City regulations cut into homeowners’ options


Photo credit: Kevin Delaney

My husband and I had windows replaced in our basement the other day – all but two windows. Why leave them out? Because, according to the window-replacement company, if you replace basement windows – no matter the age of the home – Sandy city code requires egress windows in every bedroom. That means the window openings have to be cut out to a much larger size, among other things.

Cutting out egress windows through all that concrete will be so expensive that we are deferring it to another year. Does this improve fire safety? In fact, the new windows can be lifted out completely, and they are a lot easier for our children to escape through than the two remaining old windows with those sadistic, finger-killing latches.

I have no objection to egress windows per se – they’re a great idea, and they are much better for firefighter access – and I’ll feel safer when we are able to have them installed. But I do object to being forced by the government to install them if we want to improve the house by upgrading the windows. Our guest room in the basement does not get a lot of use, but because it has a closet and therefore is classified as a bedroom, the city says we must install an egress window or else we have to keep the old window.

We ran into a similar irritation upon installing a fence around our front yard. Because we live on one of Sandy’s busiest roads, we wanted to put up a six-foot fence to screen out the traffic a bit and improve our privacy, but we ran into city regulations there, too, and ended up with a four-foot fence.

It’s reasonable for a city to make rules to encourage safety in its neighborhoods. But at what point do these ordinances cross the line to become overbearing – unreasonably stepping on the toes of homeowners?

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  • Anonymous

    Yes, but have you ever stopped to think of the horror and pain suffered by someone trapped behind a window with no way to escape a fire?

    As a volunteer firefighter, I twice had to fight my way into a flaming basement.  Imagine trying to force your way down a chimney with flames erupting from it.  That’s what it’s like.  In both cases, we tried because we had been told someone might have been down there.  Window wells in both homes were too small for anyone — even a child — to gain access or exit.  In one of those situations, my partner on the hose burned his ears so badly some portions had to be removed.

    Fortunately, no one was down there.  But if there had been . . . . ?

    And have you ever had to go into a burned out building or vehicle and remove a charred body?  It’s an experience you won’t forget — ever.

    While it may be an aggravation, while it may cost a little more money, could it pay off some day?  You wouldn’t want to learn the hard way would you?  And even though you may sell the home, will you be passing a death sentence for some future resident?

    Not all government regulations are senseless.  In fact, the opposite is often true.  But this is America.  The land of me, me, and me first!

    • Diane

      There are millions of what if’s??? What if the hot water heater explodes (it can happen)? Should hot water heaters be illegal? What if a glass cup falls and breaks on my granite counter top, my child cuts his hand and needs stitches? Should granite counter tops be illegal? What if our house burns down and someone is trapped in a narrow stairwell? Should we have laws about how wide stairwells can be?What if a house burns down with someone in a hard to get out of basement bedroom? All of these are very rare. Fear should not be the the reasoning behind making laws.

    • Pamela Whitmore

      You make some good points, and I appreciate your heartfelt and well-written comment, not to mention your service as a volunteer firefighter.

      It is possible to crawl through our basement windows (or I wouldn’t let my children sleep down there); they’re just not as large as code dictates. (In fact, my older daughter has already crawled out her new window — after bedtime — to retrieve something in the yard.)

      No, not all government regulations are senseless, not at all. But there are many “one size fits all” regulations where it would make more sense to adapt to individual circumstances.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Cameron

      These are all seemingly valid points, Anonymous. But the problem with the city’s regulation, as illustrated by this post, is that they’ve created a disincentive to replacing old windows. 

      Having the egress law in place didn’t make this home any safer. In fact, it likely made it more dangerous, since the old windows are more difficult to get open.