Avoiding Combustible Materials on Balconies
With the recent updates in safety legislation, all balconies are now constructed without combustible materials. The guidance doesn’t prohibit the storing of combustible materials on balconies, however, even though this can also increase the risk of fire. So, what can residents do to be more safety-conscious when making their balcony their own?
It’s important to understand that everything residents have on your balcony is combustible unless it is concrete or metal. Having fewer items that are likely to burn reduces the risk of a fire starting and, if something does catch fire, makes a fire smaller. Smaller fires are easier to manage at height and less likely to spread to neighbouring balconies and apartments. Keeping a balcony clear of combustibles maintains a fire-free area.
Here are my top recommendations on what materials and activities that residents, housing associations and safety inspectors should consider when using their balcony.
Eight combustible items to avoid on balconies
Residents should avoid hanging laundry on balconies (especially overnight) as it can be very combustible. Many building managers will also advise residents to not hang washing on balconies for other health and safety reasons.
Paints or solvents
Paints or solvents are extremely flammable and should be avoided on balconies. If paints need to be stored, consider a cool, dry, ventilated location away from natural sunlight.
A real Christmas tree can be a source of fire on balconies, especially as they are often discarded there after the Christmas period. A dry conifer can be a rapid source of fire spread as it ignites and combusts very quickly. My advice is to dispose of a Christmas tree in a garden waste bin or at a community recycling centre as soon as possible.
If residents keep plants on their balconies, it’s important that they keep them watered. In dry periods, the soil in the pot can dry out quickly and the plant becomes more combustible. Remember that cigarettes stubbed out in a dry plant can catch fire quickly, especially as many compost mixtures are peat-based, which is flammable when dry.
Barbecues can pose a serious fire risk on balconies, particularly in the summer months. They provide an ignition source in a small area where the coals can spill out and cause a fire. Not only do barbecues pose a fire risk they also can release carbon-monoxide fumes for hours, which can be fatal in enclosed spaces. I don’t recommend that anyone should have a barbecue on a balcony.
It may be a tempting prospect for residents to light fireworks from their balconies, but high-rise buildings are often in congested spaces. It isn’t possible to maintain a safe distance for them and their neighbours when lighting them and residents will have little control over where the launched firework will go.
Although patio furniture is often sold as fire retardant, it does not necessarily mean that it’s non-combustible. Patio furniture, as well as windbreaks, can contribute to fire spread.
Refuse and recycling
Residents may be tempted to keep their refuse and recycling out on their balconies, but it should be disposed of appropriately and as quickly as possible as it is highly combustible.
Some final thoughts
Balconies on new high-rise buildings are made of non-combustible materials and provide residents with a safe place to enjoy an extra room to use and relax in. But storing combustible materials on balconies can make a fire spread rapidly.
Keeping balconies clear of combustible material has an added benefit if a fire breaks out. Recent fires in high-rise buildings in Maidstone, Colindale and Bolton have been fought and people have been rescued with the use of balconies.
The less there is to burn, the smaller any fire will be. Avoiding combustible materials on balconies can ensure resident safety and provide an important means to escape in the event of a fire.
This article is based on an interview with Kevan Brelsford, Fire Engineering Officer at the West Midlands Fire Service.
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