Why are window security bars dangerous?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

“Burglar bars” are effective at keeping an intruder from climbing in through a window, but they also prevent anyone from getting out in a fire. A bedroom window is the alternate route out of a home that’s on fire when the hallway and living area exits are engulfed in fire or lethal smoke.

   Because having a “Plan B” way out in an emergency is so important, all building codes now include a provision for “egress” bedroom windows--in other words, windows specifically designed for exiting a bedroom when necessary. The window, when open, must not only be large enough for a person to get out, but also of sufficient size for a fireman with a backpack to get into the bedroom to save a life.

   Bedroom windows in many older homes do not meet the egress window standard but are still large enough for someone to wiggle through in a fire after smashing out some glass. Unfortunately, security bars without an emergency release mechanism eliminate any possibility of window escape. 

   Many people have a greater fear of being robbed than trapped in a fire—an unfortunate misjudgment—and bars are often installed shortly after a home has been burglarized. They are also more common in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. But the consequence of being unable to escape a burning house is much worse than the personal loss from a burglary. About 25 persons are injured or die in house fires each year because their escape is blocked by locked burglar bars or gates, according to data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).   Because of a string of well-publicized deaths due to burglar bar entrapment in burning homes in the 1990s, legislation was enacted in many areas of the country to mandate that window security bars have a quick-release mechanism. They specify that the  opening mechanism should be next to the window, easy to understand without any training, not require a tool or key to use, and must be able to be operated with relatively little force, so that it can be opened by children or the elderly.

   We test quick-release mechanisms when inspecting homes with security bars, or note the absence of a release mechanism as a serious safety hazard. When no release mechanism is present, we recommend removal of the bars or retrofitting of opener system that meets current safety standards.

    Also, see our blog post How many exit doors are required for a house?

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  To learn more about doors and windows, see these other blog posts:

What causes sweating (condensation) on the inside of windows in the winter? 

Is every exterior door of a house required to have a landing outside? 

 What are the small slots at the bottom of the outside of my window? 

Why does condensation form on the outside of some windows and not others in the morning? 

Why is the garage door track a white tube? 

What is the raised metal plate on the floor under the garage door?

 Why do I have to hold down the button to close the garage door? 

How can I tell if a window or glass door is safety glass? 

What are the code requirements for safety tempered glass for doors?• 

Should a front door swing in or out? 

 How many exit doors are required for a mobile/manufactured home? 

Are openable windows required to have window screens? Will windows with no screens pass a home inspection? 

Can a bedroom door open into the garage?

What are the building code requirements for a door from the garage to the house?

What is "low-E" window glass? 

What does ANSI 297.1 on glass mean?

Why is a double cylinder deadbolt lock on an exterior door a safety hazard? 

How can I check my garage door to make sure it is safe?  

What is an egress window?

Does a home inspector test all the windows and doors in a home? 

How difficult is it to change a window to french doors or a sliding glass door?

How do you determine if a door is left-handed or right-handed?

What are the common problems you find inspecting windows?

What is causing a foggy haze on my windows? 

What do those numbers on the manufacturer's stickers in new windows mean?

What does a home inspector check on an electric garage door? 

• What is the tempered label on glass at windows and sliding glass doors called?

Why is pressure washing double pane windows an expensive mistake? 

• Do I need to have two exterior exit doors in my house? 

• When is safety glass required for windows at stairs and stair landings?

   Visit our DOORS AND WINDOWS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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