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What Are Egress Windows? Does My Basement Need Them?

What Are Egress Windows? Does My Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the most cost-effective ways to add extra space to your home. It can be an ideal area for another bedroom, a family room or a playroom.

As you get ready for your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to add bigger windows. Egress windows, also known as basement windows, are large openings that provide an escape route in an emergency. They can also add natural light and make your basement feel more appealing.

Egress windows are mandated for basement bedrooms, regardless of whether your basement is finished. They’re also needed for living spaces in basements that don’t have egress windows. This affects offices, TV rooms, workout rooms and workshops, to name a few.

These windows are a vital secondary exit. During an emergency, stairs or an above-ground basement door could be impassible. Egress windows need to be large enough for an average adult—or a firefighter in full gear—to come through.

In brief, your finished basement won’t be fully finished until egress window installations are done.

Windows in Older Basements May Be Too Small

Basements in older homes, especially those built before World War II, were not originally created to be remodeled into sleeping or living areas. Homeowners back then used this type of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t needed.

If you own an older home, there’s a good possibility it has narrow rectangular windows in the basement. Also called hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to let in fresh air. But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-geared first responder to fit through.

Basement fires are common, with firefighters handling about 6,500 of them in the U.S. annually. And you don’t have much time to flee a house fire. It can become fatal in only 2 minutes and engulf a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Requirements for Basement Windows

Building codes require a basement window’s opening to be a particular size. This allows for a quick exit in an emergency.

According to the International Residential Code, basement windows must have:

  • An opening width of at least 20 inches.
  • An opening height of at least 24 inches.
  • A net clear opening of at least 821 square inches—or 5.7 square feet.
  • A sill no more than 44 inches off the floor.

Unsure if your current basement windows meet present-day requirements? All you need is a tape measure.

  • Open the window fully.
  • Measure the width and height of the opening.
  • Multiply the width by the height.

Is your measurement equal to the required 821 square inches—or 5.7 square feet? If not, you need to have taller and wider windows installed.

If your basement windows are beneath ground level, you will need to have a well dug at the bottom of the window frame. This well needs to be at least 36 inches wide and 36 inches long. If the well is more than 44 inches deep, it will need a permanent ladder or steps.

It’s easy to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can include a couple small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plants, to increase your curb appeal.

Basement windows can be located under a deck or porch as long as there’s enough space for an average-sized adult to get out. At minimum, there should be 36 inches between the top of the window well and the bottom of the deck or porch joists.

Because basement windows are a way out, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removable from the inside. Both must be accomplished without keys or tools, because time is critical in an emergency.

It’s also essential that basement windows can fully open. The window sash, or the moveable part of the window that holds the glass, shouldn’t interfere with the opening. This enables your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

Local requirements for basement windows may be different. Check with Decatur building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing a Basement Window

There are several types of windows that work well for basements and satisfy building code requirements.

Casement windows are a good option for homeowners with limited wall space. These windows open like a door, swinging free to provide a spacious opening.

Casement windows are opened by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows feature a crank that smartly folds away so it won’t interfere with window treatments.

The minimum net opening for this type of window is 8 square feet.

Sliding windows are great for homeowners who have a spacious basement or want extra light. These windows have to be wider and taller because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the horizontal sliding sash.

Sliding windows are opened by moving the sash, typically from left to right. Some Pella models feature extra-durable tandem nylon rollers, which provide even easier operation.

The minimum net opening for this type of window is 16 square feet.

Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can also be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Include the professionals at Pella of Decatur when you’re preparing to remodel your basement. They can help you find the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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