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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 an ideal 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 an escape route in an emergency. They can also add natural light and make your basement feel more welcoming.

Egress windows are required 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 applies 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 big enough for an average adult—or a firefighter in full gear—to fit through.

In brief, 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 back then used this type of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t needed.

If you have an older home, there’s a good possibility it has short 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-geared first responder to fit through.

Basement fires occur frequently, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. annually. And there’s not a lot of time to get out when there’s a house fire. It can become deadly 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 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.

Uncertain if your present basement windows meet present-day 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 larger windows installed.

If your basement windows are below 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 permanent 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 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 room 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 exit, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removable from the inside. Both must be done without keys or tools, because time is crucial in an emergency.

It’s also important that basement windows can completely 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 be different. Check with Indianapolis 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 not a lot of wall space. These windows open like a door, swinging free to provide a spacious opening.

Casement windows are opened by using a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that tidily folds away so it won’t get in the way of 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 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 shifting the sash, typically from left to right. Some Pella models have 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 necessary for downstairs living spaces. They can also be a lifesaving device in an emergency. Include the professionals at Pella of Indianapolis 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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