Whether it’s a balcony, terrace, patio or roof deck, outdoor space is many an apartment owner’s dream. Desirable – and valuable – as they are, these spaces do present specific maintenance considerations for individual owners, co-op corporations, and condo associations, however. Oftentimes, these considerations are complicated by the fact that without specific knowledge of engineering and construction, the signs of potential problems in these spaces are too easily missed.
The Main Culprit
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when structural issues afflict outdoor spaces in modern buildings, the main culprit is water —and culprit 1A is water mixed with salt. Water causes rust and salt can accelerate the process. Whether in a cold or warm climate, these two basic building blocks of life can combine to erode structures. Alan Gaynor, Founding Principal at Boddewyn Gaynor Architects in New York City, explains: “If water gets between concrete and brick and the structure is not flashed properly, it will rust out the reinforcement bars,” which are a critical component in modern construction.
Michele Boddewyn, President of Boddewyn Gaynor Architects, adds that “snow melts, and the salt greatly reduces the freezing temperature of water, so the water can do additional damage.” Gaynor adds that salt can be the biggest issue, because it’s corrosive enough to rot steel over time. “Amenities like balconies and terraces are vulnerable to weather and wind,” he says. “They don’t get used continually, so the problem can go unnoticed for a long time.”
The unique climate extremes common in Nevada add another dimension to what weather can do to decks, balconies, terraces, and patios. “Our climate has a dramatic effect,” says Greg Munoz, owner of Deck Systems, a contractor in Las Vegas. “We use a specific product to deal with the extremes. Most of the decks and balconies in our area -- around 80 percent -- are wood. Any time you have the expansion of wood or concrete due to hot and cold conditions, it tends to dry out the materials. UV rays are also a problem. When we have rain, it can be very severe, three inches in a day or two. There’s also dust. All these things affect decks, balconies, etc. We use a cementitious product, a polymerized cement to protect the wood or concrete. It makes materials non-porous, so the water can’t get in. We coat the decks with it. It also contains a UV stabilizer. Typically wood decks out here last three to five years, but with this coating they last much longer.”
In addition to weather, spaces such as balconies, terraces, and roof decks can be damaged by the very people lucky enough to have them. The biggest and most dangerous of these man-made issues is overloading. Too much weight can, in the extreme, cause the balcony or terrace to collapse. “Balconies are designed for moderate to average loads,” says Boddewyn. “We are familiar with a situation where a contractor was storing building materials on a balcony. Their weight greatly exceeded what was intended for the balcony, and began to cause a problem.” The contractor had to remove the items immediately, and fortunately no one was injured—or worse.