Windows and Child Safety

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Windows are amazing. No matter if it is plus 40 or minus 40 outside, raining, foggy, dark, or light, we can stand at a window and watch the outside world go by from the comfort of the ‘safe’ inside of our home.


Unfortunately, every year we hear terrible news stories about children (and pets) falling out of windows and being seriously injured or killed. Some steps have been made by our building codes to try and address this issue but sometimes a solution can create another problem.


Houses and Low-Rises: Fire Safety vs Child Safety

While windows are very nice to look out of, in most houses and low-rise homes, they are also part of the fire and emergency safety systems. Bedrooms in particular are considered emergency exits as if a fire was in the hallway outside of bedrooms, it may not be possible to get to another door. For this reason, safety officials require bedroom windows to meet minimum sizes as emergency exits (generally, 2-ft by 2-ft is a safe size but they can be as small as 18-inches as long as they are a little wider.) Depending on the jurisdiction, windows up to 7-stories are considered in reach of a fire truck ladder which means the fire officials want these windows to be able to open freely as secondary emergency exits.


As a home inspector, it is very common to be calling out windows with non-opening security bars or undersized openings that are fire safety hazards in low-rise. Unfortunately, there are no requirements for builders in our jurisdictions to put any child fall safety devices in these homes.

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An unsafe high-rise situation with wide opening window.


High-Rises: Child Safety

In high-rise buildings the fire officials know they can’t reach the top floors with a ladder so  newer buildings are built from non-combustable materials (e.g. concrete), they have fire sprinklers, there are fire breaks in corridors and stairwells, and there are emergency plans available for crews at the main entry.


In these buildings, child safety is addressed by limiting windows to open no more than 4-inches. A common deficiency found in home inspections in these homes is occupants disabling the restriction mechanism allowing the window to open more for air movement.






Other Child Fall Safety Issues

  • Balconies - Guardrail gaps should be 4-inches or less also and at least 40-inches high but for an adventurous child, a chair and table against the guardrail are as good as a ladder to climb too high.
  • Older High-Rises - Buildings built into even the early 1990’s often have windows that were never limited to open less than 4-inches. I’ve been on the 30-something floor of buildings with windows at floor level that open wide.
  • Occupant Belongings - Chairs, tables, and dressers in front of windows can give children a path to climb above a safe level for a window.


How To Make Your Home Safe Child Fall Safe?

First, don’t solve one problem by making another. If your window is an emergency exit, don’t block or restrict it and potentially cause another tragedy.


Houses and Low-Rise Homes - Here are 3 tips to help with window safety in a low-rise:

  1. If a window is not an emergency exit, in particular if it is in an unsafe position such as near the floor, limit the window opening to 4-inches. There are purpose made safety devices but even a secured block in the window frame may work.
  2. Remove items around windows (or balconies) that could allow children to climb to an unsafe position.
  3. If nothing else, a firmly fit screen may just make the difference between life and death (why builders are not required to install these for safety is a big miss)


High-Rise Homes - If you can open the window more than 4-inches, you need to install some limiters for child safety.


Final Thoughts

Most failed safety systems in modern homes are as a result of occupant actions, not original building defects. This is one reason home inspections are so valuable for home buyers as we are looking out for the safety of all future occupants in the home and there are so many things that can be unsafe in a home. If you are buying a home of any size or height, getting a home inspection and following your home inspectors recommendations could be a matter of life and death and we take that responsibility seriously.


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