Oct 18, 2023

Balconies are not just for enjoying on vacation days

Balconies conjure up visions of romance European style, cozy spaces for coffee, cocktails, conversation and gorgeous vacation views.

But why wait for all too infrequent time away from work or other responsibilities? Something as relatively simple as a balcony — or two — can enhance your lifestyle every day instead of only on vacation days.

Balconies, because of their potential hazards, should be left to the pros and will require proper permitting. But, once you have chosen a licensed and insured contractor with proven expertise in both the practical and aesthetic dimensions of balcony additions, the fun and creative part can begin.

A balcony addition needs to not only function as you intend, but take into consideration the architectural integrity of your home. You will want to see renderings of how your home will appear on the exterior once your balcony is added. A depth of about 4 feet is enough for a few chairs and two or three people, but be clear about how you plan to use the balcony so that you right-size it. Keep in mind that it will cast shade below, including darkening the rooms on the first floor directly beneath your balcony. If you desire more square footage, consider planning at the outset for a shaded patio below. Regardless, be intentional.

Approach access thoughtfully, including whether you want your balcony to offer the ultimate in privacy from only one room, say a homeowner suite, or allow access from perhaps a pair of guest rooms. If you are considering allowing access from the exterior, keep in mind that the addition of something like a spiral staircase may make your home more vulnerable to a break-in, but it also serves as an escape in case of fire.

From the interior of your home, converting a window to a door offers the most straightforward access to your new balcony. If you plan on cutting an opening elsewhere, make sure that you have not negatively impacted functionality by dividing the only wall big enough for a dresser or other major piece of furniture.

When choosing a material for your balcony, be realistic about your budget, your tolerance for maintenance, and especially safety. Balconies are typically cantilevered, hung using steel cables, stacked on pillars or supported with corbels, which are structural brackets, though corbels can also be strictly decorative. Styles abound and there is something for every architectural style. The type of construction you and your contractor choose will obviously impact your materials options. Tragedies resulting from collapsed balconies have led away from those supported by wooden joists, which can rot and weaken with few obvious visible signs.

The railing or balustrade that you choose will define your balcony's aesthetic. Cable, concrete, glass panes, metal, wood, or vinyl are all available and will dramatically impact the look of your balcony. Traditional, formal, contemporary and casual looks are all yours for the asking. Look at a lot of different designs, perhaps even combining aspects from several that you like. Be sure to consider how much privacy versus view you desire, as well as safety if pets or children will have access to the balcony, along with drainage.

If all of this is more than you want to undertake, consider the Juliet balcony in traditional European styles, as the name suggests, or in more contemporary urban or industrial styles. These extremely shallow balconies are for standing only with a railing just outside a window, slider, or French doors.

Whether you seek a greater connection to the outdoors, romantic privacy, or increased living space, seek a professional to help you achieve the right balcony for your needs.

Virginia Beach native and James Madison University graduate, Chris Ettel, is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors and is past chairman of the TBA Remodeler's Council. Contact him at [email protected].

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