Window Bars: Safety Device Or Deadly Trap?

Home Inspector with Diadem Property Inspections - Serving Southeast Michigan

Window Bars: Safety Device Or Deadly Trap?

window barsWindow bars are installed to prevent bad guys from entering a home or building, but they may also cause unintended consequences by slowing or preventing egress in an emergency.

People die every year in fires where escape is hindered by window bars, and according to the National Fire Protection Agency, these kind of deaths are on the rise.

Of course, the odds of being in a burglary or violent home invasion are perceived as a more likely risk than fire, so the bars keep going up.


The Advantages

  • They are a deterrent to potential burglars.
  • They provide a sense of security to building occupants.
  • They can prevent children from falling out of the window.

The Disadvantages

  • They can block the exit for occupants during an emergency, such as a fire. The occupants may feel secure from burglary, but they have severely limited their avenues of egress. Ironically, it is possible for occupants to become trapped behind window bars while trying to escape from an intruder who has managed to enter the building.
  • They can potentially block the entry point for firefighters.
  • Houses equipped with window bars can potentially decrease the home’s property value. Window bars can make a neighborhood appear insecure to potential home buyers.

Can You Have The Best Of Both Worlds? Security and Quick Egress?

In fact, the International Residential Code (IRC) mandates that basements and sleeping rooms should have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. Windows equipped with bars and which are intended for emergency egress should have a quick-release mechanism installed.

Here's what the IRC requires for windows and a quick-release mechanism:

  • It should be accessible from the inside of the house.
  • It should not require a key or combination, since during an emergency, occupants may become too panicked or confused to remember the combination or where they put the key, or smoke may prevent access to the key or obscure view of the lock. 
  • It should not require any special tools, such as a screwdriver. 
  • The mechanism should be able to be operated with relatively little force. Children and the elderly should be strong enough to operate the release mechanism.  
  • Operation of the mechanism should not require special knowledge.

It is a good idea to test the release mechanism occasionally.  Even if the mechanism appears functional, it is possible that its ability to operate has become compromised by rust, paint, or some other factor. The last thing anyone wants is to be trapped during an emergency.

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Jason Channell     Twitter - Home Inspection LinkedIn Twitter - Home Inspection

Diadem Property Inspections
(888) 699-8710

Learn more:

Learn more:

Michigan Builder's License 2101198700
Environmental Solutions Association 3818 -- Certified Mold Inspector & Assessor, Certified Allergen Inspector
International Indoor Air Quality Commission CC1983 --  Indoor Environmental Certified Consultant



Re-Blogged 4 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Gary Coles (International Referrals) 01/09/2011 03:02 PM
  2. Maureen Fukumoto 01/09/2011 05:57 PM
  3. Dan Edward Phillips 01/10/2011 12:21 PM
  4. Dan Edward Phillips 09/12/2011 03:15 AM
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Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Wow, Jason~These are great points! Not long ago, I had an inspector suggest to my buyers that those large windows next to bathtubs should be safety glass or have some sort of barrier to protect a person taking a bath, who might slip and fall out of the window! The things we can learn from inspectors... Thanks.

Jan 09, 2011 02:42 PM #1
Gary Coles (International Referrals)
Venture Realty International - Las Vegas, NV
Latin America Real Estate

Jason, Great post. I hope that a lot of people see this. I am going to re-blog it and I hope that others do too. About 10 years ago in Las Vegas I started a project with the help of a local nonprofit to add quick release mechanisms to the windows in the area. With donations from my agents, some local businesses and contractors, we were able to aid many of the elderly and others who could not afford this vital safety feature.

Jan 09, 2011 02:58 PM #2
Keith Vermilyea
Home Buyers Marketing II, Inc. - Boise, ID

Jason, great advice regarding window bars.  I used to work in insurance claims and one of the most horrific claims I ever saw involved a house fire.  A grandmother had her grand kids over for a sleep-over and several of them were killed because they could not escape the house due to the bars on the windows.  People may think that a robbery is more likely but that isn't the point.  Possessions that are stolen can be replaced but people can't...

Jan 09, 2011 03:05 PM #3
Dan Edward Phillips
Dan Edward Phillips - Eureka, CA
Realtor and Broker/Owner

Good Morning Jason, excellent post. Security bars have their own set of safety issues. 

Jan 09, 2011 09:14 PM #4
Vickie McCartney
Maverick Realty - Owensboro, KY
Broker, Real Estate Agent Owensboro KY

Hi Jason~  I have never even thought of this.  Fires happen everyday and it would be horrible to be trapped by the same bars that are supposed to be keeping you from harm! 

Jan 10, 2011 12:31 PM #5
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