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by Paul Bianchina, Inman News

Were homeowners victims of up-selling?

Open windowQ: We recently replaced windows that were less than 20 years old, and were told that by law they had to put tempered glass in any window above the front door and above the bathtub.

So I assume that glass costs more.

We also learned that the windows had to be a certain size to open for fire reasons so a fireman could come in through the window with his full gear on. So we have one window that is quite fancy, which both slides and opens out.

But in my view if there were a fire there’d be no way the fireman would care to figure out how it opens and would just break it with his ax.

I wonder if we paid more than we should have and whether it’s really a law. Although it’s too late for us and we are happy enough with the windows, I feel like a sucker at times with high-powered salespeople. Should I have checked with building codes?

A: You didn’t do anything wrong, and it doesn’t sound as though you were suckered by the window company, although they did perhaps misinform you a little.

Tempered glass is indeed required by the building codes in the areas you mention — above or adjacent to a door, and inside a bathtub or shower enclosure. It is also required within the door itself, in stairwells, in patio and French doors, and in certain other locations. This is simply a safety precaution in areas where the glass is subject to a lot of vibration, or where there is a chance that a person could fall against the window and break it.

Windows of a specific minimum height, width and distance off the floor are also required in any sleeping room. Called egress windows, they are a safety precaution to allow a person sleeping in the room to be able to escape in the event of a fire. Egress windows are required only in sleeping rooms, and they are specifically for egress — exiting the room — not to allow a fireman to enter (you are correct in assuming that in the event of a fire, a fireman is not going to work his or her way around the house and look for an open window to crawl through).

So while I think you were fine in making the purchases that you did, you do raise some valid concerns about high-pressure salespeople. I would offer a couple of words of advice to you — and all my readers — regarding future home improvement shopping:

Don’t ever feel pressured into making a decision. Don’t be misled by “sales that are only on through today”; “special discounts if you buy right now.”

If you do make a decision that you regret after you leave the store, remember that you have a “cooling off” period during which you can rescind the purchase or void the contract. For specifics on the cooling off period, ask the salesperson you’re dealing with. If they can’t or won’t answer the question, then shop somewhere else.

Any time that you are quoted a specific building code or other law or ordinance that you’re not familiar with, ask to see a copy of it, or ask for the specific reference number so that you can call your local building department or go to your local library’s reference department and read it for yourself. Even well-intentioned salespeople can make a mistake or misunderstand the wording or the intent of the code, so it never hurts to double-check things.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

Copyright 2009 Paul Bianchina

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