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Egress Windows Allow Occupants a Second Escape Route

April 12, 2011

In Washington State, most fires occur in residences and most fires occur after dark.  So statistically, fire is most likely to strike while you’re home in bed.  Consequently, the latest national building and fire codes require that each bedroom have an emergency egress window.  Emergency egress windows provide a second escape route in case the regular door access is blocked by smoke or fire.

Bedroom emergency egress windows are required in the International Building Code (adopted by Spokane County and Washington State), and must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Minimum 5.7 square feet of openable area
  • Minimum 24” height opening
  • Minimum 20” width opening
  • Top of window sill maximum 44” above the finished floor

These dimensions are designed to give the homeowner flexibility in choosing windows.  You can have a tall skinny window, a short wide window or anything in between provided the minimums are observed.  Remember though, openable area is different from total glass window area.

There are also requirements for the window well outside to allow occupants to get out and firefighters to get in and affect rescue.

The problem is that while newer homes are designed to meet this safety standard, older homes were not required to meet this code provision.

Realtors, property managers and rental owners that I talked with are sensitive to this issue.  No one wants to sell or rent out a home that may be unsafe and most will appraise potential buyers/renters if basement bedroom windows do not meet current egress codes.  They must be careful however, that they don’t appear to be precluding a large family from purchasing or renting a home.  That could be construed as discriminatory under the Fair Housing Act.  So the burden is really on the purchaser/renter to ensure there is adequate egress protection for basement bedrooms.  As a potential home buyer, or renter, this is an important life-safety item to consider.

Recently, we had a little girl wake up because she felt the room getting hot.  She was right!  A fire had started in the wastebasket and was growing.  There were no smoke detectors (again!) and she had only one way out (no egress window).  A few moments later and she would not have escaped.

When you put your kids to bed tonight, take a look at whether they have two ways out or not.  If not, consider fixing that.  We can get you information on design standards that can make your children’s bedrooms something easier to get out of in an emergency.


From → Preparedness

One Comment
  1. Well this answers my question. My basement windows are definitely not up to code. They are about half the specs that you list. I’ll be looking into this more deeply soon. I wonder what the other details you speak of are. Thanks.

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