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California SB 721: The “Deck and Balcony Inspection” Bill

In September 2018, a bill commonly referred to as the “deck and balcony inspection” bill (Senate Bill No. 721) was approved in California, establishing inspection for exterior elevated elements and their associated waterproofing elements of multi-unit residential buildings with three or more dwelling units. This took effect on January 1, 2019, and was in response to a 2015 balcony collapse in Berkeley, California, that killed six people and injured seven. An investigation into the collapse indicated that poor construction methods, deviations from design documents during construction, and water damage/dry rot caused the balcony to collapse.

If you are a building owner or design team in design or construction on a building subject to the new regulations, Nova can help with building envelope consultation and construction administration services.

Does your building have elements requiring inspection?

  1. Is the building multifamily, with three or more dwelling units in the state of California?
  2. Does the building have elevated exterior walking surfaces (over six feet above ground level) that extend from and beyond the exterior walls of the building?
  3. Are the exterior elevated walking surfaces supported by wood products? According to SB 721, “exterior elevated element” means the following types of structures, including their supports and railings: balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures that extend beyond exterior walls of the building and which have a walking surface that is elevated more than six feet above ground level, are designed for human occupancy or use, and rely in whole or in substantial part on wood or wood-based products for structural support stability of the exterior elevated element. Note that many wood-framed decks and balconies have concrete wear surfaces (or topping slabs) and might not be obviously wood-framed.

If the answer to any of these questions is no, SB 721 inspections might not be required. Full text of the senate bill can be found here. Note that there are no inspection exceptions for buildings based on age. 

If the subject property does have exterior elevated elements requiring inspection, Nova recommends the following steps to the building owner:

  • Contact Nova to discuss potential inspection for your property. The professional performing the inspection must be hired by the building owner and can include:
    • California licensed Architects and/or Engineers (Civil or Structural)
    • Certain individuals certified as a building inspector or building official
    • California building contractors with specific license classifications and experience
  • Develop an inspection plan for the property that identifies all of the exterior elevated elements and an inspection scope for each element. SB 721 will require 15 percent of elevated walkways, stairs, balconies, and decks to be inspected via direct visual observation of connections (e.g., removal of cladding, soffits, etc., to view the wood connections) every six years at the owner’s expense.
  • Your first inspection must be completed by January 1, 2025. Following the initial inspection, additional inspections are required at a frequency of every six years. Unless your building was inspected (the inspection must comply with the requirements of SB 721) after January 1, 2016, then no new inspections are required until January 1, 2025. It should also be noted that some other states and even some municipalities in California (e.g., Berkley, San Francisco, etc.) require building envelope inspections on a different, sometimes more frequent basis than SB 721.

Pricing for building envelope inspection services varies widely and is dependent on several factors, including access to construction documents, contractor assistance to remove and reinstate envelope components for direct inspection of connection components, access requirements to achieve minimum required number of observations, and types of building envelope components. If an inspection identifies damage, safety risks must be mitigated or controlled immediately, while non-immediate risks require the repair process to commence within 120 days of receipt of the inspection report by the building owner.

Questions?

For more information or questions about your specific requirements, please contact:

Robert M. Jackson, IV | PE, Equity Group Lead

Robert has over 25 years of experience in construction, engineering, and project management. Utilizing dual undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and economics, his diverse background includes construction, design, oversight, contract administration, due diligence, and building envelope commissioning. He also has experience with expert witness/construction defect work in mechanical, plumbing, and fire protection systems; building envelopes; and energy efficiency. Robert is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Oregon and based in the Portland area of the Pacific Northwest.

E-mail: Robert.Jackson@novaconsulting.com
Phone: 503-201-0453

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