Tom Shafer

Window hazards and family safety

June 12, 2012

You and your family spend a fair amount of time at home, so it stands to reason you would be concerned with home safety. We think nothing of installing alarm systems to warn of intruders; smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to prevent asphyxiation; and slip-proof pads under rugs to avoid falls. So, why don't more of us consider the safety of something as obvious as our windows? Windows present certain hazards when open, but they can be even more dangerous when closed.

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Unsafe windows fall into two categories: inaccessibile egress window -- windows that must be opened to get out in an emergency; and window hazards related to falls. Use this checklist to inspect your home for these common window hazards.

Inaccessibility of egress windows

  1. Can you easily open bedroom windows? Your windows might need to be a primary escape means during a fire -- for you to get out or for fire personnel to get in. Building codes mandate a certain amount of clear opening for windows in bedrooms, and window manufacturers go to great lengths to make egress windows affordable and easy to operate. Make sure you have not altered or blocked them.
  2. Is there an air conditioner in your window? Can it be pulled out easily? You may need that opening to get out of the house.
  3. Have you installed bars or grates on your windows? Can they be unlocked from the inside for escape?
  4. Do your windows open? The balances -- the parts that move the sash up and down in double- or single-hung windows -- could be broken, making the sash too heavy to lift, especially for small children. Are all casement cranks working?
  5. Are there secondary locks, or sash limiters that restrict windows from opening? Does everyone in the house know how they operate, and are all family members and guests able to fully open the windows in an emergency?

Falling dangers: glass and window screens

  1. Is there a porch in front of a window? Windows that are tall and close to a porch deck can be an accident waiting to happen. These windows should have panes made from tempered glass -- glass that crumbles into small pieces when broken, instead of large lethal shards.
  2. Is there furniture or a bed in front of a window that might be left open in an area where children play? They could climb or bounce on the furniture and accidentally fall through the window.
  3. Window screens are designed to keep insects out: they are not secure enough to keep children and pets in. Children have died after falling through window screens. Every window screen now bears a warning: "Screen will not prevent a child from falling out window. Keep child away from open or unlocked windows." Heed the warning.

You can spend time and money buying beautiful windows with specialty glass, artfully draping them and cleaning them until they sparkle. You can enjoy looking through your windows at the view. Remember to also look at your windows, and make sure they are safe.

About the Author

Tom Shafer has decades of experience in window sales, marketing and product development. He's worked closely with window design engineers in testing, design, and building code interpretation. Past employers include United Windows and Doors and Norandex, MI Windows. He currently works at a home improvement retailer.

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