Size mat­ters: Egress win­dows - do you have them?


Dur­ing my 10-plus years of per­form­ing pro­fes­sional home in­spec­tions and res­i­den­tial ren­o­va­tion projects, I have lit­er­ally been in hun­dreds of res­i­dences of vary­ing types from mo­bile homes, sin­gle fam­ily dwellings, apart­ment build­ings, stu­dent hous­ing con­ver­sions, etc.

I still get alarmed over the num­ber of res­i­dences I see that have sleep­ing quar­ters in ar­eas of the home whose win­dows do not meet Na­tional Build­ing Code and Na­tional Fire Code egress re­quire­ments.

The term egress lit­er­ally means a path or open­ing for go­ing out. An egress win­dow is one that is large enough for some­one to use as an exit. Most of us en­ter and exit a room through the door. But, in some cases, us­ing the door may not be pos­si­ble. For ex­am­ple, if the nor­mal exit is blocked by fire or heavy smoke then you may have to exit some other way. The win­dow can then be­come a life­sav­ing way out.

Few of us think of win­dows as life­sav­ing equip­ment, but they are. When you need to es­cape a house fire or an­other emer­gency, the right-sized egress win­dow can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death.

This is es­pe­cially true for up­stairs bed­rooms and base­ments, where the stair­way is of­ten the sole es­cape route. If that stair­way is blocked, you may be trapped.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Build­ing Code: “Ex­cept where the be­d­room is sprin­klered each be­d­room shall have at least one out­side win­dow or ex­te­rior door open­able from the in­side with­out the use of keys, tools or spe­cial knowl­edge and with­out the re­moval of sashes or hard­ware. The win­dow shall pro­vide an un­ob­structed open­ing of not less than 542 square inches in area with no di­men­sion less than 15 inches.”

Fur­ther, it is rec­om­mended that the sills of win­dows that can be used as emer­gency ex­its should not be higher than five feet above the floor. When it is dif­fi­cult to avoid hav­ing a higher sill, ac­cess to the win­dow should be im­proved by some means such as built in fur­ni­ture in­stalled be­low the win­dow.

When it comes to egress, not all win­dows are cre­ated equally. There are many win­dow styles than can meet egress re­quire­ments. Case­ment win­dows with hinged sashes that swing free and clear of the open­ing can be rel­a­tively small and still meet egress re­quire- ments. Dou­ble hung win­dows, even when fully open, still have more than half of the over­all area blocked by glass. This means a win­dow has to be much larger to meet egress re­quire­ments. Hor­i­zon­tal slid­ing win­dows are faced with the same lim­i­ta­tions as the dou­ble hung style. Awning win­dows make poor egress be­cause the cen­ter hard­ware gets in the way. Fi­nally, fixed win­dows are the least de­sir­able, most ob­vi­ously be­cause they do not open at all. I have seen fixed win­dows in bed­rooms on sev­eral oc­ca­sions; not only did they not open but they were too small to get out of.

The ar­eas most com­mon for win­dows not meet­ing egress re­quire­ments are base­ment bed­rooms, houses and for­mer re­tail spa­ces that have been con­verted to apart­ments, stu­dent hous­ing, and houses where home­own­ers re­placed win­dows and changed the win­dow to a smaller sized win­dow or to a less egress com­pli­ant style.

Many peo­ple ar­gue that an area is not clas­si­fied as a be­d­room if there is not a closet in it. I be­lieve a be­d­room is any room where some­one sleeps, whether it be in a bed, on a sofa or on a mat­tress on the floor. Many peo­ple also ar­gue that they are phys­i­cally small in stature and they can fit through a small win­dow. But, keep in mind that this win­dow is not only for you to get out of but for a fire­fighter in full gear with breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus on his/her back to get through to carry you out.

In as­sess­ing the egress of your win­dows, you may want to check with your home/build­ing in­sur­ance com­pany to see what their pol­icy is re­gard­ing egress win­dows.

Whether you are a home­owner, land­lord, ten­ant, or stu­dent hous­ing oc­cu­pant, we should all do our part in aid­ing ev­ery­one to sleep safely and soundly. So make it a point to­day to make sure that your win­dows mea­sure up be­cause, when it comes to win­dows, size does mat­ter.

Un­til next time, “know be­fore you buy”. Get a pro­fes­sional home in­spec­tion.

Up­com­ing col­umn top­ics in­clude Home Safe Home: Parts 1 & 2 and Choos­ing a Home In­spec­tor.

Ask the In­spec­tor is writ­ten by Richard Allen, a res­i­dent of Sackville and owner of In­tex Home In­spec­tions, In­tex Ren­o­va­tion Ser­vices, and a mem­ber of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Home and Prop­erty In­spec­tors. To read past ar­ti­cles go to­tex­home­in­spec­ This col­umn will an­swer reader’s ques­tions on any house topic, prob­lem, or ren­o­va­tion project. Have a ques

tion? Sub­mit it to richard@in­tex­home­in­spec­

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