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Chris Bernhardt

Old houses and egress windows

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One of my favorite zoids just squealed so loud my ears are bleeding.

I wrote up a 1959 house with vinyl double pane replacement windows for lack of egress.

Quote:Windows: There are no windows that qualify as emergency egress windows in any of the bedrooms. It is considered a major safety hazard not to have a qualifying emergency egress and rescue window in a bedroom. Such a window would have a minimum clear net opening of 5.7 square feet with a width dimension no smaller then 20â€

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I think your assumption is incorrect.

It is onerous on homeowners to require them to increase window sizes to modern egress dimensions if they are installing replacement windows in existing openings for the purpose of saving energy as long as they don't make the egress conditions any worse.

In NJ, we have a Rehab section of the NJUCC that allows owners to do rehab work in old buildings without bringing everything up to current code conditions. For example, the code allows us to replace windows as long as the existing non-conforming conditions are not made any worse by the work.

The rational is that if everyone was required to upgrade to current code when doing work such as window replacement, the cost of doing this work would be significantly increased and many people would opt not do it. The end result would be a detriment because energy would be wasted. So what is worse, keeping the window size and saving energy, or leaving old windows (the same size)and wasting energy?

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Well that may or may not cover what I said verbally about it being required to the agent. I did find an interpretive ruling on the Oregon code that said that as long as the replacement window clear opening was not less then the original clear opening then it could remain assuming it was legal at the time of original construction otherwise it has to be brought up to curent code.

I went aggressive on the windows based partially on what I read in the "Converted BR in basement. No egress" post in the interior forum.

Was my language to imflamatory? Should I have made it kinder, gentler and softer?

I have been thru a fire. In a fire people can get all confused. I know I did. I may have been wrong to word it the way I did but it was my honest opinion at the time that having egress windows are that important.

If I otherwise really wanted to buy the house I would make it top priority to change install an egress window in the bedrooms. I don't think I could sleep at night knowing my kids may not be able to be rescued.

Chris, Oregon

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I wouldn't have made it an issue for the reasons Steven gave.

I don't always grandfather windows if they are original or replacements that are the same size as the orighnals, though. Once in a while I'll run across a late 50's ranch that has small sliding windows in the bedrooms, about five feet above the floor. Those I always flag for lack of emergency egress.

With other windows, it's a judgement call that I sometimes struggle with. I'm prone to flip flopping on casement windows in bedrooms. Most don't open far enough, and some will open far enough if you take the arm out of the track. In the confusion during a fire, are people going to be able to disengage the arm?

Twice in the past week, I've had houses with Plexiglas screwed in place over bedroom windows. The first was a 60's ranch that had them screwed to the exterior. Yesterday I had a 7,000 square foot (including additions) 1833 Federal style house that had Plexiglas screwed in place at the interior of every single double hung window on the first and second floors. The place was a nightmare to heat, but the owner didn't want to mar the exterior with storm windows. The windows on the unheated third floor weren't covered with Plexi, but they did have the sashes screwed closed. Over 40 windows were inoperative!

The inspection was for the homeowner, who is considering putting the place up for sale. When I pointed out the glaring problem of no emergency egress, he proudly pulled out a fire ax. He said he keeps one in every bedroom, and when they have overnight guests, he shows them where the ax is and what it's to be used for. I have to admit, I was speechless.

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I write them as a matter of due diligence.

But off the record, I usually tell my client that if there's a fire in that room, a person will find a way to get out of that window regardless if its 4" smaller than today's requirement or the window sill is higher than 44" off the ground!!!

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt. . . Now her complaint is that the original house was not required to have them so why are they required now?

I said because the new windows constituted new work and one was now in each room required to be improved to an egress window. Was I wrong in that assumption?

When she learns that's not a correct statement, you'll lose credibility. The right answer would have been, "Because people might not be able to get out of the house in an emergency." That's the heart of the matter.

Her second complaint was the use of the words major safety hazard and immediate attention needed. Was I wrong to use those terms?

