Balconies are far more common than terraces in the city, but they also seem to be used far less. Why? To be succinct, because balconies are usually not as livable as terraces. While both offer highly-coveted access to private outdoor space, the difference between the two structures is more significant than most buyers and brokers realize.
The basic way to differentiate between the two also informs how people use them. Terraces are always perched on top of solid building as part of setbacks or rooftops. Balconies always jut out from the sides of buildings. Their setback/rooftop locations commonly make terraces more generous in size, leaving owners to enjoy their spaces behind substantial parapet walls without getting too close to the edge. Contrastingly, New York balconies are often fairly small and ringed only with waist-high railing. It can be hard to enjoy spending time in your outdoor space if you’re only a few feet from a steep drop; thus, balconies habitually go unused as acrophobic owners stay safely ensconced behind sturdy doors and windows.
The size and structure of terraces also gives them an advantage over balconies when it comes to year-round enjoyment. New York is cold for over half the year, and unlike terraces, many balconies aren’t structured conveniently or permitted properly for features that can make outdoor space inviting in colder temps. Terraces, by virtue of their size and setback/rooftop placement, tend to be easier to modify for all weather. Features like outdoor kitchens, hot tubs, sunrooms, greenhouses, fireplaces, heat lamps, shaded areas, and plantings help make terraces enjoyable year-round. Balconies, on the other hand, can’t normally accommodate these larger additions and modifications to help owners enjoy the outdoors during New York’s chillier months; what’s more, the city has become increasingly strict about regulating and actively opposing balcony additions and temporary enclosures, sometimes even requiring building permits just to put up screens.
Another distinguishing factor between balconies and terraces is privacy—or lack thereof. Balconies are commonly grouped next to or on top of one another and share their privacy with all those in the immediate vicinity. Because of their setback/rooftop placement, terraces normally aren’t as closely flanked by other residents’ outdoor space. It can be hard to relax when your neighbors are only a few feet away; in some cases, even passers-by on the street can look up and see beyond a balcony’s waist-level railing or screen. Most terraces are shielded from prying eyes and ears by parapet walls and setback designs and regularly have more space to install additional privacy features (such as trees, fences, umbrellas and more).
Terraces also have the clear advantage when it comes to entertaining. Where terraces are generally more sizable and comfortable for parties or get-togethers, balconies are oftentimes too compact to safely hold more than 1-2 guests. Terraces have the space for (and most often the city’s authorization to use) grills or outdoor kitchens, and can also hold large tables, chairs, and couches for guests. Balconies, on the other hand, can be tricky to outfit with furniture for more than 2 or 3; what’s more, in order to be safe and compliant with city regulations, most buildings don’t allow grills or other outdoor kitchen features on balconies.
Balconies are still great places to privately enjoy the city’s outdoors in good weather and small groups, but for those seeking comfortable, private outdoor space made for year-round enjoyment and entertaining, terraces are a better choice. Balconies’ closely-clustered placement, non-setback structure and smaller size tend to make them less usable than terraces. The privacy, stability, size and flexibility of terraces elevates them (literally and figuratively) over other outdoor spaces in the city.