Balustrades: Does your new home meet the Australian Standards?
Balustrades are safety barriers used on stairways, balconies, verandahs, and many other areas in both residential and commercial buildings. There are many decorative options to choose from when selecting balustrading for your home, but its main purpose is to prevent falls from height making them a particularly important part of your home. Are your balustrades safe?
Why do we have Australian Standards for Balustrades?
The Australian standards outline the specifications and design procedures to ensure products (Balustrades) and services (installation of Balustrades) consistently perform safely, reliably, and the way they’re intended to. You may have encountered a large variety of different balustrading while viewing properties around Perth. Some older style homes may have been fitted with wooden balustrading and newer builds could have had metal or a more modern glass style balustrading. Regardless of the style, it’s important that the balustrading meets the requirements of the current Australian Standards. Balustrades that don’t meet Australian Standards can become the main hazard itself. Balustrades that are in poor repair provide a false sense of security and could fail if an adult were to lean on it. Also, balustrades that don’t meet the current Australian Standards for height and gap requirements could allow small children to fit through gaps or climb over it which can lead to significant injury or death – even a small fall can be catastrophic if you land in the wrong way. Due to this, Total Home Inspections highly recommends a complete building and pest inspection prior to purchase, which will identify any potential safety hazards.
Australian Standards for placement of Balustrades.
Most buildings, including residential homes that have stairways, balconies or decks that are more than 1000mm above ground level are required to have a continuous barrier to prevent falls, such as balustrading. There must also be handrails provided where there is a change elevation of greater than 1000mm from ground level. The handrails must be continuous, located along the full length of at least one side of the elevation and not be less than 865mm from the floor to the top surface of the handrail. Further information can be access within the National Construction Code 2019 Building Code of Australia (NCC 2019 BCA) Vol 2 Part 184.108.40.206.
Australian Standards for the Height & Gaps in Balustrades.
Once installed, the overall height of the balustrade must be a minimum of 1000mm above the level of the floor landing, such as the top of a set of stairs where the potential of a fall to the ground is 1000mm or greater. For stairways, ramps, and transitional landings of 500mm or less, the minimum height requirement is 865mm from floor level. These balustrade height requirements are designed to reduce the risk of falling over the top of the barrier.
The requirements for gaps in balustrading state that a sphere of 125mm cannot be able to pass through the opening. When the balustrading forms part of a stairway, the 125mm measurement is taken vertically from the nosing line of the stair treads to the bottom of the barrier (See Figure 220.127.116.11). These gap requirements are intended to prevent the issue of small children fitting through the spaces and falling or becoming lodged.
Australian Standards for Wire/Rail Balustrades.
When it comes to horizontal wire/rail balustrading, the Standards become slightly more complex. If horizontal wire/rail balustrades are installed on a deck or balcony where the floor is 3000mm from ground level (and all other requirements comply), then it would comply with the Australian Standards. However, if the floor of the deck were more than 4000mm above ground level, the rules change, and that same balustrade would no longer meet the Australian Standard.
When the surface of the floor landing is greater than 4000mm above the surface below, horizontal or near horizontal parts of the balustrade that are between 150mm and 760mm above the floor landing level must not be climbable. In this situation, the balustrading should consist of solid panels or correctly spaced vertical rails (Max.125mm spacing between each vertical). Wire balustrading also has other criteria it must comply with such as wire diameter, spacing of wires (Max. 100mm), spacing of posts and tensioning. Further information can be accessed within NCC 2019 BCA Vol 2, Part 18.104.22.168
Australian Standards for the Strength of Balustrades.
Regardless of whether the balustrade is constructed of glass, metal, or wood, it must be strong enough to handle a reasonable amount force that could be expected for a safety barrier, such as people leaning against the balustrade or strong winds. The specific requirements in the AS/NZS 1170.1 state that balustrades must be capable of withstanding a 0.6kN point load which is similar to a person falling onto the balustrade, and the handrail to withstand a distributed load of 0.4kN applied inward, outward, or downward, equal to a person leaning on the rail.
Glass balustrading must consist of Grade A Safety Glass and now requires an interlinking handrail to be installed where it is providing a barrier for a height of 1000mm or greater. Other specifications of the glass such as thickness, size and method of installation will depend on the installation environment (height, load and forces it will be subject to etc.) All glass balustrades must comply with Australian Standard AS 1288: Glass in Buildings – Selection and Installation.
Unfortunately, even balustrading that was constructed in accordance with all the relevant codes and standards can still end up becoming hazardous. Deteriorating wood, rusty fixings and loose handrails are some of the common signs that a balustrade could become a major safety risk. It’s imperative that balustrades are regularly inspected and maintained.
If you’re purchasing a new home with balustrading in Perth and want to know that you’re safe and that it meets the Australian Standards, Total Home Inspections can identify any safety issues that require attention and provide recommendations on how to correct them.