Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


It is only logical---even if it has “stood the test of time.”

As one can see through this window, the yard of this home is very nicely landscaped.

 Stairwell with a view

A Google Earth image of the property makes the place look like a European Estate with matching hedges, ponds and walkways all around the home.

But this post is not about the landscaping.  It is about the “view”---and in particular---THIS view.  You see, this is a window at a stairwell landing---and has been this way for about 90 years.  One would say that it has stood the test of time---or perhaps not.

As an inspector I am in a position where I more or less have to say something about it---even if no one has ever died from the installation---or even been seriously injured.  Window components and glass can be repaired but injuries from falls into (or through) windows like this in stairwells could be severe and even result in death.  Some would say that with such accidents there might even be results worse than death.

Here is the view from the top of the stairs.  These stairs were to a finished attic play room.  Somersaults or tricycle rides down these stairs would not be a pretty sight.

Look out below!

Today this glass would all have to be safety glass and properly protected against falls.  Of course proper barriers would be necessary around the stairwell opening too.

It is only logical---even if it has “stood the test of time.”


Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector


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Comment balloon 48 commentsCharles Buell • March 06 2011 08:16PM


This has come up on many of my recent home inspections.  I sell older homes and it is a problem.  Good post for those who don't know this.

Posted by Navona Hart, Selling the Best Properties in CentralVirginia (Real Living Cornerstone) almost 8 years ago

That does look dangerous.  They could also install a runner on steps to help reduce slipping.

Man, I'd love to refinish those pine floors - they could look beautiful.  Oh, and what's up that wool carpet?  Beautiful carpet that doesn't look like it's bound so it's unraveling.  How sad.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) almost 8 years ago

Charles, Built/installed in a different day and age.  That would be a great place to make a scene for an action movie, but not for fun and play for a family. 

We've seen landings with half windows and thought is was bad.....


Posted by Gloria Todor, & Doug Durren (484) 431-3686 in SE PA (Century 21 Absolute Realty ) almost 8 years ago

Oh Charles, that DOES look so dangerous!  These are situations I hate to run across when I am the listing agent - a home was built before the code was established, and now that they are selling, it is an issue (and usually a costly one at that!)  I'm surprised the existing owner didn't have bannisters installed for safety.  Whew!

Posted by Melissa Brown, Realtor - South Charlotte NC Homes for Sale (Helen Adams Realty) almost 8 years ago

Charles~Looks very dangerous with no handrails upstairs ~ how is possible to pass inspection?

Posted by Karen Baker, Professional Help with Rapid Responses... (Sunset Beach and Beyond Realty) almost 8 years ago

That's one nasty spot for an old window.  I gotta agree with you there.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Charles, this has stood the test of time, like you have.... (happy birthday), but perhaps they might want to give that window a facelift...???



Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) almost 8 years ago

Novona, thanks and yes, older homes for sure---I would hope no one would ever find this on a newer one.

Debbie, that is VG Doug Fir---the stuff is absolutely beautiful when it is finished nice.

Gloria, it would be perfect for a movie like Home Alone :)

Melissa, it is amazing what people get used to---I think the current owners just didn't use this area much.

Frank & Karen, well as a home inspector all I am going to do is recommend repairs to make them safe---whether anyone does anything about it is beyond my control.

Reuben, for sure

Andrea, thanks for the birthday wishes---and I could use the facelift as well :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Hi Charles, That looks like an accident waiting to happen..especially with the drop if someone should go through it. I wonder how many (if every) times it's been broken in its 90 years. I have had this brought to my buyers attention when the windows are half this size on a stairwell landing.

Posted by Cindy Westfall, ABR,GRI Your Tualatin & Portland Metro Real Estate (Premiere Property Group,LLC Portland Metro & Suburbs Oregon) almost 8 years ago

Well, safety first is always a good thing. But I'm sure glad I grew up 60 years ago before Ralph Nader started the movement to fix everything.

Posted by Glenn Roberts (Retired) almost 8 years ago

As you say Charles, it is your job to talk about the safety issues concerning these windows even though the ambiance may be affected...

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) almost 8 years ago

Charles, Not something that would have probably come to mind at first glance, thanks for adding to the tool bag of things to consider when looking at houses.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 almost 8 years ago

Great point!  It is interesting how modern inspector eyes view things that have been "established" for so long.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

There is no way I would permit a child to "play" in that space (can't even call it a room".  No way.  Sometimes I believe that caregivers simply like to test fate.  I do not.

I would be suspect of any appraiser that didn't "condition" a railing on that landing. 

Who says it has "stood the test of time"?  How do they know??

