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Ask Habitat: Can't We Just Repair Rather Than Replace Our Balconies?

New York City

Photo by Tom Soter for Habitat Magazine
Oct. 13, 2014

HABITAT ANSWERS: A full-scale balcony repair program is a major project and one that should not be ignored. If most of your building's balconies are in the condition you describe, the board will probably have to bite the bullet and undertake this project. The defects you note are significant, especially if they are widespread. 

The "icicles" are calcium carbonate deposits that form as water drips from the balcony slab. They're a sign of substantial, longstanding water penetration, which could also indicate possible damage to the structural steel supporting the balcony. The loose railings, which are a safety hazard as well as a code violation, are also a result of water infiltration.


To determine how extensive the deterioration is and what types of repairs are necessary, the first step is to hire an engineer or architect to conduct a thorough survey. He or she will determine the most badly damaged areas and if the balconies are structurally sound.

As part of the survey, the engineer/architect may request investigative probes of the concrete (conducted by a contractor) to determine underlying conditions. Probes will determine if the steel reinforcement is rusted, which could lead to structural weakness. Based on the survey findings, the engineer/architect will recommend whether a full-scale repair program is needed or if limited repairs will suffice.

In your building's case, a balcony repair program would probably entail extensive concrete repairs and the installation of new railings. If the balconies are extremely damaged, they may need to be demolished and rebuilt.


In order for the contractor to repair the concrete properly, the defective areas must be entirely cut away. The cuts should be straight, not beveled or tapered, and the cut surfaces must then be scarified and a bonding agent applied so the new concrete properly adheres to old. If missing, a drip edge should be made to help direct dripping water away from the building.

Loose, rusted railings should be repaired or replaced depending on the severity of the deterioration. Railing posts will have to be removed from the concrete, and the defective concrete surrounding them cut away. It is recommended that the posts be inserted into stainless steel sleeves or sleeve openings that are then filled with epoxy.

Since the building will be undertaking a façade restoration program, it makes sense to incorporate the balcony work as part of the overall repair program to avoid paying twice for mobilization and scaffold costs. 


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