The Building Regulations, Building Code of Australia and Australian Standards outline the safe construction of buildings and requirements for balconies, balustrades, handrails and fences. Smoke alarms are now compulsory in all residential buildings.
Balconies, Balustrades and Handrails In the last few years balcony collapses in several states and territories have resulted in a number of injuries and deaths. Therefore, all home owners and commercial property owners with balconies should ensure that it is inspected regularly and any required maintenance undertaken.
What can affect balconies
There are many items you as a building owner should be aware of that can affect the structural adequacy of a balcony over time. These may include:
- Termites - Timbers can be affected by insect attack. In areas of termite risk, the appropriate timber and treatment are needed, regardless of whether the council has declared the area likely to be subject to termite attack.
- Wet rot - Timber is affected by water. Wet rot occurs when a timber member is in constant contact with the ground or another timber member in the presence of moisture.
- Seaside and corrosive effects - Corrosive environments can affect unprotected steel structures, reinforcing steel and fixings such as bolts and fixing plates particularly in areas near coastlines.
- Loadings - Large pots, water features and the like, provide additional loads for a balcony to support, for which the balcony may not have been designed.
As a safety measure, all home owners and commercial property owners with balconies should ensure that:
- It is constructed following the issue of a building permit
- It is inspected on a regular basis for any warning signs of potential collapse
- A maintenance program is introduced to extend its design life, and
- Where there is a doubt or a problem, an inspection by a Structural Engineer or other suitably qualified building practitioner, and remedial measures, as necessary, are arranged.
There are a number of building practitioners who have the skills to inspect balconies and provide advice on their safety and maintenance. These include:
- Building Surveyors
- Building Inspectors
- Structural Engineers
When balustrades or handrails are required
Balustrade or handrails must be provided along the side of any stairway or ramp, any floor, corridor, hallway, balcony, verandah, or the like, and along the side of any path to a building if it is not bounded by a wall and the surface level beneath is more than one metre away.
This requirement applies to a bedroom window opening if the window opening is 2 metres or more above the surface level below.
Construction of balustrades or handrails
Balustrade or other barrier must be installed in accordance with the following:
The height must not be less than-
a) 1 m above the floor of any access path, balcony, landing or the like; or
b) 865 mm above the nosing of the stair treads or the floor of a ramp
A transition zone may be incorporated where the balustrade or other barrier height changes from 865 mm on the stair flight or ramp to 1 m at the landing.
Openings in balustrades
Openings in balustrades (including decorative balustrades) or other barriers must be constructed so that any opening does not permit a 125 mm sphere to pass through it and for stairs, the space is tested above the nosing line.
Finished floor level
Where the finished floor level is more than 4 m above the surface beneath, any horizontal elements within the balustrade or other barrier between 150 mm and 760 mm above the floor must not facilitate climbing.
For this purpose, a wire balustrade consist of a series of tensioned wire rope connected to either vertical or horizontal supports. A wire balustrade excludes wire mesh fences and the like.
Where wire balustrade is proposed to be used, it must be constructed in accordance with Clause 22.214.171.124 of Volume 2 of the Building Code of Australia.
The handrails and balustrading information sheet contains post spacing, wire spacing and wire types, tension and deflection requirements for vertical and horizontal wire balustrades systems. The figures contained in the information sheet are an extract from the Building Code of Australia and were derived from testing the spacing combinations in order to prevent the passage of a 125 mm diameter solid cone penetrating between the wires at a predetermined force.
Care needs to be taken to ensure that wire tension will be maintained during the life of the balustrade. In some situations, it may be necessary to incorporate "lock-off" devices to prevent loosening of the wire. Likewise, if a threaded anchor bears against a soft wood post or rail, the anchor may indent the post or rail, thus loosening the wire.
Temperature effects on the tension of the wire may be significant but there is little that can be done to allow for temperature variation in service. The shorter the wire span, the lesser the effect will be.
Dangerous Front Fences
This may include a front fence or side fence facing a street, road or public space that is structurally unsound.
Any dilapidated or unsound common/dividing fence between properties that bounds and forms part of a swimming pool/spa is also considered an immediate danger that must be reported.