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 8 years ago
Charles, that is the first thing that would catch my eye in going down those stairs if I were a buyer- something has to give to change there...any children or an adult could be at risk..
Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Wow that looks dangerous and needs to be changed. How do they now it has stood the test of time - because it is the original window, Could have been replace with same - no? Thanks for the post.

Posted by K.C. McLaughlin, Realtor, e-PRO, Homes for Sale - Cary, Raleigh NC (RE/MAX United) almost 8 years ago

Interesting it had not better set for safety before. Most have the same owner for a while.

Posted by Chuck Carstensen, Minnesota Real Estate Expert (RE/MAX Results) almost 8 years ago

Good blog.  I'd hate to have to try to sell that house and climb those stairs myself!!  I'm amazed at how often the stair rails have no hand bars which is also a danger.

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) almost 8 years ago

Well, it did look good for awhile. It is sad those that some interesting elements of the past can no longer be code in today's safety first world.

Posted by Lizette Fitzpatrick, Lizette Realty, Lexington KY MLS - Kentucky Homes (Lizette Realty - Richmond KY) almost 8 years ago

Charles I'll bet someone will be willing to fight you tooth and nail on this despite valid concerns.

Posted by Charita Cadenhead, Serving Jefferson and Shelby Counties (Alabama) (Keller Williams Realty) almost 8 years ago

Very interesting post Charles.  How exactly do you cover that type of hazard in an inspection report?  Would you make suggestions for remediation of the hazard? Thanks

Posted by Howard and Susan Meyers (The Hudson Company Winnetka and North Shore) almost 8 years ago

Hi Charles, safety and aesthetics can often be at odds.  As inspectors I think we tend to err on the side of safety.

Posted by Dale Ganfield almost 8 years ago

Charles, in older homes architectural design vs. safety often won out. Would you recommend installing some for on iron bars in front of the window and of course a railing on the upper steps?

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA almost 8 years ago

Very interesting, Charles. What may be pretty at first sight, can be dangerous. There should definitely be some barriers for safety.

Posted by Aaron Seekford, Ranked Top 1% Nationwide 703-836-6116 (Arlington Realty, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Charles - At first glance, it looked harmless enough. From the top of the stairs, not so much! Yikes.

Posted by Judy Jennings, Broker - The Lanterns at Warren Woods - Ashland MA (The Green Company) almost 8 years ago

Charles, however the fix is prepared it will take something away from the house, but at least someone won't be taken away on their backs.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) almost 8 years ago

Hi Charles,

Interesting, must admit that even though it looks dramatic and possibly scary , as you point out, it has been that way for....."90" years, clearly it can't be all that high of a risk........ unlike the average bathroom, where there are serious accidents every day all over the world. Sorry for taking a different direction on this one, maybe because I was brought up in Europe, where so many properties are hundred of years old, and have all kinds of hazards in many different ways.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Peter Pfann @ eXp Realty Pfanntastic Properties in Victoria, Since 1986., Talk To or Text Peter 250-213-9490 (eXp Realty, Victoria BC almost 8 years ago

Hey Charles.

I find things like this once in a while, and some of the agents look at me like I am bringing up something I should not.

Yes it is an old house, and yes this is the way they built em, but this is a safety issue. Children fall down staircases regularly, unfortunately.

Great post that shows why they don't build em that way anymore.


Posted by ray wilson almost 8 years ago

Cindy given out difficult it is to fix leaded glass windows (and note there are not even any cracks in this one) I would say that it has probably not been broken very often---but who knows in a 90 year old house?

Glenn, was he the one that started all this? :)

Paul, for sure---and things can be done to make it safer

Liz and Bill, you are welcome

Jay, there are lots of differences like this when comparing older homes to newer homes

Lenn, sometimes caregivers are not aware of the dangers either.  And of course you are right---there is no way to tell if it has stood the test of time if it has been fixed a bunch of times.  Perhaps the EMT's have been to this house regularly :)

Ginny, for sure

K C---the whole "standing the test of time" was a bit tongue in cheek.

Valerie, from the outside the window makes more sense "aesthetically"

Chuck this was an old same-family Seattle home.

Barbara, I definitely got a work-out on this house :)

Lizette, it is certainly more of a "challenge" to make things dangerous today---but we still try :)  Back then they weren't trying :)

Charita, fortunately there was no one to fight me tooth and nail on this one---just moving from one family member to another.

