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Clearing up the confusion around high-rise balconies

When it comes to specifying exterior building materials and systems on high-rise buildings, do you know what the current regulations say?

Read on, as Andy Lake, Pyroguard’s Sales Director UK & IRE, aims to clear up the confusion surrounding the construction of glazed balconies…

Deanston Wharf, London 9

In the years since the tragic events of the Grenfell disaster in 2017, the spotlight has rightfully fallen on the materials used on the external face of our country’s high-rise buildings, with several amendments to the regulations surrounding the specification of fire-safe materials. With these developments continuing to occur, it’s no surprise that the regulatory landscape has the potential to cause confusion, especially when it comes to specifying the correct safety glass solution for balcony and balustrade applications.


The Building Regulations Approved Document B

Amendments to Building Regulations Approved Document B for fire safety were issued in 2020 and again in 2022 – all with a view to improving safety and preventing such tragedies from happening again. Amongst the revisions was a ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings, included limiting the use of laminated glass on high-rise balconies or terraces over 18 metres tall.

This was due to a fear that the PVB interlayer used in laminated glazing balustrade systems could ignite in the event of a fire, presenting the danger of spreading a blaze further over the external face of a building.

Subsequent revisions to Approved Document B have since further reduced the height threshold at which the ban on combustible materials commences, with the new regulations changing from 18 metres to 11 – a change which has had further implications throughout construction.


Building Safety Act

In a move to further safeguard high-rise building residents, the Building Safety Act officially became law in 2022, closely followed by key reforms to the Act in October 2023. These included modifications to how high-rise buildings are built, maintained and made safe, ensuring that residents had complete clarity on fire safety guidance. The reforms also included architects amongst the duty holders, who can be held to account as part of the amended building control regime.

It goes without saying that safety enhancements of high-rise dwellings are of the utmost importance. However, these various regulatory changes have also presented housebuilders, developers and architects with challenges when it comes to meeting aesthetic requirements. This is especially true when looking to specify the materials used on exterior balconies, where glass is often the preferred choice thanks to its contemporary look and feel.

Laminated glass had become a popular (and safer) substitute for the use of single-pane monolithic glass. With these new regulations in place, architects had to turn their attention to other materials for balcony construction. Alternatives, such as steel railings, may comply with the new regulations, but they do not always suit the visual requirements as dictated by the brief. While single-pane monolithic glass, despite meeting the fire regulations, presented major safety risks in the high-rise market, known to occasionally spontaneously break and once broken offer no failsafe level of safety.


A ‘compliant’ way forward

It is for all these reasons that a new kind of laminated toughened glass, using a chemically engineered non-flammable gel interlayer, is the safer choice.

Pyroguard Balustrades was designed to re-establish glass as an exterior design solution, suitable for those balustrade and balcony applications now deemed high risk by the regulations. Drawing on 35 years’ experience in fire safety glass, Pyroguard was able to develop a new intumescent gel interlayer to make a glass laminate that is inherently non-combustible, and therefore, compliant with the changes to Building Regulations Document B.

Pyroguard Balustrades was recently the product of choice at London’s Deanston Wharf, a vibrant new residential development located on the curve of the River Thames, featuring winter gardens. Formed of an enclosed, glazed and ventilated balcony, winter gardens are an architectural trend that has significantly grown in popularity over recent years, offering a striking external feature and year-round garden space.

For more information, please contact us.

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