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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Westerly Basement Need Them?

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

As you get ready for your basement remodeling project, be aware that you may need to put in larger windows. Egress windows are large openings that offer a secondary exit 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 involves unfinished basements.

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year.

You don’t have much time to flee a house fire. It can become deadly in only 2 minutes and engulf a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to leave, correctly sized egress windows are a critical substitute exit.

Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small

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

Homeowners during that era used this kind of basement for utility space, laundry and storage.

Depending on its age, your home may have been built before modern egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a smaller opening.

If you have 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 enter through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Not sure if your current basement windows meet modern requirements? All you need is a tape measure.

  • Open the window as wide as possible.
  • 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.

Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Building codes mandate the size of basement windows. 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.

What if My Basement Windows are Below Ground Level?

If your basement windows are under ground level, you will need to have a well dug at the base of the window frame. This well must 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 simple to install steps. Plus, you can add a couple small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.

It's acceptable for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there must be enough clearance 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 an escape route, 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 be different. Check with Westerly building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

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

Casement Windows

Casement windows are a good option for less wall space. These windows open like a door, swinging free to provide an ample opening.

Casement windows open by using a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't interfere with 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 spacious basements. These windows have to be larger, because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the sash, which slides horizontally.

Sliding windows open by pushing the sash from left to right. Some Pella models include extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers give even easier operation.

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

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Westerly

Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Include our professionals at Pella of Westerly. We can help when you're updating your basement.

We can also assist you in finding the right window that fits your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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