Being locked out of your home or having a window stuck shut can be incredibly frustrating situations. Knowing how to open a window from the outside in these cases is an invaluable skill for gaining entry, letting in fresh air, or even emergency access.
In this guide, I’ll show you the various methods for opening different window types from the outside, providing tips for doing so safely and without damage (or with as little damage as possible).
Having the ability to open a window from the outside is an essential skill for a few key reasons:
- Being locked out: We’ve all experienced the annoyance of being locked out of the house without a key. Rather than breaking down a door, opening a window is often the easiest solution.
- Emergencies: In rare cases, you may need to access a window from the outside for emergency purposes like medical distress, fire, etc. Proper techniques allow entry while minimizing damage.
- Ventilation: During nice weather, you may want to open windows to let in a breeze even if you aren’t home. Accessing them from the outside allows for fresh air.
When faced with these situations, it’s good to know that a variety of specialized tools and methods are available for opening the most common window types from the exterior. Hardware stores carry items like slim jims, wire hooks, and door opening kits that can assist you.
However, the first step is always to understand the type of window you are attempting to open and its locking mechanisms. Not all windows are created equal! Taking the time to inspect and identify the window features will allow you to formulate a plan for entry.
Never force a window before understanding how it operates.
Tip: If you have to open a locked sliding window from the outside, first watch this short video and try this weird trick:
First Step: Check Your Window Type and Lock
Windows come in a variety of operating styles, each with their own potential locking systems. Being able to identify what type of window you are dealing with is critical for choosing the best unlocking method that you can use from the outside.
The main types of windows are:
- Casement – Hinged at the sides and swings open on a hinge. Uses a crank mechanism.
- Sash – Double-hung windows with two sashes that slide vertically. Have sash locks.
- Sliding – Windows that slide horizontally. Often use spring latches.
- Stationary – Windows that don’t open. Typically fixed panes.
|Casement||Hinged at sides, crank opener||Crank, multi-point locks|
|Double-Hung||Two sashes slide vertically||Sash locks, latches|
|Sliding||Horizontally sliding sashes||Spring bolts, latches|
|Stationary||Fixed panes, don’t open||None|
Additionally, window locks and latches can take different forms:
- Crank mechanisms – Casement window opener
- Sash locks – Devices that hold double-hung windows closed
- Spring latches – Simple sliding bolts on sliding windows
- Multi-point locks – Multiple deadbolts sealing casement windows
Stationary windows typically do not have any locks since they do not open.
Double hung sash windows will have sash locks on the meeting rails allowing the top and bottom sashes to lock together.
Older sliding windows use basic spring latches while newer models may have integrated locking mechanisms.
Casement style windows have the most complex lock options. A multi-point locking system engages multiple deadbolts around the window frame, sealed tightly by activating a single lever or crank.
Methods for Opening Different Window Types From the Outside
The techniques for opening windows from the outside will vary based on the window style and locks. Here are the most effective methods for common window varieties:
Opening Casement Windows From the Outside
Casement windows hinged on the sides present unique challenges for external entry. There are a couple options:
- Use the crank – If accessible, turn the crank mechanism as much as possible to disengage multiple locks. Apply firm pressure or quick force if needed to pop the window open. Be cautious not to break the crank.
- Wedge tool into frame – Use a slim jim or other wedge tool to create a gap between the window and frame. Slowly lever it open with gentle pressure on the tool. Can also try sturdy suction cups.
- Turn lock knob – If the crank is broken, see if you can turn the lock knob with a screwdriver through an access point to disengage it.
Opening Sliding Windows From the Exterior
Horizontal sliding windows have these effective external opening methods:
- Using your hand push the window up and down until the window lock moves into an open position. Here’s how to do it:
- Push around the sash – See if you can push the sliding sash around the jamb, especially on older windows, to create a gap. Insert shims or tools to widen it afterward.
- Insert pry bar – Use a hacksaw blade, putty knife, or pry bar between the sill and window to lift it up and over the track.
- Manipulate locks – Use a sturdy wire, card, or lock picking tool to manipulate the lock through a corner of the frame.
Opening a Sash Window
For double-hung sash windows that slide up and down, these methods can provide entry:
- Lift lower sash – Insert a slim jim, credit card, or hacksaw blade to lift the lower sash up from the sill. Move slowly to avoid snapping the blade.
- Remove screen – Take off the screen from the outside to access sash lock latches or mechanisms and release them. Avoid damaging screens when possible.
- Create gap – Place sturdy suction cups on the window glass to pull the sashes apart then insert a tool to access the locks.
If you are interested in how burglars open windows, check out this article.
