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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My South Portland Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the most cost-effective ways to add extra space to your South Portland 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 offer an escape route in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more inviting.

Basement bedrooms and living spaces need to have egress windows. Living spaces 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 escape a house fire. It can become fatal in just 2 minutes and overwhelm a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to get out, correctly sized egress windows are a crucial secondary 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 style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage.

Depending on its age, your home may have been built before today’s egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a tinier opening.

If you own 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 provide 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 existing 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 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 an attached ladder or steps.

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

It's acceptable for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there needs to 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 a way out, 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 important that basement windows can open entirely. The window sash shouldn’t impede the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

Local requirements for basement windows may vary. Check with South Portland 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 not a lot of wall space. These windows operate like a door, swinging free to provide a spacious opening.

Casement windows open by using a handle. Pella® casement windows feature 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 large 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 pushing the sash from left to right. Some Pella models feature extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers deliver even easier operation.

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

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of South Portland

Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of South Portland. We can help when you're remodeling 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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