Would you rather have a balcony or an extra room in your house?

When Covid-19 lockdowns forced millions of people around the world to stay at home in 2020, the benefits of having a balcony became clearer than ever. Even tiny balconies offered residents the opportunity to get some fresh air and be outdoors without leaving their buildings. In the wake of the pandemic, leading architects called for homes to be designed with more balconies, citing their mental, social and physical health benefits.

New modern townhouses seen in Berlin, Germany

So, when architects design apartment blocks in future, it seems likely that more homes will come with balconies attached.

A trend for extra balconies could have an important impact on how architects design buildings, what they look like and how residents use them. Here’s everything you need to know about balconies.

Why do we have balconies?

Balconies introduce a number of design complexities to a building, and our modern idea of what balconies look like has only really existed since the 1600s. Here are some of the popular reasons for choosing a balcony:

  • Drying clothes: This is a practical but highly useful reason for having a balcony. Clothes dry faster when out of doors
  • Growing plants: Balconies may offer more sunlight than other rooms
  • Relaxation: If your balcony is a suntrap, it can be a great place to relax with a book
  • Eating al fresco: A meal outdoors is always a pleasure
  • Storage: The extra space outside an apartment can be useful for storing objects if you don’t have space inside
  • Smoking: If a guest wishes to smoke, letting them use the balcony means your home won’t smell of tobacco
  • People watching: If you live on a busy street, a balcony provides a wonderful spot to watch the world go by
  • Socialising: In many parts of the world, neighbours catch up on gossip talking between balconies
  • Exercise: Whether you want to practice yoga or jumping jacks, a balcony lets you exercise in the fresh air. That’s preferable to doing so indoors, especially in hot weather
  • Good for pets: Cats, dogs and other pets in city apartments will benefit from being able to get outdoors

 

There are, of course, countless other things you can use a balcony for!

What are the main kinds of balcony?

There are several types of balconies which are in popular use today. Below are three of the most common structures:

  1. Cantilevered balconies
    This kind of balcony needs to be designed in advance by the architect. It requires weight consideration because it imposes a large load on the building itself. If you are designing a cantilevered balcony, it is common to use timber joists along with concrete with a maximum 1500-1800mm depth. The smaller the depth the less bounce the balcony gets.
  2. Stacked on pillars
    This is probably the most popular balcony design seen in the last century. This type of balcony is supported vertically with pillars and posts which are separate from the main structure. It is perhaps the most effective way to implement a balcony as it has no direct weight effect on the building. If required, you can remove or replace this kind of balcony.
  3. Hung balconies
    You can create a hung balcony by installing a concrete plate at 45 degrees that connects to the house from outside. Strong steel cables attach the plate to the wall. The balcony is perpendicular to the building and fully independent from it.

What’s the difference between balconies and terraces?

In many ways, balconies and terraces are very similar. They both serve the purpose of having an outdoor space in an apartment block where a garden isn’t possible. They also both provide a usable living space outside the property.

However, there are some key differences between the two:

  • A terrace is located on the top of the building or on the ground floor, while a balcony can be located on any floor
  • A terrace is always included in the initial floor plan while you could add most types of balcony at any stage
  • If you need a communal space for tenants to share then you must consider a terrace since balconies are almost always private
  • A terrace is usually significantly larger than a balcony

Benefits of green rooftops, balconies and terraces

The link between urban green spaces and health is well established – which is surely why things like rooftop gardens are becoming ever more popular. Balconies, terraces and rooftop gardens provide many benefits for residents:

  • Sustainability: They support sustainability as they offer the space to grow fruit and vegetables at your own residence.
  • Reduce energy consumption: Plants on and around buildings reduce energy consumption through the daily evaporation cycle and reduced the UHI effect
  • Save water: Having a green rooftop makes great use of rainwater. You can use rain to water plants in a building or, in hot climates, save it for reuse during droughts.
  • Save money: A study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that green rooftops save an approximate of $3,600 a year in heating and cooling buildings. Rooftop gardens and ‘living walls’ makes summers less hot by keeping temperatures lower than mechanical insulation systems.
  • Noise reduction: A combination of soil and plants is capable of absorbing, reflecting and deflecting sound waves which make your house calmer than its surroundings.
  • Mental health: Spending time around plants often reduces stress, anxiety and depression.

So, is it worth investing in a balcony?

The cost of a balcony, terrace or green rooftop will always vary depending on the size, design and materials used. To get an idea of the cost, a typical small rooftop garden could cost between $150-$400 per square metre. Although the upfront cost may seem expensive, the energy savings and personal health benefits are hard to ignore.

Build, monitor and maintain balconies with PlanRadar

PlanRadar is a construction app which helps architects, contractors and maintenance teams improve how they design, build and operate buildings. PlanRadar lets you report any issues with a balcony directly in the app, record a note on the blueprint and assign the task to a contractor for repair.

Learn more about PlanRadar’s many other features for managing buildings here.

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