Skip to Content
Blog
What Are Egress Windows?

What Are Egress Windows?

Does My Wilmington Basement Need Them?

A finished basement can be one of the easiest ways to add additional space to your Wilmington home. It can be an an ideal area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.

As you plan your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to add larger windows. Egress windows are large openings that offer another way out in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more inviting.

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

Why Are Egress Windows Important?

Basement fires are common, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each 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 overtake a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When you only have minutes to escape, correctly sized egress windows are a critical substitute exit.

Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small

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

Homeowners at that time used this style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage.

Depending on its age, your home may have been built before up-to-date egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a smaller opening.

If you have an older home, there’s a good chance 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-equipped first responder to enter through.

How to Measure Your Basement Windows

Unsure if your existing basement windows meet present-day requirements? All you need is a tape measure.

  • Open the window completely.
  • 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 must be at least 36 inches wide and 36 inches long. If the well is more than 44 inches deep, it will need a fixed ladder or steps.

Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it simple to add 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 should be enough space 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 escape route, 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 fully open. The window sash shouldn’t interfere with the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.

Local requirements for basement windows may be different. Check with Wilmington building officials to learn more about area guidelines.

Choosing Basement Egress Windows

There are several styles of windows that work well for basements and fulfill building code requirements.

Casement Windows

Casement windows are a good option for less wall space. These windows open like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.

Casement windows open by turning a handle. Pella® casement windows feature a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't get in the way of curtains.

This window must have at least 8 square feet of net opening.

Sliding Windows

Sliding windows are great for adding more light to big 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 moving the sash from left to right. Some Pella models have 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 Wilmington

Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving device in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of Wilmington. We can help when you're updating your basement.

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

Back to Blog