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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Birmingham Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the simplest ways to add additional space to your Birmingham home. It can be an a great area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.

As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, be aware that you may need to install wider windows. Egress windows are large openings that offer an escape route in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more appealing.

Basement bedrooms and living spaces must have egress windows. Living areas can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This mandate also affects unfinished basements.

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

Basement fires occur frequently, with firefighters responding to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year.

There’s not a lot of time to flee a house fire. It can become fatal in just 2 minutes and engulf a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to escape, large egress windows are a critical substitute exit.

Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small

Basements in older homes were not intended to be sleeping or living areas. This is especially true for homes made before World War II.

Homeowners back then used this style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage.

Depending on its age, your home may predate today’s egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a shorter opening.

If you live in an older home, there’s a good chance it has skinny windows in the basement. Also called 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-outfitted first responder to fit through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Unsure if your present basement windows meet present-day requirements? All you need is a tape measure.

  • Open the window fully.
  • 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 larger windows installed.

Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Building codes mandate the size of basement windows. 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.

What if My Basement Windows are Below Ground Level?

If your basement windows are beneath 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.

Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it uncomplicated to install steps. Plus, you can include several small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.

It's OK for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there should be enough room for an average-sized adult to get out.

There should be at least 36 inches between the top of the window well and the bottom of the deck or porch joists.

Other Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Because basement windows are a way out, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be taken off from the inside without keys or tools.

It’s also vital that basement windows can open entirely. The window sash shouldn’t obstruct the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

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

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

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

Casement Windows

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

Casement windows open by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't disrupt window treatments.

This window must have at least 8 square feet of net opening.

Sliding Windows

Sliding windows are great for adding more light to large basements. These windows have to be bigger, because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the sash, which slides horizontally.

Sliding windows open by moving the sash from left to right. Some Pella models feature extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers deliver even more effortless operation.

This window must have at least 16 square feet of net opening.

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Birmingham

Basement escape windows are an essential for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Include our professionals at Pella of Birmingham. We can help when you're remodeling your basement.

We can also recommend the right window that matches your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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