Using a window as a fire escape route

In the event of a fire, escaping out of a home window can save you and your families lives. In under 5 minutes, the heat from a small fire can virtually destroy an entire home by:

  • Melt clothing (polyester)
  • Burn clothing (cloth / linens)
  • Cause a room to catch on fire
  • Burn lungs
  • Create clouds of thick black smoke filled with particulates
  • Create poisonous gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other irritants that can diminish your senses making it more difficult to escape

Fire Escape Plan

Every family should have a fire escape plan, that is practiced and rehearsed at least once a year to make sure adults and children remember what to do and don’t panic. Remember a fire escape plan should have at least:

  • A common meeting place outside of the home
  • Multiple ways to get our of the home
  • At least two ways to get out of each room

Choosing a window as an escape route

When choosing a window escape route consider the following to safely exit a window in the event of a fire:

Easy to open

Escape windows should be easy to open all the way. It’s best if you don’t need to break the window to get out, because you can cut yourself on broken glass.

Screens, security bars, and grilles should be easy to remove or open with no extra tools or steps.

Windows that take many steps to open or have hidden hardware aren’t good for escape routes. They can take too long to open in an emergency. They can also be hard to open if you don’t have much strength in your hands.

If the window you plan to use sticks or won’t open:

  • Fix any parts that are broken.
  • Check that nothing stops the window from opening. For example, remember that ice build-up can make windows harder to open.
  • Check exterior fasteners (like clips, nails, or screws).

Window size

Make sure the window opening is big enough for a person to pass through. Check that the window handle isn’t so big that it gets in the way of the opening.

Window height

Make sure there’s enough room for a person to fit on the outside of the window. For example, if a basement window opens into a window well, make sure there’s room for you to get into and climb out of the window well.

Some quick-release hardware could stop the window from staying open and make it harder to get out.
Window height

Area outside the window

Make sure the window isn’t too high to use as an exit. The window sill shouldn’t be higher than 1.5 meters above the floor. Make it easier to reach the window by installing built-in furniture under the window.


If you need to cut foundation concrete to install a larger window, you may need a building permit, an engineer’s design, or both. Contact your municipal planning and development department to find out.

Ideal Windows For Escape Route

Casement Windows:

  • Casement windows open from the side.
  • The opening hardware is usually at the bottom of the window.
  • This hardware can block an escape. Make sure you measure the opening just to the hardware so that you know how big the opening really is.
  • Casement windows usually have latches opposite the hinge. Children should be able to reach these latches if they are expected to escape on their own.
  • Hinge hardware may allow the window to pivot around an axis at or near the jamb. The opening must be large enough, even with the opening hardware blocking the opening and the window fully open.

Outward Opening Awning Windows:

  • Full vent in-swing awning windows swing open near the top of the frame.
  • The window should swing in, towards you. If it swings out, it should not be blocked by the walls of a window well. There needs to be enough room in the window well for the window to open and a person to escape.
  • You must use a catch to hold the window open.

Horizontal Sliding Windows:

  • Horizontal and vertical slider windows slide open either to the side or up.
  • Measure the size of the opening when the window is in the fully open position to make sure there’s enough room for a person to escape.