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California SB 326: What Gets Inspected During a Balcony Safety Inspection




In 2016, the California state legislature passed Senate Bill 326, also known as the "Balcony Safety Bill", in response to a tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley that killed 6 people. This law requires regular inspections of balconies, decks, and other elevated exterior structures to ensure they are safe and well-maintained.


The key provisions of SB 326 are:


  • All buildings with three or more dwelling units must have their exterior elevated elements (balconies, decks, etc.) inspected by a licensed inspector every 6 years.

  • The inspection must cover the structural integrity and waterproofing elements of the elevated structures.

  • If any issues are found, the building owner must make the necessary repairs within 180 days.

  • Building owners must maintain detailed inspection and repair records for at least 2 inspection cycles (12 years).


So what exactly does an SB 326 balcony inspection entail? Let's take a closer look at the key areas that are examined:


Structural Integrity

The primary focus of the SB 326 inspection is evaluating the structural soundness of the balcony or elevated structure. The inspector will closely examine the following components:


  • Load-bearing elements like beams, joists, and columns

  • Connections between the structure and the building

  • Fasteners like bolts, screws, and nails holding the structure together

  • Signs of deterioration, rot, or damage to the structural materials


The goal is to identify any issues that could compromise the ability of the balcony to safely support the weight of people, furniture, and other loads. This includes looking for cracks, dry rot, corrosion, and other signs of structural weakness.


Waterproofing

Another key aspect of the SB 326 inspection is evaluating the waterproofing and moisture protection of the elevated structure. The inspector will examine:


  • Coatings, sealants, and membranes on walking surfaces

  • Flashing and other water diversion systems

  • Drainage pathways to prevent water buildup

  • Signs of water intrusion or moisture damage


Proper waterproofing is crucial to prevent rot, corrosion, and other structural degradation over time. The inspector will look for any gaps, cracks, or other vulnerabilities that could allow water to penetrate the structure.


Railings and Guards

Balcony railings and guards are critical safety features, so the inspector will closely examine these elements. They will check:


  • The structural integrity of the railing posts, top rails, and intermediate rails

  • Proper height and spacing to meet code requirements

  • Strength and attachment of the railing system

  • Any signs of damage, deterioration, or loose components


Railings must withstand the lateral forces that can be applied during a fall or impact. Inspectors will ensure the railing system is securely anchored and meets the minimum height and spacing requirements to prevent falls.


Anchorage and Connections

The connection points where the balcony or elevated structure attaches to the building are a major focus of the SB 326 inspection. The inspector will examine:


  • Bolts, lag screws, and other fasteners securing the structure

  • Condition of the attachment points on the building

  • Any signs of movement, separation, or deterioration


These connection points are critical load-bearing elements, so the inspector wants to ensure they are in good condition and properly secured. Any issues with the anchorage could indicate a serious structural problem.


Accessibility and Safety Features

While not directly related to structural integrity, the SB 326 inspection will also look at accessibility and safety features of the elevated structure, such as:


  • Slip-resistant walking surfaces

  • Adequate lighting

  • Proper signage and warnings

  • Accessibility for people with disabilities


These elements help ensure the balcony or deck can be used safely by all occupants. The inspector will check that these features meet applicable building codes and safety.


Inspection Process

During the SB 326 inspection, the licensed inspector will use a variety of tools and techniques to thoroughly evaluate the elevated structure, including:


  • Visual inspections to identify any visible signs of damage or deterioration

  • Probing and sounding to detect hidden issues beneath the surface

  • Moisture testing to check for water intrusion

  • Load testing to assess the structural capacity

  • Review of building plans and maintenance records


The inspector will document all findings in a detailed report that identifies any deficiencies and recommends necessary repairs. Building owners then have 180 days to address any issues identified in the report.


Importance of Compliance

Compliance with SB 326 is critical, as the consequences for non-compliance can be severe. Building owners who fail to have the required inspections or make necessary repairs face potential fines, legal liability, and even criminal charges in the event of a balcony collapse or other incident.


Additionally, many insurance providers now require proof of SB 326 compliance to provide coverage for multifamily buildings. Failure to comply could result in policies being canceled or premiums skyrocketing.1Beyond the legal and financial implications, regular inspections and maintenance of balconies and elevated structures is simply the responsible thing to do to protect the safety of building occupants. The tragic Berkeley balcony collapse that prompted SB 326 is a stark reminder of the importance of proactive inspection and repair.


By ensuring their buildings meet the SB 326 requirements, building owners can give residents peace of mind and avoid potentially catastrophic incidents. The investment in these inspections is well worth it to safeguard lives and property.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the SB 326 balcony inspection process is a comprehensive evaluation focused on the structural integrity, waterproofing, and safety features of elevated exterior structures. Building owners must take this mandate seriously and address any deficiencies identified to uphold their duty of care to residents. Compliance with SB 326 is not only a legal requirement, but a moral imperative to prevent future tragedies.

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