brokenbalconyglass The following is a guest post by Marc P. Kemerer a partner with Blaney McMurtry LLP in the firm’s Planning and Expropriation law group and the Architectural/Construction/Engineering Services (ACES) Group. Marc has acted for a number of large developers and regularly provides strategic and legal advice on large residential, condominium, retail/commercial and subdivision developments.

In our December 15, 2011 blog story on BuzzBuzzHome we reported on the issue of “glass panel failure” at Toronto condominium sites, where glass from balcony panels shattered onto the street below, causing immediate safety concerns for  occupants, pedestrians and persons using the commercial/retail podium terraces below.  

In response to this rash of panel failures, the City of Toronto retained an independent engineer to review the issue and to meet with representatives of the developers of the buildings where the failures had occurred. That engineer concluded that improvements were required in the design of the balcony guards incorporating glass and the Ontario Building Code (the “Code”) performance load and material standards for glass panels.

As amendments to the Code fall under Provincial jurisdiction, the City requested that the Province take action by amending the Code to address this issue. The Province responded by establishing an Expert Panel on Glass Panels in Balcony Guards (the “Panel”). The Panel, which was comprised of 25 representatives from industry stakeholders, reported back to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing last month with a number of recommendations, including “that the [Code] be amended to provide supplementary prescriptive requirements for all glazing in interior and exterior guards in all buildings, except houses”.

The Province has acted on the Panel’s report by implementing amendments to the Code effective 1 July 2012 to require the use of heat-strengthened laminated glass (which is less prone to shatter) when glass is close to the edge of a balcony, and heat-strengthened laminated glass or heat-soaked tempered glass where glass balcony guards are inset from the edge of the balcony.

Such glass is more expensive than the tempered or laminated glass previously required under the Code. Accordingly, it will now cost more for developers to fashion the clean modernist look that increasingly characterizes high rise condominium buildings. This is a cost that will likely be passed on to the consumer seeking out this aesthetic.  At the same time, it will mean that the purchaser will have less to worry about while using that balcony.

It is important to note that these new requirements are considered by the Province to be temporary, “an interim solution…while the Canadian Standards Association develops a national standards for glass panels in balcony guards”.

Compliance with these requirements is on a go-forward basis from 1 July 2012. Existing buildings are not required to retrofit to the new Code requirements, although many developers who are retrofitting buildings experiencing this problem will need to pay heed to these new standards to avoid potential litigation.

This story was modified from its original form which appeared in the Blaneys on Building July 2012 newsletter.

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