Balcony Inspection Vents-What Are They, What Do They Do and Are They Worth It?

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We’ve seen a lot of hype over balcony inspection vents here in California. This new product is the result of the SB 326 & SB 721 Balcony Inspection bills that were passed after the deaths of 7 young adults and severe injuries to 6 who survived the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley in 2015.

Essentially balcony inspection vents are designed to be installed in a retrofit or on new construction across the bays on a deck, most are set up with a piano hinge that allows the vent to be opened and the joists and substrate can be observed. Several other less expensive types require the vent to be pulled down after removing several screws.

We found five balcony inspection vent manufacturer’s on a Google search, they being Brandguard Vents, Balcony Inspection Vents Inc, Stockton Products, Brand X Metals and Thunderbird Products.

an example of a balcony inspection vent installed.
Thunderbird Products vent

Overall we are more impressed with the Brandguard Vents and Thunderbird Products balcony inspection vents because they are made of stainless steel. The Brandguard vent is on a hinge, the Thunderbird needs to be dropped down after removing several screws. We like the hinge as screws are easy to lose.

The Balcony Inspection vent is very nice too, it has a 1/4 turn lock that one uses a flat blade screwdriver to turn it and swing the vent down. The material is steel which without paint will rust.

Since new California codes require balcony soffits be vented, for new construction a builder should definitely put one of these systems in on every deck at the front and back. Knowing builders they will install the bare minimum…

On older construction, if your balconies aren’t vented, should you put these in? On one hand yes, but cost is going to be a factor for many HOA’s. There are other options, but they may not be as good as this choice of vents.

Since future inspections are required every 9 years, going forward with this may eliminate some need for destructive testing of the stucco or siding to expose framing. Howeve, it may not, as all this does is allow you to see the cavity. But it does not allow you to see the outside edge of any load carrying beams which is covered with stucco or siding of some sort.

Costs of installation will run pretty high, there’s lots of work needed to get these into existing work, and the cost of the vents aren’t cheap. Make sure the vents you buy are ember resistant and meet code for your municipality. Some cities have stricter requirements than the state codes do.