or abseiling to prevent spreading.

Mid-life replacement of parts

Most buildings typically get some element of upgrade or refurbishment during their service life. Often, it is to bring old buildings up to the performance of the ever enhancing building products being used in new constructions. If the balconies are included in such works, our Cassette® balconies could include:

  1. Decking – this is most likely to be done in situ, where existing boards would most likely be required to cut the decking to shorter lengths to get it up the building and through the apartment. With using WPC clipped decking systems, boards can be individually removed without having to find and remove standard decking screws.
  2. Glass damage or delamination – dependent on the level of damage, the replacement strategy can be used to replace individual panels or, where several panels may be damaged, the balcony can be lifted down to ground level to carry out the work before gliding them back onto the existing arms.
  3. PPC – again it depends on the environment and the amount of damage a balcony may have been subjected to. More minor damage can be done in situ, whereas widespread breakdown due to end of PPC life may require balconies to be lifted to ground level to replace or recoat parts. Most standard Cassette® balconies have individual drip trays and fascia’s which allows individual components to be replaced where damage is limited to certain parts.
  4. Crevice corrosion of fixings – at such points, replacement of fixings used for key components should be considered for replacement.

Future upgrade

Our Cassette® balconies are continually being developed to enable ease of replacement and design consideration has been given to how additional elements could be incorporated later. Perhaps one of the drivers of such a scenario could be where several separate safety incidents involving balconies lead to regulations changing to incorporate additional safety measures, e.g. increasing the balustrade height and clients choosing to upgrade existing balconies to the new guidelines.

Long term corrosion

As shown in the graph below, galvanised steel deterioration over time depends on the thickness of the coating and the environment in which it is applied.

BS EN ISO 1461:2009 (Table 3) guidance shows that steel greater than 6mm thick should have a minimum mean coating thickness of 85 Micron (μm). Assuming that corrosion happens in line with the graph’s typical corrosion and that an arm has a 85-micron coating, a balcony on a building on the Greenwich Peninsular, for example, is likely to be at the end of its service just before the ‘normal’ service life. This is one of the reasons we have chosen to move away from steel bolt on balconies and develop Cassette® balconies in aluminium.

Service life of hot-dip galvanized coatings as a function of zinc thickness and specific environments.

End of life

Aluminium and steel can both be recycled. Aluminium, however, is one of the easiest metals to recycle; according to the Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB) the recycling rate for architectural aluminium is between 92-98% as only 5% of the original energy is required to recycle aluminium. They also suggest that 75% of all aluminium produced since the 1880s is still in use. Other key components such as WPC decking products are also able to be recycled.

Recycling is only possible if the balconies can be easily taken down. Like the ease of install, removing a balcony from the building can be taken off and because it is constructed using mechanical joints rather than welds, it is much easier to disassemble.


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