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Window Safety

Windows are for safe ventilation and light, but they are also for escape in case of emergency.
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Upper-story windows should be high enough to keep children from falling out, but easily accessed for exit and emergency rescue.

Windows must keep children safely inside but allow escape in case of a fire. It’s important to review window openings, access, screens and security measures to ensure that your windows will keep the family safe in all situations.

Escape and Rescue Openings
The primary escape route during a home fire is through the front door to the outside. Windows in sleeping and living areas of a home are the secondary means of escape. These windows need to be large enough for a firefighter, dressed in full protective gear, to get into the house and bring someone out.

The National Fire Protection Association develops and proposes safety and building codes for local jurisdictions to adopt. Its NFPA 101 Life Safety Code prescribes minimum requirements for escape and rescue openings in one- and two-family dwellings. Gregory Harrington, principal fire protection engineer with the NFPA, says a window large enough to accommodate a rescue worker would need a minimum clear opening of 5.7 square feet.

There are minimum width and height requirements. The window opening cannot be less than 20 inches wide or 24 inches high. If a minimum width or a minimum height is used, the other measurement (width or height) must then be greater to meet the minimum overall opening.

In addition, the bottom of the clear opening can’t be more than 44 inches off the floor. That gives children and the elderly an opportunity to get up into the window without having to climb.

Homeowners considering updating older windows will want to keep the safety minimums in mind. Check with local building code administrators to see what might be required.

Window Guards, Grids, and Stops
While windows provide safe egress in a fire, they also become unsafe exits for children and pets. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 12 children die and more than 4,000 are treated at hospital emergency rooms each year for falls from windows. Countless pets also die or are severely injured in falls from windows.



Proper emergency exit measures should be planned for and tested. For upper-story windows, escape ladders are the safest.

Insect screens are not strong enough to protect children and pets from falls. Window guards, however, are. But they must have a safety release to open easily in case of a fire.

Window guards cost $10 to $30. Easily installed, they can be adjusted for width and different window sizes. Screw them into the side of a window frame. Bars should be no more than four inches apart.

Window stops, devices that help prevent a window from opening more than four inches, are another option. They also need a safe-release option. Available at hardware stores, window stops cost about $2. Some new windows already come with window stops installed.

Window locks or bars—used for security—also need to be equipped with an emergency release device. Non-opening window bars and window locks that require a key may cause preventable deaths.

Keep Windows Safe
According to a U.S. Fire Administration report, in 36 percent of fire fatalities where a factor contributing to injury was noted, exit problems contributed to the fatality. More than half of child fire fatalities had exit problems.

Keep windows safe in case they are needed for exit in an emergency. A quick review of the household’s windows will ensure that everything is functioning properly.

If a home has security bars or grates, make sure there is a functioning release mechanism. When people are anxious and confused during an emergency, having to tinker with a device to release the bars can be a deadly delay.

In children’s rooms, keep furniture away from windows to discourage youngsters from climbing near windows. Open windows from the top, not the bottom, to reduce the chances of youngsters falling out.

Make sure any security guards or window stops are properly placed. Check with the local building code or fire official for suggestions on proper placement.

Consider safety glazing especially on windows in children’s rooms. Upon impact, this glass breaks into chunks and not sharp pieces.

Check to make sure windows are not “glued” shut with old paint or even nailed shut. Fix broken sashes and other operating parts so they do not cause problems in case of an emergency.

If a room air-conditioning unit is used, make sure it is not in the escape window for that room. Do not store anything in front of egress windows. Be sure that any energy-saving films or coverings over windows can be quickly removed in case family members need to escape.


Text by Maureen Blaney Flietner
© 2006 Renovate Your World




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