Opening Stationary Windows
Stationary windows are the most challenging to open from the outside since they are not designed to do so. Options are limited to:
- Focus on edges – Look for gaps around the edges where you may be able to cut the seal or pry it open using extreme caution not to break the glass. Use protective padding when prying.
- Break glass – As an absolute last resort in an emergency, break the window glass using proper gloved hand and cloth wrapped technique or using a glass cutter. Only do so for safety reasons.
General Opening Methods That You Can Use From the Outside
In addition to techniques for specific window types, there are a few general methods that can be helpful:
- Force sliding windows – Use steady pressure with a pry bar or shoulder to forcibly slide open sliding windows from the frame. Try flexing the frame with your hands first.
- Remove screens – Take off window screens from the outside when possible to access opening latches or mechanisms behind them. Avoid damaging screens when removal is not essential.
- Use padding – Protect windows from damage by placing rags, padding, cardboard, or plastic around any tools you wedge into gaps or edges. Never pry directly on window glass.
- Check tracks – Ensure any sliding tracks or sill channels are clear of debris that could be blocking the window from opening easily. Obstacles there can often be removed from the outside.
- Spray lubricant – If you can access the sliding window track from the outside, spraying lubricant can help free up sticky sliding action. WD-40 or similar spray lubes work well.
FYI – If you can open your windows from the outside, you bet a burglar can do so. If you want to know how to improve home security by securing your windows, read this article.
Alternative Entry Methods
Before attempting to open a window from the outside, consider these alternative options:
- Check all doors/windows – Ensure the window you are accessing is truly needed and that no other easier points of entry exist. Check every door, garage door, sliding door, etc.
- Call for assistance – Contact a locksmith, landlord, building manager, or trusted friend or neighbor to assist before attempting window entry yourself. Often best to call a professional.
- Use hidden keys – Check for any hidden spare keys stashed outside the home that may provide easy access without window manipulation. Fake rocks, planters, and doormats make common stash spots.
- Pick locks – As a last non-damaging resort, use lock picking tools to open the front door lock if possible. Practice first and use proper picks for the lock style.
What to Do When Locked Out
When faced with being accidentally locked out of your home, here are tips beyond opening a window:
- Stay calm – Panicking or rushing will not help the situation. Breathe and approach logically. Avoid letting frustration impact your focus.
- Locate spare keys – Check nearby hiding spots for spare keys left with trusted neighbors or friends. Think through any places keys may have been stashed.
- Call a locksmith – Hiring a professional locksmith to gain entry is often the quickest and least damaging means. Many can arrive within 30 minutes.
- Use entry tools – Credit cards, bobby pins, thin metal, or lock pick sets can be used to try opening locked front doors. Watch for potential damage to locks though.
- Wait for assistance – If needed options are low, waiting for a roommate, spouse, or building manager to return may be the simplest solution. Make yourself comfortable.
Safety Measures and Precautions
When opening windows from the outside use smart safety practices:
- Use caution around broken glass – Wear gloves and carefully remove any broken shards if glass breaks. Fully sweep and clean the area afterward.
- Apply gentle pressure – Work slowly with any pry tools to avoid damage to windows, screens, or frames. Rushing can lead to breaking.
- Consider risks – Assess risk of injury from falling, glass breakage, or slipping before attempting. Use ladders safely. Have someone watching you.
- Check for weak points – Visually inspect the window frame and glass before prying for any cracks, rot, or weakness. Target areas that seem most sturdy.
- Keep fingers clear – Be aware of hand placement when inserting tools near the window sash tracks to avoid pinching fingers.
Is breaking a window legal in an emergency?
Generally yes, but it could still be considered trespassing or property damage. Only do so when absolutely needed for health/safety.
Where can I buy glass cutters or wire?
Most hardware stores sell glass cutters, strong wires, lockpicking sets, and other specialty tools for opening windows externally.
How do I open modern UPVC windows?
UPVC windows have reinforced double or triple pane glass that resists breaking. Look for weak spots in corners/seals. Suction cups can create a gap. Avoid forcing the frame.
What kind of professional can help?
If unable to open a window yourself, calling a locksmith, contractor, or handyman can provide assistance or access needed tools. Use licensed professionals.
Opening a window from the outside starts with proper identification of the window style and lock types.
Once determined, choose the least invasive method possible for the given window variety while heeding all safety advice. With the right approach and tools, gaining the necessary entry is very feasible without ever damaging the window or lock.
Just take your time, use care, and don’t force anything too aggressively. And of course, opening windows from inside is always preferable whenever that option is available to you!