Is My Balcony Safe?

Is my balcony safe? What if a fire starts? What if it’s been installed incorrectly?

These are all questions our end-users will reasonably have living in a high-rise residential unit and as architects, developers, manufacturers, suppliers and installers, the onus is on all involved to justify, explain and reassure the end-user that their property, their home, is safe to live in.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the scope of making a balcony safe, from the design choices we make, to the materials used, to necessary maintenance and beyond. We’ll look into fire risks, drainage and how both are mitigated against through smart balcony design.

The safety of end-users and residents should be our number-one priority. Let’s look into how to make a balcony safe.

Materials used

A key principle of architecture is balance. Balancing the desire for attractive design with the crucial need for strong, safe construction. To ensure this type of strong and safe construction, there are three key areas to focus on from an early stage, looking at the materials used.

Firstly, designing for the long term. Sapphire’s balconies are typically designed to meet a 60-year lifecycle thanks to the aluminium we use in the construction of our balcony Cassettes. Aluminium is a strong material with flexible design possibilities, making it perfect for the extrusion of different types and shapes of balustrading. Critical Connections back to the building will normally be made of M30 stainless steel. The size means the are much more robust, both because of them being over engineered for a much stronger resistance to the moment forces and because of the corrosion resistance of stainless steel.

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Using material like timber or concrete is not a wise choice as the material cannot endure time, nor the elements. We’ve seen in recent months that timber will degrade over time – this fundamentally misses the spirit of construction design and management (CDM) regulations. Using a material that will maintain its integrity for the entirety of its lifespan should be a priority. With aluminium, this can be achieved with relative ease as it does not rust or degrade over time.

Finally, the material choice should always be non-combustible. In the UK this is mandatory on taller buildings under Part B of the Building Regulations. In other markets where this is not mandatory, the guidance should still be followed to ensure the absolute safety of the end-user. By using non-combustible materials, unnecessary fire risk or spread can be avoided.

Construction methods

The next step to ensuring balcony safety is through the methods of construction. Thanks to modern methods of construction (MMC), construction is more flexible and innovative than ever so safety can be more readily assured, so long as the correct methods are used.

Connecting a balcony mechanically is the simplest way to ensure connection safety. Historically, adhesives have been used a lot on building façade to stick components together, but this can be a risk. At Sapphire, we choose to mechanically fix components to the building façade through arm connected with stainless steel bolts, which do not lose their structural integrity like adhesives could and are easier to control the correct torque settings have been achieved, whereas an adhesive done correctly can be difficult to confirm, is more dependent on competence and expierience of the applicator and may become lose over time or in extreme heat or cold.

The competency of process and people should also be considered here. Like cars, controlled manufacturing envrionments with the right processes mean that prefab balconies should be inherently safer. Offsite manufacture must be tightly controlled with safety procedures and quality control in place at every step of the process. Throughout our history we have continually reduced the dependence of site labour and site conditions by designing more of the production to be carried out in factories. We manufacture our balconies offsite, monitoring each stage of the production with our Passport® app. We have also introduced a learning management system (LMS), which allows us to monitor and ensure the training, competency and compliance of all our workers. This enables a single balcony to then be traced back to which factory, which date, which operative and what thier training records were at that point. The passport app has continually been expanded and advanced to enable the collection of more and more data and imagery of the production process.

Finally, minimising the dependence on an individual’s competency is crucial for balcony safety. At Sapphire, we believe in ensuring that our staff are competent and continually learning, but this alone is not enough. High dependence on the skill of a single labourer is a potential risk area and so is assembly done on sites where there is other factors which could influence. By simplifying the product junctions and making sure the system itself is as risk-averse as possible, we further avoid the risk of workers relying on a single staff member’s competency. As an example, by having all welds double-checked independently and by using witness marks on connection bolts, we can quickly determine if bolts have been torqued correctly or if key connections have been tampered with, both measures which support the delivery of product which is not only of good quality but is also up to the high safety standard our clients and Sapphire expect.

Fire risk

As mentioned above, fire risk is an important consideration for balcony manufacturers as well as construction developers. To avoid another disaster like that at Grenfell Tower in 2017, we must take steps to mitigate against fire spread. This can involve better choice of materials and discouragement of fire risks for our end-users.

Material selection is key. We spoke with Kevan Brelsford of the Manchester Fire & Rescue team and he summarised the need for better material selection. Using flame-retardant, non-combustible furnishings is crucial. The need for this may seem obvious in a post-Grenfell world, but it needs to be reiterated. Furthermore, minimising ignition sources can be the difference between safety and danger as “more or less anything will burn in the right circumstances”, so reducing the opportunity for fire to start and/or spread is key.

Watch the full video with Kevan Brelsford speaking on behalf of the Manchester Fire & Rescue team to learn more about fire risk:


Drainage methods

Water ingress has been a key challenge in most markets the balcony markets we work in globally.

In markets like New Zealand, we’ve seen the ‘leaky homes’ crisis, where timber-framed homes built primarily in the 1990s were not properly protected against the weather. These drainage problems have in some instances made the timber framing structurally unstable and so unfit to live inside. We’ve seen similar issues in the Canadian market and so the need for structurally sound homes, protected against water ingress, is key.

The key principle of drainage is that the nearest point of water collection needs to be as far from the building threshold as possible. Collection of water should, in no circumstances allow for a build-up. Finally taking water away from the building is much better principle than back towards a building.

To mitigate against this, materials should be considered, as well as direction of drainage and number of drainage points.

Corrosion-resistant materials such as aluminium should be used. Timber should never be used as a drainage material due to its susceptibility to rotting. Draining away from the building in 400mm sections is a method that Sapphire uses – our edge draining solution (as it is known in balcony standard BS 8579:2020) uses multiple points of drainage through integrated soffits in order to disperse water efficiently and safely without the need for fixed rear drainage pipes.


Balcony maintenance should be simple to carry out, regular and thorough.

A balcony left to fester amongst the elements, no matter the material used to construct it, can be at risk of the averse effects of ageing. Maintenance should therefore be carried out whenever necessary and, where possible, regularly scheduled.

Balconies should be designed with maintenance in mind. Urgent maintenance should not require scaffolds to be set up and so balconies should be designed to be maintained from the apartment they belong to.

At Sapphire, we design our balconies in this way. As an example, a balcony can have its decking raised to view the soffits below, meaning essential maintenance can be carried out both quickly and thoroughly to avoid incidence.


Understanding the risk that comes with construction and ongoing use of balconies is of the utmost importance. Balcony manufacturers and suppliers must make sure their products are safe on delivery, safe to install and safe for the end user over its entire design life.

We use aluminium construction due to its structural rigidity, improved safety aspects when compared to a traditional concrete alternative, integrated drainage system to reduce risk of wateringress, its non combustible properties and the wide variety of secure connection possibilities that can be chosen depending on the project at hand.

When asking the question; “is my balcony safe?” – it takes analysis of all risk areas, research and development and a competent team to supply an answer. If you are moving into a new property and you are lucky enough to have a Sapphire balcony, we certainly believe that our ethical approach to balcony design combined with our rigerous testing regimes and quality systems do mean that you are in a safe pair of hands with Sapphire.

To learn more about making your balcony safe, we’ve provided links to whitepapers, CPDs and articles published by Sapphire below.

Balcony Fire Safety Whitepaper

Regulations, research and testing, available in our whitepaper.


Balcony Fires CPD

Request our balcony fires CPD – learn about common causes and reduce risk.

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Balcony Drainage

All you need to know about balcony drainage.

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Balcony Materials, Maintenance & Lifespan

Learn more about how to choose balcony materials on our dedicated page.

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