Is Your Montreal Balcony Secure for Your Family?

Montreal is a city with a great many balconies, porches and back decks; and Montrealers make good use of them during the summers. Playwright David Fennario even referred to the city as “Balconville” in his play of the same name, alluding to the balcony’s central place in the city’s culture, where thousands of Montrealers retreat to escape the heat of their sun-baked homes – and often get to know their neighbours better at the same time.

But when homeowners make the mistake of taking these spaces for granted, it sometimes leads to tragedy. Sensational structural failures make the news roughly once a year somewhere across Canada. In fact, there were two balcony collapses in the Montreal area last year alone. Sometimes the cause is poor construction; sometimes age and neglect lead to rot and a loss of support strength. Other times, the banister gives way, leading to a nasty tumble.

The Snow Factor
In any case, Quebec winters are not typically kind to balconies, so homeowners should keep a few factors in mind. If mounds of winter snow are allowed to accumulate year after year, their weight can become a strain. And when the snow slowly melts each spring, it encourages rust and wood rot of the supports, usually worst towards their outer ends. This is particularly a problem when the space immediately underneath the balcony floor is not properly ventilated.

Most commonly found in Montreal are balconies that sit atop cantilevered supports that jut out from their anchors within the main structure. Other balconies are affixed to the side of the building, and often have support columns holding up the abutment from the ground below. These can be risky even when newly constructed if they aren’t secured very well to the building wall.

Is Your Balcony in Trouble?
Either way, the most telling sign of a compromised balcony is when the banister or railing is beginning to pull away from its moorings on the exterior wall. This is often visible well before any droop or sagging of the balcony is evident to the naked eye.

Another safety consideration is the railings. Some older constructions include railings as short as 30 inches from the balcony floor. The railing height should be about one metre, or 38 to 42 inches. Not unlike the design of baby cribs, the railing spindles need to be placed fairly close together to avoid a young child from being able to squeeze through.

Montreal balcony with horizontal railings.

Horizontal Railings

But one balcony railing comes to mind that was rather ill-considered in design (which did not stop them from building it, of course). The owners had a beautiful concept, created in the art deco style. However the railings were horizontal, and unfortunately spaced in such a way no rambunctious toddler could resist climbing them! With a potential drop of a few metres, this created a real safety hazard.

Until a home inspector pointed this out to them, they hadn’t a clue.