They wouldn't have been my terms of choice but I don't believe you were wrong.

In the City of Portland I know for a fact that it doesn't matter how old a house is each bedroom needs an egress window even if it was never originally required

I'm not familiar with that one. Where's it from? Do you mean to say that a Portland city official can walk up to a 1950's ranch and somehow force the owners to install larger windows?

although beit that if the window is at least 20"x22" or larger its OK but you have to improve it to the full code requirement if its not.

Actually, the window has to have a 5.7 square foot opening. The width can't be less than 20" and the height can't be less than 22". A 20"x22" opening doesn't meet that requirement.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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I sat next to one of the Portland muni's in a couple of code classes at Chemeketa who was responsible for enforcement of chapter 29 housing maintenance requirements and he was the one who told me about this stuff but said that they probably would not try and enforce it except in special situations.

You can go on to the portlandonline website to "services" and then "charter, code & policy" and then "Portland city code" and then "Title 29"

Its in section 29.30.230 Emergency Exits and section 29.30.090 Windows.

Salem does not appear to require this or address it other then to just maintain what you got.

Chris, Oregon

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Chris,

I see that situation on many, many inspections. here's what I write in my report:

"Windows are not large enough for today's fire egress standards (Minimum opening is 24" height and 20" wide with a net opening of at least 5.7 square feet, or 5.0 Square feet if on 1st floor level). This means if a window opening is 24 inches high, it must be 34 1/2 inches wide to meet the 5.7 sq ft. While they probably met standards when the house was constructed, you should consider upgrading to meet today's safety requirements."

Very often, I find brand new replacement windows and my client asks the question, why didn't they fix them during replacement? I tell them exactly what Steve says above; you can replace existing windows with the same size windows.

Most of the time, I explain you can replace that double hung with a casement window to meet the standards.

Darren

www.aboutthehouseinspections.com

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

forum.

Was my language to imflamatory? Should I have made it kinder, gentler and softer?

I have been thru a fire. In a fire people can get all confused. I know I did. I may have been wrong to word it the way I did but it was my honest opinion at the time that having egress windows are that important.

If I otherwise really wanted to buy the house I would make it top priority to change install an egress window in the bedrooms. I don't think I could sleep at night knowing my kids may not be able to be rescued.

Chris, Oregon

Chris,

To me safety issues are a part of the inspection and just as important or sometimes more so than code issues. You were right to write it up. I always tell the "zoids" that it is a safety issue and code smode who cares.

Always think of safety first especially for children they cannot for see these hazards so it is our job to do it for them.

When documenting a hazardous or safety issue I always put at the end of paragraph in bold caps DANGER. It works for me.

Paul B.

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While we all base our inspections loosely on code, to try and make our reports sound like an enforceable document is folly.

" By today's standards this is a zero bedroom, three den home. Better building practices dictate that window openings must be at least blah blah to provide egress from a burning home and just as importantly to allow a firefighter wearing full gear access to the home and occupants." I would probably use the terms unsafe or dangerous when describing these rooms as sleeping rooms.

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I agree with what Darren and Steven. I inform my clients and put it in the main report. Darrens writing is better then mine so it will be replacing what I use.

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I sat next to one of the Portland muni's in a couple of code classes at Chemeketa who was responsible for enforcement of chapter 29 housing maintenance requirements and he was the one who told me about this stuff but said that they probably would not try and enforce it except in special situations.

You can go on to the portlandonline website to "services" and then "charter, code & policy" and then "Portland city code" and then "Title 29"

Its in section 29.30.230 Emergency Exits and section 29.30.090 Windows.

Salem does not appear to require this or address it other then to just maintain what you got.

Chris, Oregon

Hi Chris,

I am a little confused about the wording on egress in the Portland code. If a homeowner is converting a basement to living space but not adding a bedroom, do they need an egress window? The code mentions an egress window OR exterior door. Although, again the homeowner is not adding a bedroom, does an exterior door that is a straight shot up the basemrnt stairs to the outside qualify

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That's a good question and one I have had for a long time, but keep forgetting to ask. We have a lot of basements around here that share stairs to the exterior with a door to the kitchen into the house.

