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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Washington DC Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the easiest ways to add additional space to your Washington DC home. It can be an a great area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.

As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, take into account that you may need to install wider windows. Egress windows are large openings that offer a secondary exit in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more inviting.

Basement bedrooms and living spaces must have egress windows. Living rooms can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This requirement also applies to unfinished basements.

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

Basement fires are common, with firefighters handling about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year.

You don’t have much time to escape 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.

When you only have minutes to escape, large egress windows are a crucial secondary exit.

Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small

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

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

Depending on its age, your home may predate up-to-date egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a shorter opening.

If you have an older home, there’s a good chance it has narrow 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-outfitted first responder to climb through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

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 larger windows installed.

Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Building codes mandate the size of basement windows. 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.

What if My Basement Windows are Below Ground Level?

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 fixed ladder or steps.

Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it simple to add 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 an escape route, 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 vital that basement windows can fully open. The window sash shouldn’t impede 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 Washington DC building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

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

Casement Windows

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

Casement windows open by turning a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate 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 big basements. These windows have to be larger, because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the sash, which slides horizontally.

Sliding windows open by shifting the sash from left to right. Some Pella models feature extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers deliver even easier operation.

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

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Washington DC

Basement escape windows are an essential for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Meet with our professionals at Pella of Washington DC. We can help when you're updating your basement.

We can also help you find the right window that matches your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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