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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Beltsville Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the easiest ways to add additional space to your Beltsville home. It can be an an ideal 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 larger windows. Egress windows are large openings that give 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 need to have egress windows. Living areas can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This rule also affects unfinished basements.

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

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

Time is limited to get out when there’s 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 get out, big egress windows are a crucial 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 built 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 predate modern egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a shorter opening.

If you own an older home, there’s a good chance it has narrow windows in the basement. Also referred to as 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-equipped first responder to climb through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Unsure if your existing 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.

Is your measurement equal to the required 821 square inches—or 5.7 square feet? If not, you need to have bigger 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 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 an attached ladder or steps.

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

It's all right for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there should be enough space 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 removed from the inside without keys or tools.

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

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

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

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

Casement Windows

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

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

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

Sliding Windows

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

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

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

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Beltsville

Basement escape windows are a necessity for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving device in an emergency. Meet with our professionals at Pella of Beltsville. We can help when you're updating your basement.

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

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