Balcony and roof railings and the code: Maintain, repair, or replace? [AIA course]

Lacking familiarity with current requirements, some owners or managers complete a roof or balcony rehabilitation, only to learn after the fact that they need to tear noncompliant railings out of their new roof or terrace and install new ones. 

July 26, 2017 |
Facilities professional inspects a roof railing system.

As building codes change, existing railings may need to be updated or replaced. Courtesy Hoffmann Architects

While state and local building, fire, and occupational safety codes have the effect of making roofs, balconies, and terraces more secure for users, the tangled web of requirements can wreak havoc with a building owner’s exterior envelope project. 

Where existing railings—also known as guards—need replacement to meet stringent code requirements, the expense of thousands of linear feet of new railings can be an unexpected blow to a project budget.

Lacking familiarity with current requirements, some owners or managers complete a roof or balcony rehabilitation, only to learn after the fact that they need to tear noncompliant railings out of their new roof or terrace and install new ones. 

The best strategy is to learn how railing regulations could impact the scope, logistics, and schedule of a building envelope project—and its cost.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
After reading this article, you should be able to:
+ Distinguish among various code requirements for railings to determine applicable standards.
+ Apply the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
+ Evaluate existing balcony and roof railings for signs of distress and failure, and diagnose the probable cause of deficiencies.
+ Implement appropriate strategies for railing repair, alteration, or replacement to meet building code requirements.

About the Authors: John P. Graz, AIA, is a Senior Architect with , Inc., with more than 20 years leading project teams in architectural design and restoration. Rachel C. Palisin, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a Project Engineer with Hoffmann Architects, based in the firm’s New York City office.

 

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