Combustible Items to Avoid on Balconies by Manchester Fire Brigade

Balconies provide both architects and residents with a way to extend living areas. They also provide a private outdoor space in urbanised locations for residents. An area to boost wellbeing. Balconies have become an important part of modern high-rise living. However, with an increase in high rise living the incidents of fires have also increased, some originating and spreading in balconies. In recent times, balconies are constructed using non-combustible materials. But, by storing combustible materials on balconies, the risk of fires can increase. So how do residents become more aware of fire safety in balconies and what combustible items to avoid on balconies?

Here are a few handy tips from Kevan Brelsford, a senior Fire Engineering Officer at the Manchester Fire Brigade.

He began by saying “Everything is combustible except concrete and metal. The idea is that the less you have to burn the smaller the fire will be. Generally speaking, try and keep the balcony clear of combustibles. The less there is there, the less that can catch fire.”

Some of his recommendations he shared give residents, housing associations and safety inspectors a handy reference list of combustible items that residents should steer clear of on their balconies. Whilst this list is not an exhaustive list, here are 8 items residents should avoid on balconies:

8 Combustible Items to Avoid on Balconies


Residents should avoid hanging washing (especially overnight) on balconies as it can be very combustible. As balconies are typically made up of non-combustible materials, storing or keeping combustible items on balconies can add to fire spread, as items such as washing can easily catch fire. Many building managers also write to residents advising them to not hang washing on balconies due to other health and safety issues.

Paints or Solvents

Paints or Solvents too can be extremely flammable. They should be avoided on balconies. If paints need to be stored, consider a cool, dry, ventilated location away from natural sunlight.

Christmas trees

Especially after Christmas, a source of fires on balconies can be a real Christmas tree. A conifer can be a rapid source of fire spread as it can ignite and combust really quickly. His advice is to dispose of a Christmas tree in a garden waste bin or the tree can be taken to a community recycling centre.


If your residents keep plants on their balconies, they must ensure that the soil is moist. However, in dry periods, the soil in the pot can dry out and the plant can become more combustible as it dries out. If cigarettes are stubbed out in a dry plant it can catch fire quickly. Note that in the extensive fire research Sapphire have conducted, it was found that many people consider soil not to burn and therefore plant pots being a good place for cigarette stub  disposal. Unfortunately many planting mediums are peat based which is used in open fires like coal is.


Particularly in the summer months, barbecues can pose a serious fire risk in balconies. Barbecues are a key problem as they provide an ignition source in a small area. The coals may spill out and cause a fire. Not only do barbecues pose a fire risk they also can release carbon-monoxide fumes for hours, affecting residents’ health and wellbeing.


Another important ignition source to avoid is fireworks. It may be a tempting prospect to light fireworks from the balcony, but lighting them in a congested space invites dangers.

Patio Furniture

Patio furniture is often combustible, too. It is important to note that patio furniture may be fire retardant and not non-combustible. Patio furniture, as well as wind breaks, can contribute to fire spread.

Refuse and Recycling

Residents may be tempted to keep their refuse and recycling out on the balconies. Again, refuse should be disposed of appropriately as it is highly combustible.

Balconies on tall buildings being constructed now, are generally  made up of non-combustible materials and provide residents with an additional means to escape. But storing combustible materials on balconies can add to fire spread. So, it is essential to keep balconies clear of combustibles. The advice to residents is that the less you have to burn the smaller the 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.

It is important to understand that whilst many concrete balconies on existing buildings do have combustible materials in their construction, often the furnishings are even more combustible. That said, it balconies aren’t just a safety concern, in recent fires in Maidstone, Colindale and Bolton, balconies have been used by the fire brigades to rescue people and fight fires from which wouldn’t have been more tricky and less safe if the façade was nit complimented by the addition of balconies.

If you would like to issue this guidance on Combustible Items to Avoid on Balconies, email for a copy.

Read our Guidance on Fire Safety in Balconies

Further useful links

Find out about a Sapphire CPD presentation


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