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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 most cost-effective ways to add extra space to your home. It can be a good 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 bigger 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 inviting.

Egress windows are mandated for basement bedrooms, regardless of whether your basement is renovated. 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 list a few.

These windows are a vital secondary exit. During an emergency, stairs or an above-ground basement door could be obstructed. Egress windows need to be large 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 finalized.

Windows in Older Basements May Be Too Small

Basements in older homes, especially those constructed before World War II, were not originally created to be remodeled into sleeping or living areas. Homeowners at that time used this style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t necessary.

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

Basement fires occur frequently, 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 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 specific size. 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.

Unsure if your current 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.

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

If your basement windows are below ground level, you will need to have a well dug underneath 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 simple to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can incorporate a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plants, to increase your curb appeal.

Basement windows can be placed under a deck or porch as long as there’s enough room for an average-sized adult to exit. 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 critical in an emergency.

It’s also important that basement windows can fully open. The window sash, or the moveable part of the window that holds the glass, shouldn’t obstruct the opening. This enables your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

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

Choosing a Basement Window

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

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

Casement windows are opened by turning a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate a crank that tidily folds away so it won’t disrupt shades.

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 extra light. These windows have to be wider and taller 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 a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can also be a lifesaving device in an emergency. Include the professionals at Pella of Asheville when you’re thinking about remodeling your basement. They can assist you in finding the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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