Inspect Balconies and Decks To Prevent Collapses

Author: P. Christopher Guedri, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Balcony collapses are extremely dangerous, often resulting in serious injuries and even death.[1] Sadly, most of these tragic accidents can be avoided by adhering to building codes and inspecting buildings in a timely manner. Building inspections are designed to catch flaws in current designs and require updates to structures when they become a safety hazard.[2]  

The International Code Council (ICC) is responsible for publishing minimum safety requirements for buildings such as homes, schools, and workplace buildings.[3]  The ICC also publishes minimum safety requirements for structures like decks and balconies.[4]

Safety standards for balconies and decks

The ICC has also published a comprehensive code about residential requirements for balconies called the International Residential Code (IRC).[5]  The IRC requires specific standards for residential decks, porches, and balconies.

  • Residential decks and porches should be able to withstand a minimum of 40 pounds per square foot, plus the weight of the porch.[6] 
  • Balconies must be able to withstand 60 pounds per square foot because they are not supported by additional posts.[7] 

Communities often add their own amendments to the IRC, depending on specific geographic issues.[8] There are also public hearings to allow builders to participate in the amendment process.[9] 

Inspecting your balcony or deck

When inspecting balconies, decks, and porches, the ICC recommends looking for the following [10]:

  • Rotting or split wood
  • Loose or missing nails, screws or anchors
  • Loose or wobbly handrails or guardrails
  • Loose, damaged, or missing support beams
  • Loose, damaged, or missing planking

These faults indicate a deteriorating structure that has the potential to cause personal injuries and death. If you own a deck or balcony, inspect it regularly for these defects. If you discover hazards, do not allow the deck or balcony to be used until the hazards can be fixed by a qualified contractor. 

In conclusion, a balcony should not collapse if it complies with the building code and has been properly maintained. The IRC outlines some minimum requirements, but it is important for owners and communities to take an interest in residential safeguards to help prevent these tragic accidents.

About The Author: Chris Guedri was named "Lawyer of the Year 2015" by Best Lawyers in America for Personal Injury-Plaintiff's in Richmond, VA. He  has more than 30 years of experience and is a trial attorney and partner with the law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.


[1] See, e.g., http://www.nbc12.com/story/29361786/balcony-collapses-hurt-thousands-since-2003-but-deaths-rare.

[2] See http://www.nadra.org/deck_inspections.html.

[3] http://www.iccsafe.org/about-icc/overview/about-international-code-council/.

[4] See http://www.nadra.org/deck_inspections.html.

[5] http://www.iccsafe.org/about-icc/overview/about-international-code-council/.

[6] http://www.nadra.org/deck_inspections.html.

[7] Id.

[8] For example, Virginia has amended the IRC section dealing with stair geometry. Id.

[9] Id.

[10] See http://www.nadra.org/deck_inspections.html.

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