It’s incredibly difficult to sell a unit without a balcony — an outdoor space to enjoy with friends and family is at the top of many buyers’ wish lists.

But too often balconies are poorly designed and end up being little more than outdoor storage space. And since they’re expensive to build, they become a burden rather than an asset.

So how can developers create balconies that people will actually use?


A balcony that’s exposed to a noisy street will only be used for short times, and a minimal standing balcony will suffice. If, however, the street is busy with pedestrian activity, people can enjoy it in spite of the noise and a large balcony is warranted.

Cut down on the wind

People won’t want to use a windy balcony, but high floors are usually exposed to strong winds. To cut down on wind impact, build recessed balconies (balconies set in the surrounding wall), or protect the sides of cantilevered balconies with full height glass. When this isn’t enough, balconies can made almost fully enclosed.


Even in cold climates, shading from heat and glare is important. South facing balconies can be easily shaded by deep balconies above them. East and west-facing balconies can’t be shaded in this way because of the low sun, and require patio blinds for protection.


The smallest usable depth for a standing balcony is 1.5 to 2 feet. At 3 feet, two people can sit for coffee. 6 feet allow four people to sit around a dining table. Going from 6 to 8 feet will make it more comfortable, but any deeper is mostly only useful when hosting large groups.

A recent study on raising children in tall buildings by the City of Toronto suggests minimum dimensions of 2.4 metres (approximately 8 feet) deep by 2.7 metres (approximately 22 feet) wide.


Privacy is normally not an issue with balconies. The exception is when two close buildings are facing in each other, and then, opaque or semi-opaque railings can be created from concrete, frosted glass or dense latticework.

Adding protection

By default, most balconies in new buildings are very exposed: they protrude from the building face and have glass railings. This is good since a fully protruding balcony is better than a fully recessed one, as it allows for better views.

However, when balconies are deep enough, partially recessed designs are even better. Such balconies provide protection from the weather on the one hand, and a 180-degree view on the other.

The opacity of the railing is also important. A transparent railing allows you to look outside while sitting, which is important on high floors, since there might not be much to see at eye level. On lower floors, opaque railings provide privacy from neighbouring buildings, while still providing the owner with a view.
Balconies Relation to the unit 1.01


Where the balcony is located within the unit makes a big difference. A balcony that is accessed from the living room or the kitchen will feel more welcoming and will be used more often than one that’s connected through a bedroom. Forcing guests to walk through someone’s bedroom to access the balcony is uncomfortable and will result in lower use.


Don’t worry too much about the view — while it is nice to have a beautiful view from the balcony, it is definitely not necessary. People mostly use balconies to spend time outdoors, not to see the same view that they can see from the inside of their unit.

Here are some great examples of balconies that work from a few around the world:

Balconies in Copenhagen, Photo: Naama Blonder

Balconies in Copenhagen, Photo: Naama Blonder

Balconies in Copenhagen, Photo: Naama Blonder

Balconies in Montreal, Photo: Naama Blonder

Naama Blonder and Misha Bereznyak are architects at the Toronto-based urban design firm Smart Density.

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