Council's Building Department will investigate common/dividing boundary fences relating to the following issues only:
- A fence considered by the Municipal Building Surveyor to be a danger to the public or occupants (this generally does not relate trellises or screening added to a fence or to a standard lightweight construction timber or metal (Colorbond) fence unless it forms part of a swimming pool/spa enclosure)
- Dangerous, dilapidated or illegal common/dividing boundary fences forming part of a swimming pool/spa enclosure
- Brick fences or illegal fences on the street boundary built without a Building Permit.
Front Fence (not a Corner Fence)
If you wish to build a front fence on your property you must first decide what materials you will use as this affects the regulation height of your fence.
You will require a Building Permit to build the following types of fence
- Colorbond and timber front fence higher than 1.5 m
- Brick front fence higher than 1.2 m
For further information check the Fact Sheet for Corner and Front Fences.
To apply for a Building Permit, you will need to provide us with the following:
- Maximum boundary wall length and height if the fence is greater than 1.5 m high
- Application for a Building Permit form
- Architectural plans - view the Example Plan of a Front Fence
- Copy of Certificate of Title
If you have an easement at the front of your property, you will need to complete the Application to Build Over Easement.
Corner properties have extra requirements for front and side fences.
Fences can only be up to:
- 1 m high within 9 m of the point of intersection
- 1.5 m on the front boundary
- 2 m on the side boundary
- of 2m (with a building permit) on declared roads.
The standard height for boundary fences between adjoining properties can be up to 2 metres in height. Fences outside of these heights will require a Report & Consent from Council, as well as a Building Permit.
A declared road is defined as: a freeway or an arterial road within the meaning of the Road Management Act 2004. Check the list of Declared Roads in Darebin.
Dividing or Common Boundary Fences
Side fences can be up to 1.5 m high within the first 3 meters of your front property boundary, and increase to 2 m from that first point onwards without a Building Permit.
You will require a building permit for any fences higher than these limits, and whenever it is proposed to vary from the building regulations through the Report and Consent Approval process.
If the dividing/common boundary fence also acts as part of enclosure of a spa or swimming pool, a Building Permit is required regardless of height. View the 'Swimming Pools and Spas page'.
Common/Dividing boundary fences are generally governed under the Fencing Act and are a civil issue. Council's Building Department has no jurisdiction on matters relating to a common fence where a Building Permit is not required.
Disputes Settlement Centre of Victoria
Ph: 1300 372 888
Law Institute of Victoria
Ph: (03) 9607 9311
Neighbouring Property Owner Details
Our Customer Service staff can assist in providing the name and mailing address of neighbouring property owners in regard to Notice to Fence. To obtain these details, please contact our Customer Service Officers on (03) 8470 8888.
The information we provide can only be used for fencing matters stated on the application form. No other personal information will be provided about the neighbour.
These issues are a civil matter dealt with the owners under the Fencing Act, which is not a Council matter. The following services may be able to assist:
Smoke alarms are compulsory in all residential buildings including houses, units, flats, boarding houses, hostels and accommodation for the aged. All smoke alarms must be connected to the mains power with a battery back-up (unless the building was constructed prior to 1 August 1997, where battery operated smoke alarms are acceptable).
It is important that your smoke alarms are checked and maintained on a regular basis. All smoke alarms must comply with Australian Standard AS3786.
Smoke alarms must be installed on or near the ceiling of every storey of a building. Smoke alarms are intended to detect smoke before it reaches people sleeping in a building. Therefore they must be located in a position designed to wake sleeping occupants up and in time to evacuate a building.
The regulation requires a smoke alarm be located between each area containing bedrooms and the remainder of the building such as hallways or within 1.5m of the entrance to each bedroom.
An alarm is required on every storey, located in the path of travel people will most likely take to evacuate the building. This will ensure an alarm is activated before smoke makes the common exit path impassable. Alarms must be centrally located and audible to all areas not immediately connected to the main story.
Lodge your application
You can lodge a Consent application and pay the application fee in the following ways:
- Online - Applications can be lodged through eServices.
- In person - Applications can be lodged at our Building Services Unit counter located on Level 1, 274 Gower Street, Preston between the hours of 8:45am and 4:45pm, Monday to Friday (except public holidays).
- My mail - Applications, along with the relevant application fee can be lodged by mail to:
Building Services Unit
Darebin City Council
PO Box 91
Ph: (03) 8470 8899