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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Northern Virginia Basement Need Them?

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

As you plan your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to put in wider 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 inviting.

Basement bedrooms and living spaces must have egress windows. Living rooms 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.

Time is limited to get out when there’s a house fire. It can become fatal in as little as 2 minutes and overtake a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to leave, big egress windows are a crucial altermative 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 made before World War II.

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

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

If you live in an older home, there’s a good possibility it has narrow windows in the basement. Also known 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-outfitted first responder to climb through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Unsure if your present basement windows meet today’s 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 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 underneath 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 easy to install steps. Plus, you can incorporate a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.

It's OK for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there must 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 exit, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removable 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 helps your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

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

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

There are several styles of windows that work well for basements and satisfy 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 turning a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't get in the way of shades.

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 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 pushing the sash from left to right. Some Pella models feature 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 Northern Virginia

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

We can also help you find the right window that fits your project, budget and local egress requirements.

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