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What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Charlotte Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the simplest ways to add extra space to your Charlotte home. It can be an a good area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.

As you get ready for your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to add wider windows. Egress windows are large openings that provide an escape route in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more welcoming.

Basement bedrooms and living spaces must have egress windows. Living areas can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This requirement also applies to unfinished basements.

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

Basement fires are common, with firefighters handling about 6,500 of them in the U.S. every year.

You don’t have much time to get out when there’s a house fire. It can become life-threatening in just 2 minutes and overwhelm a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to escape, large egress windows are a critical altermative exit.

Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small

Basements in older homes were not designed to be sleeping or living areas. This is especially true for homes constructed before World War II.

Homeowners back then used this style 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 tinier 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 fit through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Uncertain if your current 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.

Does your measurement match the required 821 square inches—or 5.7 square feet? If not, you need to have taller and wider windows installed.

Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements

Building codes mandate the size of basement windows. This allows for a fast 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 below ground level, you will need to have a well dug at the base 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 a permanent ladder or steps.

Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it easy to install steps. Plus, you can add several 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 clearance for an average-sized adult to escape.

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 taken off from the inside without keys or tools.

It’s also important that basement windows can completely 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 Charlotte building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

There are several types 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 work like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.

Casement windows open by rotating 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 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 shifting the sash from left to right. Some Pella models have extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers give even more effortless operation.

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

Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Charlotte

Basement escape windows are an essential for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of Charlotte. We can help when you're updating your basement.

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

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