I would think that it's just fine, but I don't have confirmation on that.

Chris, Oregon

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Hello, I have a question for an inspector.  I own a Wisconsin home built in 1950 with 3 bedrooms.  My original awning type windows measured 21Hx42W and a clear opening the same or 6.125 Sq ft.  The bottom of the window was 60" from the floor.  All I needed to bring the windows to full fire safety code was install a fixed step to raise someone to the 44" requirement.  I recently purchased sliding windows from Pella, which reduced my clear opening to 15.5x18" without my understanding because the specifications provided to me didn't outline to me the clear opening size nor the screen size.  They referred these new windows to me as fixed double sliders, however only one side slides and is removable.  I feel they did me an unjust by installing windows that now do not meet code and significantly reduce my clear opening by more than half.  I am now seeing in their warranty section of the contract it does state that I am responsible for verifying their product meets code, however with the lack of complete specifications provided to me I feel that would have been impossible.  There was not enough information given to me to do so.  I didn't realize the new windows had such a small opening till after I saw the windows installed.  Now I have a house with bedrooms windows that are unsafe.  Do you think the contractor Pella should have considered my safety when recommending windows to me and provided me windows that at least met my original clear opening and or were to code if my original size of my window met that code?  I don't know how to proceed from here, any advice?

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Any contractor who installs windows for a living should know what the requirements are. It's unreasonable to expect the homeowner to know these things. 

 

 

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I agree.  I think I’m going to have to convince a small claims judge the same thing to get pella to resolve my concern, unfortunately.  Would you think a “fixed double slider” referenced a window that has two sliding sides that would be removable or just one sliding side that is removable?

Edited by Madcyt
Added question

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54 minutes ago, Madcyt said:

I agree.  I think I’m going to have to convince a small claims judge the same thing to get pella to resolve my concern, unfortunately.  Would you think a “fixed double slider” referenced a window that has two sliding sides that would be removable or just one sliding side that is removable?

A "fixed double slider" could mean anything, including a cocktail. 

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The window manufacturer has no responsibility for ensuring their product meets your needs.

The window installation contractor and sales person on the other hand should know and ensure the work he does is compliant with all local codes and manufacturers instructions. The home owner / purchaser is not without responsibility in the equation though and a judge may apply a percentage of responsibility to each such as 50/50. This would be a crap shoot depending on the judge in my estimation. The nice thing about inspectors jobs is we don't have to decide these things and can make recommendations without worrying about who has to pay. The "fixed double slider" term means what the window manufacturer says it means as it is, to my knowledge, a marketing term, not a defined architectural term.

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Here's my standard comment. 

The basement bedroom windows have inadequate egress in the event of a fire due to being to high from the floor and having to small of an opening. Basement bedroom windows should have:

  • A maximum sill height of 44 inches from the floor 
  • A minimum width opening of 20 inches 
  • A minimum height opening of 24 inches 
  • A minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet 

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35 minutes ago, Trent Tarter said:

Here's my standard comment. 

The basement bedroom windows have inadequate egress in the event of a fire due to being to high from the floor and having to small of an opening. Basement bedroom windows should have:

  • A maximum sill height of 44 inches from the floor 
  • A minimum width opening of 20 inches 
  • A minimum height opening of 24 inches 
  • A minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet 

The rules - if they apply - apply to all bedrooms, not just basement bedrooms. 

If this is boilerplate, you might want to clean up the spelling and grammar. 

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25 minutes ago, Trent Tarter said:

I find allot of 50's built homes with corner windows that don't meet current minimum 5.0 sq ft egress for main floor.  

Yes. In the '50s, the architectural fashion was to have long, low houses with linear, horizontal windows that were generally high in the rooms. (Thank Frank Lloyd Wright for this.) Adding modern egress windows to a mid-century house will generally destroy the design. 

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