What Are Egress Windows? Does My Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the simplest ways to add more 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, take into account that you may need to add larger 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 welcoming.
Egress windows are required 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 applies to offices, TV rooms, workout rooms and workshops, to note a few.
These windows are a critical secondary exit. During an emergency, stairs or an above-ground basement door could be impassible. Egress windows need to be big enough for an average adult—or a firefighter in full gear—to fit through.
In summary, your finished basement won’t be fully finished until egress window installations are finalized.
Windows in Older Basements May Be Too Small
Basements in older homes, especially those constructed before World War II, were not originally intended to be remodeled into sleeping or living areas. Homeowners at that time used this kind of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t needed.
If you live in an older home, there’s a good possibility it has skinny rectangular 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-equipped first responder to enter through.
Basement fires occur frequently, with firefighters handling about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year. And time is limited to flee a house fire. It can become fatal in as little as 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 certain size. This allows for a fast 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.
Uncertain 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 larger 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 an attached ladder or steps.
It’s not complicated to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can incorporate several small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plants, to add to your curb appeal.
Basement windows can be placed under a deck or porch as long as there’s enough clearance for an average-sized adult to escape. 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 an exit, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removable from the inside. Both must be achieved without keys or tools, because time is limited in an emergency.
It’s also important that basement windows can open entirely. The window sash, or the moveable part of the window that holds the glass, shouldn’t impede the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may vary. Check with Victoria building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing a Basement Window
There are several styles of windows that work well for basements and meet building code requirements.
Casement windows are a good option for homeowners with limited wall space. These windows operate like a door, swinging free to provide a spacious opening.
Casement windows are opened by turning a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that tidily folds away so it won’t disrupt curtains.
The minimum net opening for this type of window is 8 square feet.
Sliding windows are great for homeowners who have a big basement or want increased light. These windows have to be bigger because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the horizontal sliding sash.
Sliding windows are opened by pushing the sash, typically from left to right. Some Pella models include extra-durable tandem nylon rollers, which provide even more effortless operation.
The minimum net opening for this type of window is 16 square feet.
Basement escape windows are necessary for downstairs living spaces. They can also be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Talk with the professionals at Pella of Victoria when you’re planning to remodel your basement. They can recommend the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.