What’s an Egress Window and Are They Required?
Egress windows, as defined by local business codes, is a window large enough for entry or exit in case of an emergency such as a fire or any life-threatening situation. The Oxford Dictionary defines egress as the process of leaving a place.
Although they are not a new concept, the regulations and standards associated with their required sizes and where they are needed have changed.
Many window companies don’t inform homeowners about current egress window requirements and regulations, and they often install windows that don’t meet the fire code standards. Not only can this be deadly, but it’s also unlawful. Here is what you need to know about egress windows.
Are Egress Windows Required?
The International Residential Code (IRC) pertains to single-family and two-family homes. This code aims to keep you and your family safe by requiring a means of egress in all basement-level living areas; it is the law.
The reason for this is twofold: to provide for an exit in case of emergencies and to provide a means for firefighters and other emergency response personnel to gain entry. The IRC gets revised every three years, so check with your local building department to determine which version of the IRC they are reinforcing.
Here is an overview of the section R310 of the code as it applies to egress windows.
Section R310 of the IRC
You need egress windows in any habitable area. Notably, every room used for sleeping will need its egress window. If you create an additional sleeping room in your existing home or create a separate living area in your basement, the code stipulates that you fix an egress window to serve these areas as well. Without a way of egress, these rooms can become dangerous fire traps. If you have a basement that has a family room, bedroom, office, media room, or gym, all these rooms need a means of egress.
Egress Window Requirements
The codes vary depending on the city and state, so check with your city offices. However, an egress window should comply with four IRC criteria:
- An opening width not less than 20 inches
- An opening height not less than 24 inches
- A net clear opening not less than 5.8 square feet and 5.0 square feet for the ground floor
- A peak sill height of 44 inches above the floor
The window requires a net clear opening of not less than 5.8 square feet. The net clear opening means the actual clear and free space that you see when the window is open. It’s not the size of the glass panel but the actual opening that can allow a person to crawl through.
This window opening must have the ability to be opened from the inside without the need for a key or any special tools and still allow a minimum clear opening.
To allow for an easy exit, the window wells should be placed at least 76 centimeters away from the window. Regular basement awning windows don’t comply with the building codes since they don’t open sufficiently and are not large enough to allow clear passage.
What is the Difference Between a Basement Window and an Egress Window?
Not all basement windows qualify as egress windows. For example, if you have an incomplete basement, it may already have ventilation windows. However, these probably may not meet the egress window code.
But, if your basement has finished, habitable rooms, the IRC requires it to have egress windows, or other egress means such as a patio door. Also, every basement bedroom, whether added or existing, is required by the IRC to have an egress window.
Basement emergency openings have more stringent standards than the egress areas in other parts of the house. They must:
- Have at least 9 square feet of open space
- Have a minimum width and height of 36 inches
- Be able to be fully opened from inside
- Have permanently attached steps or a ladder if the window is placed more than 44 inches above the floor
- The ladder must be no less than 12 inches wide with at least 3 inches from the window well. Neither can the open window obstruct the ladder nor infringe on the mandatory open window dimensions by more than six inches
- If it is under a deck or porch, there must be an allowance of at least 36 inches between the bottom of the structure joists and the top of the window
While these stipulations satisfy the IRC, each city and state code differs on the required size of egress windows. Thus, before you build, consult your contractor to ensure the windows meet the required standards.
Why You Should Care About Egress Windows
Although this sounds like an overwhelming list of requirements, particularly when you are renovating your basement, those who have used egress windows to escape a basement fire will tell you they are lifesavers.
Keeping your building up to code is important, but also make sure that egress windows are easily accessible in case of an emergency. Obviously, keep flammable liquids and objects that could block an emergency path away from these windows.