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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, take into account that you may need to add wider 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 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 pertains to 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 big enough for an average adult—or a firefighter in full gear—to climb through.

In summary, 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 intended to be remodeled into sleeping or living areas. Homeowners during that era used this style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t required.

If you have an older home, there’s a good possibility it has skinny rectangular windows in the basement. Also referred to as hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to provide fresh air. But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-geared first responder to enter 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 deadly 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 specific size. 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.

Unsure if your current basement windows meet modern 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.

Does your measurement match the required 821 square inches—or 5.7 square feet? If not, you need to have larger windows installed.

If your basement windows are under ground level, you will need to have a well dug at the base 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 simple 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 add to 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 vital that basement windows can fully open. 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 differ. Check with Washington DC building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing a Basement Window

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

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

Casement windows are opened by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that neatly folds away so it won’t disrupt 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 more light. These windows have to be larger because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the horizontal sliding sash.

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

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

Basement escape windows are essential for downstairs living spaces. They can also be a lifesaving device in an emergency. Talk with the professionals at Pella of Washington DC when you’re preparing to remodel your basement. They can assist you in finding the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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