As summer begins, the state's building regulator has issued a warning in a quest to protect people from possible fatal injury.
Even though most well-maintained timber balconies should last for at least 20 years, and a well-maintained concrete balcony should last for 40 to 50 years, the Victorian Building Authority is urging those with balconies, balustrades, and decks to make sure they are safe before socialising with friends and family in coming weeks and months.
VBA state building surveyor Andrew Cialini emphasises balconies in particular can be a serious safety risk if not properly built and preserved.
"Before you have visitors over make sure you take a look at your balcony and check if it is structurally sound and safe," Mr Cialini said.
"Your balcony may not have been designed to support so much extra weight and, in combination with poor maintenance, if it becomes overloaded, it could result in a tragedy."
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Stuart Allen Building director Stuart Allen has a simple rule.
"Safety is paramount, especially when the deck is raised more than one metre from the ground," Mr Allen said.
"Many decks have collapsed causing injury and also people have fallen through non-complianced balustrading."
Nat Twaits Building director Nat Twaits is conscious such structures have not been tested for an extensive period due to the global pandemic.
"People haven't done anything for two years which is two years of non-maintenance, non-use of that elevated deck or handrail," Mr Twaits said.
"Obviously, everything deteriorates over time.
"If you're going to get together and have these huge gatherings, with no restrictions, on a deck, people will get 30 or 40 people on a deck which potentially could have deteriorated over two years."
Many factors can negatively impact balconies, balustrades, and decks.
According to the VBA, timber features can be affected by insect attacks and decay, while concrete balconies can be made unsafe when concrete cracks and flakes or when reinforcement corrodes, often due to moisture.
"There are many things that can affect the structural integrity of a balcony, deck or balustrade, such as overloading, termites, wet rot, and corrosive effects," Mr Cialini said.
Mr Twaits supports Mr Cialini's obervations.
"It could be deterioration of the timber; there can be rot," he said.
"There can be steel elements which have rusted.
"Termites can (damage) certain areas."
Mr Allen identifies poor maintenance, poor ventilation, lack of protection from the weather and elements, and the structure's orientation as aspects which can lead to grief.
"Its original construction quality of materials, construction methods, and the build-up of garden material against the framework without correct protection (also play a role)," Mr Allen said.
Homeowners have been encouraged to regularly check and maintain such features at their properties.
Mr Cialini suggests Victorians should look for signs of wear and tear or moisture ingress.
"We urge owners and tenants to carry out visual inspections yearly to protect themselves and their guests," Mr Cialini said.
Listed warning signs include puddles of water at the base of posts; cracked concrete or signs of leaning; and cracked or weak mortar in brick structures.
Mr Twaits also advises to be on the lookout for potential trouble.
"With termites, there'll be dust where they chew through the timber," Mr Twaits said.
"You can inspect any steel areas to make sure they haven't rusted.
"Timber (might have) split over time."
The VBA is reminding people to be aware of the load capacity of decks and balconies and, if they have access to them, to consult the original specifications.
Mr Allen, a Master Builders Victorian board member, knows some old-fashioned elbow grease can be of benefit.
"Keeping your asset in good condition is important," Mr Allen said.
"Regular painting and staining of decks, if not using composite materials, will extend your deck life for years."
Mr Twaits, whose work has recently featured on ABC's 'Restoration Australia', recommends property owners be proactive.
"I strongly suggest you contact a registered builder, whether it be a friend or someone who's advertising," Mr Twaits said.
"Find someone who knows what they're looking for, someone who can do a visual inspection prior to it being used."
Mr Twaits proposes, if anything of concern is identified, further action should be taken.
"You would go down the path of contacting a structural engineer and then you would get it rectified," Mr Twaits said.
Anyone wanting to replace or build a new balcony or deck must make sure it is designed and constructed legally.
This requires applying for a building permit and having the balcony appropriately designed.
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