August, 2005

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Preventing Window Falls


As the warm weather arrives, I guaranty the media will report on another gut-wrenching story about a toddler falling from a window, suffering serious injury or death. Sadly, such tragedy is an annual event despite the best efforts of health officials to educate the public. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), “about 12 children 10 years old and younger die each year; and more than 4,000 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for window fall-related injuries.” Window falls can occur in any home or apartment, and are not limited to urban or lower economic areas. Regardless of the location, a window fall can cause a lifetime guilt-trip for parents and caretakers, because through hindsight they know the accident was preventable.

Perhaps as home inspectors, we can help prevent window fall tragedies by educating clients about window safety. The ASHI® Standards of Practice state “the inspector is not required to report on screening,” but the inspector is “required to examine a representative sample of windows.”  I suggest that each inspector initiate a field practice of briefly explaining window safety guidelines during a home inspection and within the final report.

Parents routinely childproof their homes installing childproof locks on their cabinets, gates and staircases. Sadly, many of them don’t realize until it is too late that windows require childproofing as well. As home inspectors, we have a unique opportunity to educate the public regarding the prevention of window falls. We are in the communication business and educating the public about safety should be a routine part of  every inspection.

A window is part of the building envelope that functions as a source of light, ventilation and emergency egress; unfortunately, a window is also an attractive nuisance to a toddler. Children are curious; they like to climb, and they like to look out of windows. Parents need to know that window screens are designed to keep bugs out, not to keep children in. Often screens are secured only by a thin rubber gasket that will easily break away when subjected to the weight of a child. Even a fall from a first story window can result in a trauma or fatality.

The public needs to know the purpose of window stops and the value of window guards, as well as be reminded that opening only the top of a window for ventilation is an easy way to prevent a fall. Teach your clients that window stops are not solely to prevent a burglary, but to prevent the lower sash from being raised far enough for a toddler to fall out. Explain that purchasing window guards should be considered as one more important step in childproofing a home, and that window guards should comply with CPSC guidelines and local fire department and building code requirements.

CPSC guidelines for preventing window falls are as follows:

• Install window guards to prevent children from falling out of windows. (For windows on the 6th floor and below, install window guards that adults and older children can open easily in case of fire. For windows on the 7th floor and above, permanent window guards can be installed)

• Guards should be installed in children’s bedrooms, parents’ bedroom, and other rooms where young children spend time. Or, install window stops that permit windows to open no more than 4 inches.

• Never depend on screens to keep children from falling out of windows.

• Whenever possible, open windows from the top—not the bottom.

• Keep furniture away from windows, to discourage children from climbing near windows.

For further information, contact your local or state Board of Health or visit the following web sites: