Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Dan Cronk
According to recent estimates, there are more than 40 million decks in the US that are 20 years old or older.
While most of them were built before balcony code requirements were required by states, many have not been updated or repaired in years.
This creates a dangerous situation for residents, tenants, building owners, and managers alike.
Balconies and decks that are not up to code are potentially unsafe and must be remedied immediately.
To prevent accidents, laws have been put into place like the ones in California that require building owners and managers to have their decks, balconies, and other exterior elevated elements (EEEs) evaluated regularly.
Here at Deck & Balcony Inspections Inc, we provide safety inspections to help California apartment and condo owners comply with SB-721 and SB-326.
Based on our knowledge, we put together this inspection checklist to help you keep your balcony safe and code-compliant.
Let’s dive in.
What is a Balcony Inspection Checklist?
A balcony inspection checklist is a document that helps you understand if your balcony is in a generally safe condition.
Today, various safety organizations have emphasized and spotlighted deck and balcony inspections, and California requires SB-326 inspections as well as SB-721 inspections for multi-family buildings.
Because decks and balconies come in many forms, it’s helpful to establish safety standards designed to protect residents, tenants, building owners, and managers alike.
A good inspection checklist allows building managers and owners to evaluate EEEs for signs of wear and contact qualified professionals to conduct more thorough evaluations of a structure’s conditions.
Additionally, inspection checklists help ensure that nothing is missed during an evaluation.
By outlining necessary steps and ensuring they’re followed, an inspection checklist outlines standardized inspection tactics and provides a record of findings and observations.
Your Complete Balcony Inspection Checklist
If you’re interested in conducting a deck or balcony inspection in California, use this checklist.
This premade template can serve as a starting point to check your decks and balconies for structural integrity and safety.
- Property address:
- Governing city:
- Property owner or operator:
- Management contact:
- Inspection date and time:
- Inspection prepared by:
- Type of building:
- Approximate age of building:
- Number of levels:
- Number of units with elevated elements:
- Direction building faces (pay special attention to west and south exposure):
Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE) AT LEAST 6’ Above Ground Level
- Number of walkways:
- Number of elevated decks (more than 6 feet above ground):
- Number of stairways:
- Number of stairway landings:
- Number of balconies:
Balcony Inspection Checklist
Next, the inspector will evaluate the adequacy, condition, and performance of load-bearing components and their associated waterproofing systems.
The inspector will determine the condition of all other items that comprise said walkways, balconies, decks, stairways, or landings, focusing on flashings, waterproofing, and structural integrity.
The inspector will issue a report of the inspection findings and photographic evidence to document the condition of all named building elements and establish a historical record.
Exterior Elevated Elements Styles and Materials
- Balcony unit number:
- Method of testing used:
- Railing condition and height:
- Type of deck surface:
- Waterproofing elements:
- Framing type and condition:
- Dimensions of balcony:
- Observation method used:
- Exterior walls (structural):
Balcony Load Bearing Components & Waterproofing Systems
|Walking surface – deck (condition & type)|
|Walking surface – balcony (condition & type)|
|Walking surface – walkways (condition & type)|
|Walking surface – entries (condition & type)|
|Balcony frame – beams|
|Balcony frame – ledgers|
|Balcony frame – joists|
|Balcony frame – posts|
|Balcony frame – fasteners|
|Stairs – treads|
|Stairs – risers|
|Stairs – stringers|
|Stairs – railings|
|Railings – overall condition|
|Railings – type and age|
|Railings – spacing|
|Railings – handrails (condition)|
|Quality of waterproofing materials|
|Deck metal drip edges|
|Intersection of building wall to balcony deck (inspect for gaps and cracks)|
- Immediate action required. The inspector found the presence of an issue that poses a significant safety risk.
- Repairs required. Inspected element is not functioning properly and requires repairs as soon as possible.
- Maintenance required. Maintenance is required on an element, but the issue does not currently present a risk to safety.
- No problems found. The element is functioning as intended, considering normal wear and tear.
What HOAs Should Consider Regarding Deck & Balcony Inspections
- Does your condo association have rules and regulations in place pertaining to the items tenants place on EEEs? Do your codes confirm that homeowners who do not maintain their common areas must reimburse the association for needed repairs?
- Does Civil Code 5551/SB 326 apply to your condo association? If you’re unsure, you may need to consult your CCR’s or HOA board.
