Safety Reminder – The Dangers of Careless Smoking on Balconies

Smoking on Balcony

By: Debbie Anderson, Property Manager, Toronto

From the WB Condo Connection, Volume 8, Issue 3

All residents who choose to smoke need to make safe choices when extinguishing smoking materials. In multi-residential buildings, many people are at risk when a smoker fails to properly extinguish something that so obviously can start a fire. In condominiums where one unit is above another, it is unacceptable and dangerous to allow hot embers and cigarette butts to land on balconies below and be a potential fire hazard.

Residents need to be reminded if smoking on their balcony, it is their responsibility to make sure their cigarette butts are put out properly and not to leave ashtrays with ashes and cigarette ends on the balcony. Many residents may not know that potted plants are not a suitable ashtray as they can catch fire.

“Fires on exterior balconies are significantly more dangerous than those that occur inside the building”

Balcony fires in highrises can be damaging, dangerous and deadly. A study of multi-residential buildings in British Columbia found that fires on exterior balconies are significantly more dangerous than those that occur inside the building:

  • these types of fires are 5.5 times less likely to activate a smoke alarm
  • due to delays in detection, damages are 2.4 times greater.

The Wellesley Street fire in Toronto in 2010 affected more than 600 residents and caused in excess of $1 million in damages. The fire started after a discarded cigarette landed on a balcony.

How can a Board and Management deal with careless smoking on balconies? In the interests of building safety, residents should be encouraged to immediately report any incidents of careless smoking they witness. Offenders can be held responsible for the replacement cost of damaged items. The Fire Department can also be contacted to take appropriate action. Criminal charges can be laid under the “Fire Prevention and Protection Act” as well as the “Ontario Fire Code” for improper disposal of cigarettes. Boards and Management may consider having a “Fire Safety Information Night” for their residents and invite a member of the local Fire Prevention Department to speak.

Some Condominium Developers now include a “No Smoking” provision in the Declaration to ban smoking in the building in general. Some condominium Boards have chosen to deal with the issue of careless balcony smoking by implementing a Building Rule prohibiting smoking on all balconies. In British Columbia, numerous balcony fires have prompted them to review their Building Code to consider if balconies should be included in the sprinkler system.

What smokers do with their cigarettes is a choice; they need to be responsible when disposing of cigarettes – they are literally playing with fire.