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Saturday 17 November 2018

Homeowners warned of balcony collapse fears in Celtic Tiger buildings

A balcony at Hunterswood in Dublin where remedial works were carried out on separate safety issues earlier this year
A balcony at Hunterswood in Dublin where remedial works were carried out on separate safety issues earlier this year

Fears have been raised over potential defects to the balconies of some apartments built during the Celtic Tiger era.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) has warned that the "potential collapse of balconies is a real possibility" and highlighted timber-supported structures as a particular issue.

In a letter, seen by the Herald, addressed to property management companies and property owners, the SCSI said that water ingress in timber supports was a concern.

The news comes just a week after the third anniversary of the Berkeley balcony collapse in San Francisco, where five Irish students and one Irish-American student lost their lives.

The Irish students were Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan.

Deterioration

It is understood that the issues raised by the SCSI are not believed to be widespread, but could potentially affect a number of complexes.

The society added that if timber joists are properly treated with preservatives and fully protected for water ingress, there is no concern for the integrity of the joists - but the timber supports may not be visible due to cladding, so possible deterioration may not be evident.

"There is real concern that because timber-supporting balconies are clad with material, one might not identify signs of decay and the only warning of structural failure that will be given could potentially be too late," the letter states. "In many cases, the timber supports may not be visible due to cladding surrounds. However, if water ingress is an issue, the risks of accelerated deterioration and potential collapse of balconies are real possibilities."

The SCSI have urged owners and property management to check balconies to ensure the safety of occupants.

Noel Larkin, chairman of the Building Surveyor Group, said the buildings that show signs of problems appear to have been built in the Celtic Tiger era.

Mr Larkin said that regulation compliance at the time was not as robust as it is today, and that unskilled workers may have worked on them.

"At the time there was a fairly extensive volume of building. If you look at the volume 10 or 15 years ago compared to today, the building industry was at full capacity or maybe beyond it," he said.

"It's like everything else. If you're looking at speed, cost and time, something has to suffer and unfortunately in this particular case, it was one of those, which was quality."

He added that the potential issues may be as a result of jobs undertaken by unskilled workers, but said it was rare that timber would have been used as a structure for balconies.

"The new and improved building control regime is far more comprehensive where all designers, installers, and builders certify compliance with all aspects of installations according to the design.

"This means that there is a higher degree of inspections at key milestones so that installations and materials are checked before they are covered up - for example, by cladding."

Mr Larkin said that not all multi-unit developments ("muds") are professionally managed or carry out inspections - with the SCSI looking to spread awareness of these concerns nationwide.

Earlier this month, the Herald revealed that apartment owners at the Hunterswood estate in Ballycullen, Dublin 24, received an email sent on behalf of management warning them not to step on to their balconies because they were deemed "unsafe to use".

While the structures were not at risk of collapse, one owner claimed his foot had broken through the wooden base of his balcony.

The email, which was sent "as a matter of urgency" said: "Having recently reassessed the balconies, the engineering company has recognised that your balcony has deteriorated faster than expected." Upon visiting the site, the damage to the balconies was evident.

Many had their cladding removed to expose support timbers, which were water-stained. Above them, the decking boards on some had rotted through.

On other buildings at the development, balconies had already been removed from the apartments and some patio doors were blocked off to reach other balconies.

Remedial works to deal with the safety issues were being undertaken at the time.

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