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 to www.intexhomeinspections.ca. This column will answer reader’s questions on any house topic, problem, or renovation project. Have a ques
tion? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.