Today’s basements are amazing places, full of possibilities. Man caves, playrooms, kids’ bedrooms, bathrooms, even wet bars or kitchens are all possible in a properly constructed basement. But what happens if God forbid, there is an emergency in your home? What if there is a fire and you cannot escape up the stairs? What if there is an intruder upstairs and you need to get out of the basement to safety.
It’s the Law
According to the International Residential Code of 2015, Section R311, every basement room must have a means of escape via an egress window or door. This means that any time you add or finish a room to your basement, there must be a way to get out of that room in an emergency that doesn’t lead you through the garage or a second room. Have a walkout basement with a door in the family room? Great. You still need an egress window in the bedroom.
How Big Should an Egress Window Be?
To meet the IRC 2015 requirements, egress windows must:
- Have a minimum width opening of 20 inches
- Have a minimum height opening of 24 inches
- Be no more than 44 inches off of the interior floor
- Have a minimum window well opening of 5.7 square feet
This may require digging dirt away from the foundation, installing a window well retention piece with stairs for an easy escape, and possibly place a safety grid on top of the opening to avoid accidental falls.
Older Homes Need Egress Windows Too
Let’s say you live in an older home with a basement that was finished before 2015. You likely do not have egress windows in the basement bedrooms.
You’re in the clear, right?
Finished basements in older homes still need an escape route to be considered safe to inhabit. You would never consider living in a house without a smoke detector. A smoke detector won’t do you any good unless you have a way to get out of your house in the event of a fire. As a bonus, egress windows bring light and life to otherwise dark basement rooms.
How are Egress Windows Installed?
Installing an egress window is usually a straightforward remodeling project. First, a hole must be dug on the outside of the foundation where the window will sit. The hole will then be shored up with window well material that will prevent it from closing up again and provide an easy escape from the egress window when it is finished. Including stairs in the window well is the easiest way to ensure an escape route. Rocks, a drain, or other material will be placed at the bottom of the egress to ensure adequate drainage away from the foundation. Next, the interior and exterior walls must be cut to form an opening where the window will sit. The window is then installed and any trim or finish work completed.