A finished basement can be one of the most cost-effective ways to add more space to your home. It can be a great area for another bedroom, a family room or a playroom.
As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, take into account that you may need to add wider windows. Egress windows, also known as basement windows, are large openings that provide another way out in an emergency. They can also add natural light and make your basement feel more welcoming.
Egress windows are mandated for basement bedrooms, regardless of whether your basement is updated. They’re also needed for living spaces in basements that don’t have egress windows. This pertains to offices, TV rooms, workout rooms and workshops, to name a few.
These windows are a vital secondary exit. During an emergency, stairs or an above-ground basement door could be obstructed. Egress windows need to be big enough for an average adult—or a firefighter in full gear—to come through.
In brief, your finished basement won’t be fully finished until egress window installations are finalized.
Windows in Older Basements May Be Too Small
Basements in older homes, especially those made before World War II, were not originally created to be remodeled into sleeping or living areas. Homeowners at that time used this kind of basement for utility space, laundry and storage. Therefore, emergency escape windows weren’t required.
If you live in an older home, there’s a good chance it has short rectangular 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.
Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year. And time is limited to flee a house fire. It can become deadly in just 2 minutes and engulf a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Requirements for Basement Windows
Building codes require a basement window’s opening to be a specific size. 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.
Uncertain 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 bigger windows installed.
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.
It’s not complicated to add steps when you use timber or concrete blocks in the well. Plus, you can add a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plants, to add to your curb appeal.
Basement windows can be located under a deck or porch as long as there’s enough room for an average-sized adult to get out. At minimum, there should be 36 inches between the top of the window well and the bottom of the deck or porch joists.
Because basement windows are an escape route, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removable from the inside. Both must be done without keys or tools, because time is crucial in an emergency.
It’s also vital that basement windows can fully open. The window sash, or the moveable part of the window that holds the glass, shouldn’t obstruct the opening. This helps your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may be different. Check with Traverse City building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing a Basement Window
There are several kinds of windows that work well for basements and meet building code requirements.
Casement windows are a good option for homeowners with less wall space. These windows operate like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.
Casement windows are opened by turning a handle. Pella® casement windows feature a crank that smartly folds away so it won’t get in the way of curtains.
The minimum net opening for this type of window is 8 square feet.
Sliding windows are great for homeowners who have a large basement or want more light. These windows have to be bigger because the opening is only half as wide as the window. This is due to the horizontal sliding sash.
Sliding windows are opened by shifting the sash, typically from left to right. Some Pella models have extra-durable tandem nylon rollers, which provide even easier operation.
The minimum net opening for this type of window is 16 square feet.
Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can also be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Include the professionals at Pella of Traverse City when you’re thinking about remodeling your basement. They can help you find the right windows that fit your project, budget and local egress requirements.