- If Code 5551 does apply, what does it require the board to do next?
- If a professional inspection reveals needed repairs, obtain bids from contractors (by state law all repairs are required to be permitted). Once you have a bid, the condo board can determine how to pay for the repairs.
- If the professional inspection reveals that structural repairs are required, consult a licensed structural engineer.
What Does a Professional Deck and Balcony Inspector Look For?
Here’s a brief breakdown of what an inspector will look for during a formal balcony inspection:
1. Improper, loose connections
The inspector will check for poorly connected or wobbly railings that may collapse or cause accidents if someone leans on them.
Over time, rain and salt air can cause metal connectors and fasteners to corrode.
This is a significant problem in high-rise buildings near moisture-prone coastal areas and buildings with decks made from wood or wood-framed elements.
In said buildings, rusted fasteners can cause surrounding wood to deteriorate, so inspectors will check carefully for signs of corrosion and address anything they find.
3. Dry rot or other decay
During an inspection, the inspector will check for dry rot and deterioration that could render the balcony unstable or unsafe.
4. Flashing / caulking issues
Flashing / caulking are barriers that prevents unwanted moisture intrusion into the unprotected wood of the elevated element (moisture intrusion is the #1 cause of dry rot and structural failure of a balcony).
Currently, there are many requirements for flashing, which an inspector will check for. They include:
- Flashing must be present when structures are attached to a wall or floor assembly of a wood frame.
- Flashing must be installed behind the siding and over the top of the ledger board.
- Flashing must run the length of the ledger board without screw holes or contact with nails.
- The flashing must prevent all collection of water and other debris.
- The materials used in lashing must be corrosion-resistant and approved by code. These materials include galvanized steel, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, vinyl, and self-adhered membrane.
- In some instances, older applicable codes allow caulking instead of flashing. Make sure caulking is in place and weather tight (this is an annual inspection).
5. Problems with the railings
Railings are an added safety measure that helps prevent falls and other dangers.
According to The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), guard rail failure is the most common cause of deck and balcony injury – even more so than complete deck collapse. Here are the current standards for railings:
- Railings must be 42” for multi-family residences according to the California Building Code (CBC).
- The spacing between balusters must not allow a 4” sphere to pass through in any location. This helps ensure that kids can’t squeeze through the spaces.
- Triangle-shaped openings between the stairs and railings should be small enough to prevent a 6” object from passing through.
6. Cracks in decking material
The inspector will also check for any obvious cracks or wear in decking material and signs of moisture intrusion and damage in wood or concrete deck surfaces.
Who Can Perform a Deck and Balcony Inspection in California?
Building owners and managers should conduct informal deck and balcony inspections at least once a year. If you need a formal SB-326 or SB-721 inspection, you’ll have to hire the right professional for the job.
Under SB-326, only licensed architects and licensed structural engineers are qualified to perform deck and balcony inspections.
SB-721 allows licensed architects, licensed civil or structural engineers, certified building inspectors, and licensed contractors (with an A, B, or C-5 license and at least five years of experience) to conduct formal inspections.
Here at Deck & Balcony Inspections, Inc., we are certified and licensed to perform both types of inspections.
How Often is a California Deck or Balcony Inspection Required?
The state mandates formal inspections at set intervals. SB-721 inspections must be completed every six years while SB-326 inspections must be completed at least every nine years.
Informal inspections should be completed more frequently. Industry professionals such as the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) recommend that property owners inspect and maintain their EEEs yearly.
Obvious signs of wear, such as decaying or rotting wood, corrosion, missing screws, or apparent instability or wobbling, are indications that a professional inspection is in order.
If the EEE is part of a new building, we recommend inspecting it within the first two years to check for any signs of wood shrinkage or structural impairment that could have resulted from the settling of the building.
Need a Deck or Balcony Inspection in California? We’re Here to Help!
If you need a professional deck and balcony inspection to help you comply with SB-721 or SB-326, let us help!
We serve clients across California, including Sacramento County, the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast.
Contact us today for a free quote to keep your building safe, up to code, and in compliance with state laws: 916-238-0618
Dan Cronk is the Founder & President of Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc. Dan has 40+ years of experience in the construction industry. As a certified structural inspector and general contractor, Dan has extensive knowledge about California’s deck and balcony laws and enjoys sharing his expertise with the community.