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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 extra space to your home. It can be an ideal 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 a secondary exit 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 name a few.

These windows are a vital secondary exit. During an emergency, stairs or an above-ground basement door could be impassible. Egress windows need to be tall enough for an average adult—or a firefighter in full gear—to come 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 designed 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 required.

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 provide fresh air. But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-outfitted first responder to enter through.

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

Unsure if your existing 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.

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 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.

It’s not complicated to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can include a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plants, to add to your curb appeal.

Basement windows can be positioned under a deck or porch as long as there’s enough space 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 an escape route, 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 limited 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 obstruct the opening. This helps your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

Local requirements for basement windows may differ. Check with Terre Haute building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing a Basement Window

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

Casement windows are a good option for homeowners with not a lot of wall space. These windows work like a door, swinging free to provide a spacious opening.

Casement windows are opened by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate a crank that neatly folds away so it won’t interfere with 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 increased 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 pushing the sash, typically from left to right. Some Pella models have 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 necessary for downstairs living spaces. They can also be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Talk with the professionals at Pella of Terre Haute when you’re preparing to remodel your basement. They can help you find the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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