Submitted by Lawrence Englehart, GPI franchise owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Q. Recently, a home inspector reported that we have a bedroom window that is not a proper egress window. What does this mean, and is it important?
A. This is a great question to ask. The issue with an incorrectly sized egress window is one that I and my fellow home inspectors come across way too frequently. Sadly, this issue tends to occur with older homes that have had their windows upgraded. The replacement windows are now the problem.
Ironically, the requirement for a properly sized bedroom window has been around since 1980, and subsequent code changes since then have made it even easier to understand how a bedroom egress window is defined.
Having said that, I simply can’t understand why the wrong type of bedroom window could have been installed within the past 30 years.
Unfortunately, very few of us think of a bedroom window as a “life-saving” feature. However, if there was ever an emergency situation, like a house fire, then having the properly sized egress window in the bedroom could be the difference between life and death.
That is why the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) has very clear requirements as it relates to bedroom windows and how a bedroom window can serve three distinct purposes in the home:
- Light (at least 5 percent of the floor area served)
- Ventilation (at least 0.28m2 or 3 ft2 or an adequate year-round mechanical ventilation)
- Emergency Escape: (Article 188.8.131.52 & 184.108.40.206) An emergency escape requires that each bedroom must have a door that leads directly to the exterior of the building or have a properly sized egress window that can be opened from the inside without the use of keys, tools, hardware or special knowledge* (unless this bedroom has a sprinkler system installed).
The size of an egress window is not based on the physical size of the window frame, but on what the unobstructed clear opening is (once the window has been fully opened).
For a bedroom window to be compliant, it must provide an unobstructed opening with a minimum area of 0.35m² (3.77ft²) and at the same time no horizontal or vertical dimension/opening can be less than 380 mm (15”).
It is further recommended that the bottom of any egress window opening or sill not be higher than 1.5m (5ft) above the floor. Now, this can be somewhat challenging for any bedroom in a basement, so they recommend installing some means of built-in furniture below the window to assist in the event of an emergency.
However, if a bedroom window opens into a window well, then the window well must allow at least 550mm (21.7”) in front of the window. This is to ensure that the window well does not obstruct or block the ability to use the window as a means of emergency escape. Where a casement-type window is used, the window well must also project out enough to allow for the full 90o swing of the window opening.
Unfortunately, an out-swing awning window is usually not permitted for egress when it opens into a window well, as it tends to fully block all means of escape.
Now, I’ve come across many examples of single-hung windows that simply won’t stay open. In other words, when I slide the lower window up, the window immediately slides back down. This would be an example of when egress is restricted by a defective opening mechanism — and that would be considered a safety hazard.
Regardless, the assessment of the bedroom windows in the home is part of a typical home inspection.
So, if you are contemplating replacing an existing bedroom window, or adding a bedroom to your basement, you need to ensure each bedroom window meets the minimum egress window requirements.
You can find great information on egress windows by visiting the Halifax Regional Municipality website or contact any of the window and door specialists in our area, or even your local hardware store.
If you are hiring a contractor to do this work, then you must make certain to tell them the window in question is for a bedroom, and they should be able to provide you with various window options that you can use that will safely comply with bedroom egress requirements.
*Note: It is important to note that the term “special knowledge” is interpreted as one simple motion to unlock the window and one simple motion to open the window, without the use of special tools, keys or knowledge.
Tagged: egress window, fire safety, home inspection, Lawrence Englehart, safety