Window Emergency Exits

Emergency Exit Solid State Home Inspections

A key focus area for home inspections are the safety features of the inspected home. In the last century, changes have been made to building codes to improve occupant safety from electricity, natural gas, and plumbing but improving fire safety has seen the largest changes to home safety.

One of the common fire safety deficiencies found in a home inspection is the lack of appropriate fire exits from a home. All exterior doors are obvious fire exits however bedrooms are one of the most dangerous places in a fire as occupants are often asleep when the fire starts and may not be able to exit the bedroom door in the event of a fire. For this reason, any room used as a bedroom requires the window be of a suitable size for emergency egress.

Bedroom Window Emergency Exit Sizes

Building codes vary in different jurisdictions however nearly all buildings have some form of standards. In British Columbia, the code requires a 0.35 Meters square (3.75sq ft) opening size with no dimension less than 380mm (15 inches). This means a square window needs to open a minimum of 24" x 24" or a rectangular window must open a minimum of 18" x 30" for fire exit purposes. Some jurisdictions also require an emergency rope ladder on second or third story bedroom windows. Local fire departments are more than happy to help provide fire safety requirements and advise.

Common Deficiencies with Window Emergency Exits

Home inspectors should be opening a window in each room in the home as part of the sample testing process. In bedrooms, home inspectors need to be keeping a watchful eye on bedroom windows for:

  • Missing Windows - If a room does not have a window, it cannot safely be used as a bedroom. If a room seems to be intended as a bedroom, home inspectors should be alerting home inspection clients to the fire safety issue of missing windows
  • Undersized Windows - Similar to missing windows, home inspectors need to be observant of windows that are too small for emergency exits. Home inspectors are not required to perform a building code inspection however any window under 24" in any dimension should have comments in the home inspection report for the client about window exit safety.
  • Blocked Windows - Windows, particularly basement windows, are often blocked by the construction of decks, window wells, planters, trees, or other objects. If an occupant cannot safely exit the window in an emergency, this is just as big a safety concern as a missing window.
  • Security Bars - Occasionally in home inspecting, something that is a safety feature in one way could be a hazard in another. Security or burglar bars are intended to keep occupants and belongings safer from intruders but may prevent an exit in an emergency. Quality security bars have release systems to make them safe in an emergency. In some cases bars are designed to open but may have padlocks or a key system to open and this key may not be available in an emergency.

Basement Suites

The rules for emergency exits from bedrooms in basement suites are no different than it is for any other bedroom however basement suites have the highest numbers of safety deficiencies including emergency window exists. Home inspectors should help inform clients that they have responsibilities as landlords to provide safe living accommodations for their tenants including emergency window exits.

In the event of a fire, missing safety features could cause serious injury or death to tenants which could become a legal, financial, and emotional burden for the landlords. Included with windows for fire safety are appropriate windows, smoke detectors (ideally one per room), and accessible fire extinguishers.

Final Thoughts

Home inspectors should be providing a critical safety service for home inspection clients that may be burdened with many emotional decisions around home purchases, financing, moving, and family relocation. A professional home inspection is the best protection for home buyers so they know their home will be safe and solid.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.