In social and family gatherings, balconies and decks make for the perfect location. It can provide friends, families, co-workers, and other visitors the space to gather their thoughts, breathe some fresh air, or otherwise escape from the noise of the gathering. As for city dwellers and condo communities, balconies and decks are relaxing elements of the living space that allow for outdoor enjoyment and time in the sun. However, balconies and decks present their risks to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. With their zero sense of the dangers that come with falling from a height, they may easily end up trapped between railings or slip through and fall. This indicates, thus, that baby proofing balcony and decks is downright essential.
Since baby proofing balcony could mean the difference between life and death, here are some really good ideas on how to do it:
1. Restrict balcony access completely;
2. Safeguard the railings;
3. Replace wide gap rails with narrow gap rails;
4. Use vertical railings;
5. Adhere to proper railing height;
6. Modify existing features; and
7. Be extra vigilant.
Along with the products that you can use for baby proofing balcony, it is understood that this guide can reduce the chances of injury and can help provide a safer home for your baby. However, the effectiveness of this guide depends on your commitment to follow all the instructions and installing the suggested products properly. Also, keep in mind when considering your baby’s safety in balconies and decks that there is still no replacement for parent supervision. Even with safety measures in, never leave your baby unattended in the balcony or deck area at home.
Begin baby proofing balcony by following these safety measures:
Restrict balcony access completely
The best way to prevent accidental falls is to make the balcony area as inaccessible to your baby as possible. You can close the entry to the balcony with a door and only open it when you need to use the balcony. Some use a sling door as an obstacle for baby entry, but a solid door with a lock promises lesser access.
Safeguard the railings
A safe balcony railing should have uprights that are no more than 4 inches apart to prevent your baby from wiggling through. The railing should be secured enough on the balcony and should not sway when there are attempts to move it.
While railings aren’t inherently safe for your baby, safeguarding options are there to help you. One way to add extra uprights to your balcony railing is by using plastic wire. Plastic wire is very flexible and can be attached to the balcony railing with cable ties. It will help keep your baby on the balcony without being able to push between the railing uprights. However, plastic wires may not match the design of your balcony railing and may even look cheap. If you want to keep your balcony looking good, find something that looks much better.
A better-looking solution is to replace the balcony grill with a transparent screen that is durable and can withstand high stress. This will deter your baby from lunging forward, but the transparency will still maintain the deck’s view and aesthetics. In case your railing cannot be replaced with a transparent screen for whatever reason, use aluminum to cover the railing or any hard mesh that is made of steel. The tougher the sheet, the better it is.
Replace wide gap railings with narrow gap railings
In most grills or railings, there is always a wide gap in between each vertical railing. If your baby is too small and too thin to fit through the gap, the railing may pose serious risks. To resolve this, replace the wide gap railings with narrow gap railings. These are available in the market and require the help of a professional during the installation process.
Use vertical railings
Many balconies are fitted with horizontal railings due to the fact that it gives a more aesthetically pleasing look. However, your baby can be very experimental and can slip in between each of the horizontal railings. Another case that proves horizontal railings to be fatal for your baby is that it can be used as steps to climb over the parapet of the balcony or deck. Your baby may lose his balance when he reaches the top of the parapet and may fall from such a height. Hence, it is safer to use vertical railings in place of horizontal railings. The proper distance between vertical railings should measure a maximum of four inches, both between bottom rails and deck floors and between indoor railings and outdoor railings.
When baby proofing the railings, do not forget to make external stairs as much safer. When there are stairs that lead down to your balcony or deck, put a baby gate that has a baby-proofed latching mechanism. To maintain the theme that you are trying to achieve, buy the baby gate that matches the design of your balcony and deck railings. You can also use door locks and door latches to secure that all door entries leading to the balcony and deck are secured.
As for the safest material for your balcony and deck railings, choose the material that can withstand wear and tear over a long period of time. It should also withstand great force such as the weight of you or your baby leaning against it. The recommended material to go for is metal since it has anti-rust properties that last under rough weather conditions. Whether the metal is made of wrought iron or stainless steel, it should be reasonable in price and not cost you a comb.
Adhere to proper railing height
Even when the railings are properly secured, your baby can still climb over them when you have the wrong railing height requirement. As required by the International Residence Code (IRC), the balcony railings at residential homes should measure at least 36 inches high to be legal. This is the minimum height to be maintained because babies under 5 years old are below 36 feet. But as they grow, this height may not suffice. For extra precaution, increase the height of the railings beyond 36 feet so that there is no need to increase and make changes in the future. In this way, you can save some time and resources while still ensuring your baby’s safety.
Modify extra features
Another alternative to making the balcony railings safe is to make some modifications out of it. For example, you can add spindles and vertical slots and fill in the railing gaps. By doing so, the balcony railing is already baby proofed.
Be extra vigilant
Extra modifications in your balcony railings, as well as safety devices, make it impossible for your baby to climb over the balcony. However, your baby is always experimental, and your safety precautions may not work anymore as time goes by. In order to ensure that your baby is left with no chance to experiment much, be an extra vigilant parent.
Your baby only needs a second to slip away due to his unlimited curiosity. If you are at a friend’s house or at a hotel, you won’t have the opportunity to close gaps within railings or depend on door safety alarms when there are none. Under these special circumstances, keep your baby off the balcony or deck completely.
What are the Safety Products for Balconies and Decks?
