How many times have we heard of small kids falling through balconies or terraces? We have a Spanish saying, "accidents never occur.... until they do".
Terraces, balconies, attics and roofs terraces are greatly used in this part of the world, especially in urbanizations and properties around the Costa, because their design are mostly orientated for people to enjoy sunbathing on them. To enjoy these places without problems, it is essential to attend a series of recommendations, especially if there are children around the house or even if they visit us occasionally.
Before the year 2007 there was no regulation that governs the security on these places, but with the Technical Code of Construction (Código Técnico de la Construcción or "CTE") a new Spanish Building Regulations became obligatory with strict norms to be used on houses designed since them. Unfortunately there are many properties built before 2007, so we will take a look at the different aspects that may potentially dangerous.
It is essential to keep balconies and terraces fairly organized, even in cold season when we do not make much use of them, and turn them into a kind of storeroom, where we accumulate domestic piece and pieces.
If there are children at home it is essential to concentrate on a series of recommendations, any carelessness can lead to serious situations of risk for them.
According to a report by the European Union, the majority of injuries and deaths of children younger than four years old, correspond to accidents at home; falls from balconies and terraces are one of the main causes, along with burns, poisonings, suffocation and drowning.
First, you should review the conditions of all and each one of the parts of the terrace or balcony. Rusted banisters, walls with chips and moisture, floor finishes with some irregularities, loose handrails and light points in poor condition may result from minor wounds or unnecessary scratches to serious accidents. All these problems should be resolved immediately to avoid future risks.
Children under the age of ten should not remain unattended in this area of the house.
It is very important to also restrain the access to these places in the house, installing locks on windows and doors to be made inaccessible to children. Below are a series of specific recommendations, tips that may be worthless if adults do not respect the primary rule: children under the age of ten years should not remain unattended in these areas of the house, although you have inspected inch by inch and everything is seemingly in good condition:
Let us take a look at situations that may turn into potential danger.
- Balconies windows and balconies balusters should be quite close to prevent children from introducing their bodies between them. The separation between each rail should not exceed 10cm.
- Balcony railings must have a minimum height. It is established that the height of handrails may not be less than 100 cm for a fall between 0,55m and 6 m, and shall not be less than 110 cm for any heights higher than 6m.
- Avoid proximity to handrail of objects that children can use to climb, such as tables, banquets, planters, flowerpots and other decorative elements.
- Assure yourself that floor tiles are free from holes or without loose tiles. Do not use waxes or slippery finishes in your cleaning products.
- Keep an eye with plants and substrates. If there are very small children they may try to eat these products.
- Pots and the planters should never be placed so that they may fall on children. It will be better to put them on the floor, on tables or auxiliary furniture. This recommendation also applies to all objects and decorative elements: lamps, table, ashtrays, tableware etc.
- If the terrace is large, it will be convenient to allocate a children's area. The clearer this area it is the better, children soon learn that this is protected space for them.
We now will look at other elements that it may pass inadvertently but it could certainly be dangerous.
Let us take for instance the placement of those popular inflatable swimming pools. Some years ago the models available were few and usually used for toddlers. Now days I have seen swimming pools capable of sustaining many tons of water, think that 1 cubic metre is approximately 1 tone, so you can calculate yourself the weight of these pools.
1 cubic metre of water equal to 1 tone.
Consequently, be in the lookout for pools models with capacities that may not be supported by the terrace structure. Before placing a swimming pool of this kind, it is advisable to consult with an architect, because in principle it may cause all kind of problems, including making the terrace or balcony to collapse. Some time ago a similar event took place in Barcelona's property where a swimming pool (between 2,000 and 3,000 litres capacity, equivalent to 2-3 tones) was placed on a terrace. A six year old girl died and other three minors had minor injuries when the terrace ceded.
Other aspects that are overlooked are the maintenance of balconies and terraces balustrades and railings. I have observed that while the interior of houses and apartments are reasonably well maintained external balconies and terraces are not.
Maintenance of balcony`s balusters.
A hand of lead base paint and another coat of finishing paint will suffice.
The same manner that we can repair any damage around windows, is also recommended to do the same with the balconies balusters to prevent rusting or eliminate any existing rust stains and renew the balusters.
If you live in an apartment, the first thing we must take into account is the colour from the balconies of our neighbours, since we must respect the prevailing colours not being the case if you live in a single-family house in that case we can paint any colour or colours that we like most.
The first thing we must do is to remove the layers of any existing paint, which may have been neglected and deteriorated with the passage of time.
Usually balconies are metal manufactured, although they can also be made out of wood, something very common in bungalows and some single-family homes, so the painting removal process will be different in these cases.
A question of elbow grease.
For metal balconies a good strong emery cloth and a little bit of elbow grease will be sufficient. With the wood you must be more careful, and may use a bristle brush, for example, or simply sanding paper, or it may be sufficient to scrape the surface with a spatula. You may also use paint stripper products suitable to the material on which the paint is to be fixed.
After removing the paint, any rust stains and you have provided a coat of rust resistant base paint the surface is ready to proceed with the finish paint.
It is advisable not to evade a coat of rust resistant paint first, if the balcony is ferrous metallic material.
In the case of wood materials I normally use myself a wood protection coat called "Xilamon Fondo" followed by one or more coats of Xiladecor depending of the type of wood it porosity and the final colour required.
I normally use two coats of each minimum as I sand down the surface after each coat because the paint tends to raise the grain and it make the wood to look quite rough so a soft pass with sand paper machine after each coat will make the timber look much nicer.
After having protected the railing you can paint with the chosen colour, using a small brush, and removing excess paint to avoid staining the floor of the balcony.
The idea to remember here is that the maintenance done to the railings or balusters will increase the safety of the balcony or terrace substantially.