Howard and Susan, yes---simply recommend upgrading to current standards as possible.  The handrail should be no problem.  The barriers around the top should be no problem.  Bars to prevent falls through the window should not be difficult.  Even changing the windows to safety glass would not be that difficult (upgrading the old single pane windows to double pane windows is a good idea anyway).  The difficult thing will be fixing the barrier/handrail that is already there that is too low.

Dale, for sure---and how can we not?

Michael, yes, that would be part of any solution for sure

Aaron, as an inspector as soon as I saw the landing the "pretty" stopped :)

Judy, yes from the top of the stairs it should be pretty obvious to anyone

Ed, and I really think things can be done that no one from the outside would even notice.

Peter and Linda, either people were lucky for a long time or this are just was not used all that much for what it was designed---perhaps it ended up spending most of its life as a storage area---or perhaps something was even placed in front of the window to make it safer.

Ray, so true.  I often say that they don't build things like they used to---and generally that is a good thing :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Oh, goodness....yes, children go bump in the night...let alone during the day and out a window. Good point you make...I would be looking at the view ...

Posted by Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman, (RA) AHWD CRS ePRO OAHU HAWAII REAL ESTATE (Liberty Homes) almost 8 years ago

Like most of what we see doing inspections, it all logical and there to be seen. Residents are accustomed to it and potential buyers are trying to see everything at once. So they don't see it. Good post Charles.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) almost 8 years ago

While it might not have been code at the time, I can see why you would put the cause for concern on your report. Like you title said... It's only logical.

Posted by Craig Rutman, Raleigh, Cary, Apex area Realtor (Helping people in transition) almost 8 years ago

Makes perfect sense. I have a 5 year old. My skin crawled as I looked at the second picture, already envisioning the disasters that could strike. Perhaps it would be easier to put bars along the bottom half (white metal) to match the mullions in the window? I don't know - If I loved the house, I'd find out how to make it safe...

Posted by Christianne O'Malley, Exceptional Service - Delivering Results in Reno! (RE/MAX Realty Affiliates) almost 8 years ago

Years ago folks did not sue whether their own negligence of not. If a plane could not take off due to mechanical problem, you felt glad you were not up in the air in an unsafe plane that could crash to your death. Now we want perks for that day delay on a flight from Paris to the states on the return from a trip. Free ticket, put me up in the swankiest Hilton possible and still pushing for more. Not "boy, am I glad we learned about the problem before we took off" rather than exploit it. Agree in safety rails, side baninsters for little ones not to take a header. But it is also a big business and if you don't tow the road, insurance companies wanting to collect premiums don't want to pay claims and could ignore. Hard to legislate what used to be common sense to protect your family.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) almost 8 years ago

I would make sure there was a safety railing in the room at the top of the stairs with a door on it to prevent this type of fall.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) almost 8 years ago

Sally, it is easy to be distracted at inspections :)

Robert, yes---buyers are usually interested in "other" things

Craig, for sure---inspectors really have no choice

Christianne, there is nothing like a 5 year-old to make your hair stand on end

Andrew, well said---no way around it anymore---that cat is long out of the bag now

Tammie, maybe so but the window is still the real problem because someone could still fall into it off the stairs

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago


This is a perfect timing article. I was just discussing these type of issues with Dennis this morning. I must of felt your blog-vibe early!

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Charlie, Here was one I was talking about, bath and bed windows all about 6" off the floor.

bath window

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Good post Charles and good information to consider. Thanks for the insight.

Posted by Sandra Corrigan (CEO/Owner/Team Leader/Keller Williams Executives Realty LLC) almost 8 years ago

Hi Mr Charles,

Just a note to let you know that I am back again.


Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Don that does seem pretty strange

Sandra, you are welcome

Nutsy, I am sorry to hear that

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Ouch, that does look like a dangerous scene. It's like something that would've been perfect for a Home Alone movie though :)

Posted by Lydia Lucas (Prudential CT Realty) almost 8 years ago

Lydia, for sure :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago


Please do not be rude to Nutsy, he is the man.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

It is a beautiful window and lets lots of light into a usually dark staircase but I guess everything that is beautiful comes with a price.

Posted by Anne Hensel, Realtor - Broker - St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island (South Beaches Real Estate Professionals) almost 8 years ago

Steve, it is impossible to not be rude to Nutsy

Anne, yes---I just think it needs to be done in a different way.  Safety and function can work together

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Dear Charles,

Interesting about the "second look" at the window from a safety point of view - a necessary one at that!

Took a picture while out walking reminding myself of your technique.  One day I will ask the same question - can you figure out what this is? 

Have a happy day -

Posted by Lynn B. Friedman, Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers (Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ...) almost 8 years ago

Lynn, we await you question?:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago