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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Decatur Basement Need Them?

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

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

Basement bedrooms and living spaces are required to have egress windows. Living spaces can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This rule also affects unfinished basements.

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. annually.

You don’t have much time to escape a house fire. It can become deadly in just 2 minutes and overtake a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to get out, big egress windows are a crucial altermative exit.

Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small

Basements in older homes were not created to be sleeping or living areas. This is especially true for homes made before World War II.

Homeowners at that time used this kind of basement for utility space, laundry and storage.

Depending on its age, your home may have been built before modern egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a smaller opening.

If you have an older home, there’s a good likelihood it has skinny windows in the basement. Also known as 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 climb through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Unsure if your present basement windows meet today’s requirements? All you need is a tape measure.

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

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

Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Building codes mandate the size of basement windows. This allows for a speedy 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.

What if My Basement Windows are Below Ground Level?

If your basement windows are under ground level, you will need to have a well dug underneath the window frame. This well must 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.

Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it easy to install steps. Plus, you can include a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.

It's acceptable for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there must be enough room for an average-sized adult to escape.

There should be at least 36 inches between the top of the window well and the bottom of the deck or porch joists.

Other Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Because basement windows are a way out, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be taken off from the inside without keys or tools.

It’s also important that basement windows can completely open. The window sash shouldn’t obstruct the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

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

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

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

Casement Windows

Casement windows are a good option for not a lot of wall space. These windows operate like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.

Casement windows open by using a handle. Pella® casement windows feature a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't interfere with shades.

This window must have at least 8 square feet of net opening.

Sliding Windows

Sliding windows are great for adding more light to spacious basements. These windows have to be wider and taller, because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the sash, which slides horizontally.

Sliding windows open by moving the sash from left to right. Some Pella models feature extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers give even more effortless operation.

This window must have at least 16 square feet of net opening.

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Decatur

Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Meet with our professionals at Pella of Decatur. We can help when you're redoing your basement.

We can also assist you in finding the right window that meets your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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