An Open and Shut Case for Window Safety

Rich Walker
March 1, 2010
COLUMN : Industry Watch | Markets & Trends

As the winter weather slowly gives way to spring, the weary window industry is indeed looking longingly at a new construction season in hopes of seeing a renewal of our markets. Homeowners are looking afresh at their windows, too–but as a means to finally open stuffy homes to balmy breezes and birdcalls after a season of winter captivity.

It is this time of year, as warmer weather approaches and windows are opened to provide ventilation that we of the industry–not so coincidentally–remind those homeowners to pay a little closer attention to the vital–even life-saving–role that their windows can have, as well as the dangers of their misuse. The message is the underpinning of Window Safety Week, observed this year from April 4-10.

Jointly sponsored by the National Safety Council, AAMA and other building and safety organizations, the event is designed to heighten awareness of what parents and caregivers should do to keep their families safer from the risk of accidental falls through windows, as well as how to properly use them for egress in an emergency.

Open windows become attractive nuisances to inquisitive toddlers, luring them to a dangerous perch which can result in serious injuries and fatal falls. A key part of the Window Safety Week message aimed at preventing such falls is that window insect screens are not designed or intended to hold a child's weight and cannot be expected to prevent falls. Furniture, such as beds, dressers or toy chests, should not be placed under windows in a child's bedroom as they can facilitate children climbing to an open window. Windows within the reach of children should be closed and locked when the windows are not in use for ventilation or when children are playing nearby.

If ventilation is needed, only those windows that children cannot reach should be opened. If the home features double-hung windows with two moveable sash, close the bottom sash and open the upper sash when ventilation is desired. Set and enforce rules about keeping children's play away from windows or patio doors. However, nothing can substitute for careful adult supervision.

For more pointers on keeping children away from open windows, obtain the “Keeping the Promise of Safety” brochure online from NSC at A free Window Safety Kit including this brochure as well as a tip sheet, a checklist, and an activity and coloring book, can also be ordered at the NSC Web site.

The 2009 International Residential Code, which took effect January 1 of last year, requires a minimum sill height of 24 inches, but permits exception for windows equipped with window opening control devices that restrict the initial opening of the window to no more than 4 inches. Such devices must have a release mechanism so that they can be opened for escape in a fire emergency, without using tools, keys, special knowledge or effort.

Homeowners should know that they play a big role, as learning how to use windows in an emergency is as important as preventing falls. As part of spring cleaning, homeowners should:

  • Ensure that storm shutters or any temporary plastic insulating cover is removed.
  • Ensure that windows are not painted or nailed shut.
  • Moving parts in hardware components, tracks and rollers should be lubricated periodically per the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions to ensure that parts don’t stick or jam. In salt air environments, this maintenance may be required at least monthly.
  • Vacuum dirt from all sill and track areas.
  • Check all sash for smooth adequate operation.
  • Check that windows and guard devices can be easily unlocked.
  • Remove clutter or furniture that could hamper easy exit or, as noted above, enable climbing into the window opening.

AAMA has compiled these and additional window maintenance tips in a consumer brochure entitled “Caring for Your Windows and Doors.” An online copy of the brochure is available on the AAMA Web site.

For more information on fire egress and developing family escape plans, visit the National Fire Prevention Association’s site at Information on planning a home fire drill, as well as other information on addressing home security and fire safety issues can be downloaded at

Manufacturers have the resources listed above to help homeowners how to properly utilize windows for both ventilation and emergency egress.

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664,