Offsite Production Revolutionises New West London Apartments

A west London Apartments development for vulnerable and disabled veterans is the showcase for a new offsite balcony solution from Sapphire Balustrades, which enabled the entire project’s pre-assembled balconies to be installed in just six hours on a single day. Nick Haughton reports on the role of Sapphire’s record-breaking balcony system in this special housing development in west London.

The 36 new apartments at Staines Road in Feltham, built by Bugler Developments, are a new build project on behalf of Stoll, a UK charity providing housing and support for ex-Service personnel. Funding for the £7.5 million project includes generous support from The Royal British Legion’s External Grants programme and the Greater London Authority, among other donations. The development represents the largest new housing project for veterans in England this year and will be named officially when it is opened later in 2014, with the first new tenants due to move in during the summer.

Contemporary living

Like the other Stoll housing around the capital, the apartments at Staines Road will provide more than just modern, comfortable accommodation for veterans and their dependants. The development will also include communal spaces where residents can enjoy a wide range of activities and a specially designed therapeutic garden. Once completed, it will consist of 29 one-bedroom flats for up to two people, three one-bedroom flats designed to meet the needs of those with life-changing injuries, and four two-bedroom flats for vulnerable veterans with a family.

Rapid and cost-effective balcony solution

Bespoke balconies are part of the development’s exacting specification and will provide residents in upper level apartments with additional outdoor space of their own. Sapphire’s offsite balcony system made it possible for 22 complete balcony units, including glass balustrades and sub-deck, to be installed in just six hours using one crane and one installation team. To put this into context, that’s over ten times more than an average achievement for a project involving traditional balconies which are manufactured on site. Typically these can be installed at a rate of two a day and even offsite manufactured bolt-on balconies, which are faster to install at an average of six a day, cannot compare with Sapphire’s new balcony system as demonstrated on Stoll’s Staines Road project. Featuring a patent-pending cassette concept and innovative connections, Sapphire’s system now makes it simpler, faster and more cost effective to provide the benefits of high quality balconies for all types and sizes of residential project.

Fast track fixing

The balconies for Staines Road were manufactured offsite in Sapphire’s Reading production facility while connections were installed, helping to optimise overall build time. With the apartment building prepared, fully assembled balcony units were transported to site ready for fast track fixing to the façade using the system’s specially designed hollow slab connection details. Thanks to Sapphire’s innovative design and construction concept, on site works are kept to an absolute minimum: once the balcony is in position it’s simply a matter of guiding it in to location before completing the simple mechanical fixings. Achieving a record number of balconies installed in just six hours is not about rushing or compromising safety, it is through clever product innovation.

Quality and control

By manufacturing and assembling apartment balconies for the project in its factory, Sapphire was able to maintain a high degree of quality control. In addition, Sapphire’s offsite solution helped minimise site time and associated costs, such as scaffolding hire, and product quality was kept consistently high compared with completing more of the work on site. The modular units were transported to site on pallets with pre-positioned lifting ‘eyes’ located in the balcony deck. Whilst balconies are usually craned from the lorry bed directly, Staines Road access meant that the balcony cassettes were offloaded with a telehandler and the palletised module approach enabled each unit to be lifted directly from the back of the vehicle without people having to be on the lorry bed and without specialist equipment, saving time and enhancing safety for on-site teams. Balconies were craned into position, starting at the top of the three-storey building and working down. This process was assisted by a counter-balance lifter connected to the crane, a system specially developed by Sapphire which has been independently tested and certified. When balcony units are being lifted into place, the system offsets the crane hook to the outside of the balcony balustrades, enabling balconies to be installed beneath the balconies above them in a stack rather than starting with the bottom floor balconies in the stack and working up the building.

Terrace balustrades

The apartment balconies for Staines Road incorporate glazed balustrades from Sapphire’s Crystal frameless, structural glass system. With no vertical support posts to impede views, Crystal balustrades are a particularly popular choice for residential balconies. The balconies’ clear toughened laminated glass infill panels are combined with satin polished marine grade stainless steel cappings, designed to give high corrosion resistance. Also, with Sapphire’s modular cassette system, the glass infill panels are fully integrated into the balcony structure so there’s no need for a base channel. This further enhances the clean lines and minimalist appearance of the finished balcony.

Discreet drainage

Any water collecting on a balcony deck, either from rainfall or from watering container plants, should be addressed in the design to ensure it doesn’t drip onto the balcony below. One of the exclusive features of Sapphire’s new balcony cassette system is a built-in drainage system which forms part of the unit’s multiple beam construction. This discreet solution is designed to channel water through the surface tiling into the sub-deck and into a drip tray. At Staines Road this was captured within the aluminium cassette and directed to spouts in the two protruding corners of the deck which is intended to irrigate gardens below, providing a simple and effective form of rainwater harvesting.

Health and safety on site

In addition to speed and ease of installation, Sapphire’s offsite balcony system also offers on site health and safety benefits. When installing traditional balconies there is the potential hazard of people working underneath a balcony to fix soffits and fascias. With Sapphire’s aluminium cassettes these modular units are delivered to site fully assembled ready to be lifted into position for final fixing. As a further safety measure, installers located inside the building ready to receive the balcony unit are protected by an internal guard rail as they guide the unit into place. Also, the fact that the glass balustrades are already in place is another advantage as it eliminates the safety issues associated with lifting and installing large panels of glass on site and reduces the risk of damaging glass during handling.

Proven alternative

To sum up, this residential project for veterans at Staines Road demonstrates the many benefits of Sapphire’s pioneering offsite balcony system, from cost and time savings to improved health and safety on site and enhanced aesthetics. We believe this innovative solution represents a real game-changer for the residential sector, providing housebuilders, developers and contractors with the first proven alternative to traditional balcony design and construction.

Like Roger Bannister from Middlesex proved the world wrong with his record breaking four minute mile, in the very same county of Middlesex, Sapphire have demonstrated on their first attempt that 22 balconies can be installed in just six hours – a record breaking achievement for the industry. Whilst 22 balconies installed in just six hours is the new industry benchmark, Sapphire will continue to innovate in order to beat this record again – And it has several times since! The Record was smashed at Pomona Wharf where 34 were installed in 6 hours too.