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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 easiest ways to add additional space to your home. It can be a great area for another bedroom, a family room or a playroom.

As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, be aware that you may need to add wider windows. Egress windows, also known as basement windows, are large openings that provide another way out in an emergency. They can also add natural light and make your basement feel more welcoming.

Egress windows are mandatory 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 note a few.

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

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

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 during that era used this kind of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t necessary.

If you live in an older home, there’s a good chance it has skinny rectangular windows in the basement. Also known as hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to circulate fresh air. But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-equipped first responder to climb through.

Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year. And you don’t have much time to escape a house fire. It can become life-threatening in just 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 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.

Not sure if your present basement windows meet present-day requirements? All you need is a tape measure.

  • Open the window as wide as possible.
  • 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 below 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 fixed ladder or steps.

It’s easy to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can add a few 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 room 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 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 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 be different. Check with Southern Pines building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing a Basement Window

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

Casement windows are a good option for homeowners with less wall space. These windows operate like a door, swinging free to provide an ample opening.

Casement windows are opened by using a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that neatly folds away so it won’t interfere with 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 more 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 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 necessary for downstairs living spaces. They can also be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Include the professionals at Pella of Southern Pines when you’re thinking about remodeling your basement. They can recommend the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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