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What is the Expert Advisory Panel on Glass Panels in Balcony Guards?

In summer 2011, there were several incidents of falling balcony glass in the City of Toronto.

The City of Toronto requested that Ontario make an emergency amendment to the Building Code in order to help reduce the likelihood of more glass falling from newly constructed buildings.

In winter 2011, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, which oversees the development of Ontario’s Building Code, established the Expert Advisory Panel on Glass Panels in Balcony Guards.

The Panel was composed of 25 members from various stakeholder organizations including: engineering consultants, building code consultants, developers and contractors, professional designers, building inspectors and municipal officials, the insurance sector, and codes and standards writing bodies.

The Panel was asked to review the existing requirements for glass panels in balcony guards and to recommend whether and how to amend the Building Code. They issued a report which included seven recommendations to the ministry for consideration.

The government has accepted all of the recommendations and has amended Ontario’s Building Code to incorporate a new Supplementary Standard related to the design and installation of glass balcony guards.

What were the recommendations?

The Expert Advisory Panel recommended that the Building Code be amended to require specific types of glass be used and installed in a prescribed manner dependent on where the glass balcony guard is located on a balcony.

Read the Expert Advisory Panel’s Report.

What does this amendment mean?

The amendment means that there are new requirements that builders must adhere to when using glass in balcony guards.

The amendment specifies the type of glass that must be used depending on whether the glass is set in from the edge of a balcony or protrudes over the edge and how it must be installed.

The types of glass now prescribed within the Building Code for use in glass balcony guards (6 mm tempered glass, heat-strengthened laminated glass and heat-soaked tempered glass) are already being manufactured. These types of glass are less likely to break due to force or temperature variances. In the event that these types of glass do shatter they are manufactured to break into very small pieces and/or remain within the framing (like a car windshield).

Will this amendment increase building costs?

Estimates suggest that this amendment will increase the cost of an average condominium unit by less than one per cent.

How will this amendment impact buildings already under construction?

The amendment will not impact buildings already under construction.

Builders who receive building permits on July 1, 2012 or after will be required to comply with the amendment.

Why isn’t this change retroactive for all buildings?

The Building Code applies only to new construction and major renovations. It does not generally apply to existing buildings.  Existing buildings are not required to be retrofitted to new requirements.

The cost implications to the building industry, including condominium boards, to replace all existing glass balcony guards would be significant and the instances of tempered glass breaking are rare.

It is important to remember that Municipalities currently have the authority to inspect and issue work orders where necessary where they determine buildings are unsafe – and the City of Toronto has used this authority when dealing with the failure of glass balcony guards.

Why is this considered only an “interim solution”?

The ministry wanted to work quickly to provide a solution that would help enhance public safety while being technically sound and reasonably cost-effective. This “interim solution” will increase the safety of glass balcony guards immediately while the government participates in further technical research.

The government will support the work of the Canadian Standards Association in the development of a technical standard for glass panels in balcony guards. Once this standard is finalized, the ministry will consider referencing it in the Building Code.

CSA’s goal is to release this new Standard within a 24- to 36-month timeframe at which time the ministry will consider referencing the standard. This was a recommendation of the Expert Advisory Panel.

What should I do if I think my balcony is unsafe?

Owners of existing condo units should discuss any concerns they may have with their condo board or with their municipal building officials.

Going forward, the Code amendments will help increase the safety of glass balcony guards in all new construction. These requirements are not applicable to existing buildings.

In addition, municipalities have the ability under the Building Code Act, 1992 to address unsafe conditions in existing buildings. This includes carrying out inspections and issuing work orders to remedy unsafe conditions that have been identified. The City of Toronto, for example, has used these powers to address the issue of balcony glass failures in several buildings.