This picture was taken at a home I inspected last week. When fully opened, the bedroom window circled in red is 16” high x 32” wide. The International Residential Code (IRC) requires all sleeping areas have at least one emergency escape and rescue opening (AKA egress opening). Very few bedrooms are built with exterior doors, so in most cases this is accomplished by way of a window. To ensure the window is big enough for you to escape during an emergency and for a firefighter wearing full protective gear to fit in, there are a few guidelines that must be met.
It’s important to note that if the opening portion of the window measures the minimum 24” high x 20” wide it is only 3.3 square feet. In order to meet the minimum square footage requirement, the window will have to be higher and/or wider than the minimum height and width requirement. Also, if there are multiple windows in a bedroom, only one is required to be approved for emergency escape and rescue.
In older homes, egress windows may not be present or may be smaller than current requirements due to building code changes over time. You aren’t required to remodel when codes change, but if you remodel you are required to meet current building codes (with few exceptions such as registered historic properties). When replacing windows, it is imperative to use reputable and knowledgeable contractors that are current on building codes. More important than the legal requirement is the safety of you and your family. The pictured home was built in 1987 and the windows have since been replaced. The measurement of this window would not have been acceptable according to building code in 1987 or any year since. Have you replaced your windows? You can check to see if they are within modern code by plugging in the measurements on The Calculator Site.
Preventive maintenance will help to ensure the windows work when you need them. Check your windows annually to make sure they open and close easily and that sash locks are easy to operate and secure the window properly. To prevent heat and cooling losses, ensure weather stripping has an airtight seal, that glass is not cracked or fogged, and that exterior caulk joints and in good condition.