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

As you plan 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 mandated for basement bedrooms, regardless of whether your basement is updated. 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 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 built before World War II, were not originally created to be remodeled into sleeping or living areas. Homeowners back then used this style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t needed.

If you own an older home, there’s a good chance it has skinny rectangular windows in the basement. Also referred to 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 climb through.

Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. annually. And time is limited 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 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.

Not sure 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 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 permanent ladder or steps.

It’s easy to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can incorporate a couple small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plants, to enhance 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 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 essential 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 Muncie building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing a Basement Window

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

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

Casement windows are opened by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows feature a crank that smartly 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 large basement or want extra 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 have 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 device in an emergency. Talk with the professionals at Pella of Muncie 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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