Plexiglas or Lexan
This durable and transparent material can be a good option for baby proofing balcony. It offers a great deal of safety, but it will still preserve the aesthetics of your balcony. Compared to other materials, Plexiglas or Lexan is generally unavailable over the counter and should be specially ordered. It is more expensive and requires a professional installer, but its baby proofing capacity is definitely promising.
Before you buy sheets of the Plexiglas or Lexan, measure first the height and length of the balcony railing. If the Plexiglas or Lexan sold in the market are too large to fit your balcony railing, you will need to cut it to size using a circular straw. It is recommended to prepare 2 sheets of Plexiglas as this is the usual number to cater and make up for the length of most balconies.
Drill a series of ¼ inch holes around the edges of the Plexiglas sheets before you remove its protective plastic cover. Then hold it in place and make sure that the gaps do not exceed 2 inches all around. Secure it by putting cable ties through all the holes you’ve created. This baby proofing product will last until 3 years without slipping.
Transparent Balcony Shield
Unlike the Plexiglas or Lexan, this material is cheaper and can be installed easily. It comes in a roll from the market. You can fairly maneuver it by using scissors when trimming to fit the size you need.
Deck netting is durable and made from plastic mesh that is intended for outdoor use. It is not difficult to install with its lightweight material, and you can cut it quite easily using scissors. When installing, use screws or plastic cord ties and secure them directly to the deck floor. It is not recommended to use staples as it can become loose eventually and become a choking hazard to your baby.
What makes this safety product preferable is that it has specially designed anchorage strips that are placed along the perimeter of the area to be protected. The net panel also makes an effective barrier.
This material is hung over a greenhouse to provide a shady screen from between 5% and 95%. It is a good option for discouraging your baby from climbing on the railings while still giving an aesthetically pleasing view and some light shade.
This strip is made of flat plastic with a prickly texture that can be glued or tied perfectly on top of the balcony railing. The prickly texture is aimed at ensuring that your baby cannot take support from to top of the railing and attempt to climb up. Since it is transparent, you do not have to worry about affecting your balcony and view deck.
With all the safety products mentioned above, it is still not a good idea for your baby to roam freely on the balcony. The reason for this is that your baby will make her way into growing container plants at some point. The same goes for the patio furniture within the balcony. It is either your baby will try to play and eat the dirt from the plants or use the patio furniture as a support to climb over the railing. The role of playpens in helping you with this issue is to secure your baby in an area within the balcony, making sure that he has no access to growing container plants and patio furniture.
Baby Safety Gate
You will have to block complete access to your balcony and deck by using a baby safety gate. A pressure-mounted gate is recommended so that you can easily remove it from the doorway in case you are not using it for the day. There is no need for you to drill holes because baby safety gates usually come pre-assembled and installed without any professional help.
Door Safety Alarms
Part of baby proofing balcony is to use safety alarms available for baby proofing doors in your home that lead to balconies and decks. Some of these alarms make a buzz or a loud noise when the door is opened, alarming you that your baby is about to enter the forbidden premises. Most door safety alarms run on regular batteries, and there are a variety of options to choose from in the market today.
However, you baby proof your balcony and deck areas, always follow the installment guidelines. When baby proofing products are already in place, make sure to provide proper maintenance and safety checks. Even when your baby seems too young to understand, it is still important to consistently explain the implications and dangers of playing in the balcony and deck areas without your supervision.
Are there applicable building codes to abide by when using balcony and deck railings?
The answer is a resounding yes. Railings and handrails are not optional and even required on any open-sided walking surface above 30 inches off the ground. What constitutes a completely safe railing is that it adheres to all public building codes. The rules and regulations for railing vary depending on the location- residential building, commercial building, stairway, deck, among others. But, what these regulations have in common is that all specify important criteria regarding the following: height of the railing, openings of the interior section, required handrails, and distance of the bottom rail from the surface beneath. Know your local building codes and trust that the possible requirements are established by certified professionals, ensuring complete correctness and safety.
Where can I purchase good quality balcony and deck railings?
If you do not have enough construction skills, never attempt to do a DIY railing. With one simple mistake, you could endanger the life of your baby or anyone who leans upon that rail. Instead, purchase your railing from a reputable company. A little search about the best railing suppliers and manufacturers can go a long way, but that is nothing compared to ensuring your family’s safety.
What are the best materials for the balcony and deck railings?
- Aluminum. This lightweight metal has excellent structural properties that make it an excellent material for balcony and deck railings. However, laziness to maintain it with proper care and ignorance in installation can create circumstances for this material to fail. For example, some opt for cheaper fasteners and skip coated washers due to a mistaken belief that aluminum will not corrode. To their surprise, it results in galvanic corrosion where the railing corrodes while the steel bolts that are holding it in place rust.
- Stainless Steel. The reason why stainless steel is now used more widely is that it has chromium that forms an invisible, rust-proof layer of chromium oxide that prevents it from corroding even when subjected to harsh conditions.
- Regular Steel. Among all of the material options, regular steel is the most versatile. It is reported to weigh and support more than aluminum. It can also be more flexible and stronger than stainless steel as long as heat is treated properly. When it comes to cost, regular steel is relatively inexpensive. The only downside of this material is that it rusts, but there are a variety of ways to care for its rusting ability.
- Glass. In modern homes, glass railings are the new development. It comes with tempered glass panes or balusters that are suspended by posts and clamps. This makes a great advantage for homeowners who are keen to open up views. The single-pane version also acts as balcony or deck railing windbreak when suspended on a high-rise balcony.