HomeownerEducational: A-M

Egress Window Wells

Egress Window Wells

Egress Windows and the Law

According to the International Residential Code, all basements and bedrooms are required to have an emergency egress that opens directly into a yard or public space. The only exception to this law is in the case of basements that are used solely for the storage of mechanical equipment and that are no larger than 200 square feet. If there are bedrooms in a basement, those bedrooms are required to have an emergency egress window; however, as long as the bedrooms have these windows, other rooms or spaces in the basement are not required to have them.

Egress windows are designed to allow for quick escape in the event of a fire and to admit a fully outfitted firefighter into the basement without hindrance. Basement egress windows with sills that are below grade must have a window well. Code requirements stipulate that a window well must be a dug-out area of at least 36 inches in width and that extends at least 36 inches out from the window. The window itself must satisfy four requirements: it must be operational from the inside without the use of a tool or key; the bottom of the window opening must be within 44 inches of the room’s floor; the window must open to a height of at least 24 inches and a width of 20 inches; and the window must have a net clear opening of 5.7 square feet. A net clear opening refers to the area of clear space that exists when the window is in an open position. The International Residential Code is updated every three years, so it’s a good idea to check your local or state building code laws before beginning any construction or renovation.

Types of Egress Windows

Various window styles are manufactured in sizes to meet the requirements of egress window construction. Casement windows work best in basements where space may be limited. Double-hung windows and gliding windows, on the other hand, will have to be very large in order to meet the net clear opening requirement—the overall height of the double-hung window would be almost five feet, while the smallest dimensions of the required gliding window is four feet wide by four feet high. Some awning-style windows are manufactured with special hardware that meets the egress window standard, but in general, this top-opening style of window is not recommended for use as an egress.

Types of Window Wells

A manufactured window well is typically attached to the foundation wall with hardware and will have a ladder or steps built into it. Heavy-duty plastic and galvanized steel are popular materials for this type of window well. A constructed-in-place window well can be made using different types of materials. Window wells that are deeper than 44 inches must have a permanently attached ladder or set of steps. Regardless of the type of well you use, be sure that it has been properly joined to the foundation’s perimeter drain to avoid waterproofing problems.