Proper egress windows? What does this mean?

Published 03 January 13 09:11 AM | Merv Edinger 

Recently, a home inspector reported 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 be with older homes that have had their windows upgraded. It is the replacement windows that are now the problem. NOTE: Please keep in mind however, that building codes are not retroactive.


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. The building code did not come into effect until 2010.


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, 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:


1)Light (at least five per cent of the floor area served)


2)Ventilation (at least 0.28m2 or 3 ft2 or an adequate year-round mechanical ventilation)


3)Emergency Escape: (Article &
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). However, these building codes codes came into effect a number of years ago.  Windows installed prior to this date are still legal as not all building codes are retroactive. 


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 380mm (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 windows and doors specialists in our area, or even your local hardware store.


If you are hiring a contractor to do this work, 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!

Compliments of Herald Homes

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