Does My Champaign Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the simplest ways to add more space to your Champaign home. It can be an a good area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.
As you plan your basement remodeling project, take into account that you may need to install wider windows. Egress windows are large openings that offer a secondary exit in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more inviting.
Basement bedrooms and living spaces are required to have egress windows. Living areas can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This requirement also involves unfinished basements.
Why Are Egress Windows Important?
Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters responding to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year.
There’s not a lot of time to flee a house fire. It can become deadly in just 2 minutes and overtake a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to get out, large egress windows are a critical secondary 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 made before World War II.
Homeowners at that time used this type 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 own an older home, there’s a good possibility it has narrow windows in the basement. Also referred to as hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to circulate fresh air.
But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-geared first responder to climb 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 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 bottom of the window frame. This well should 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 easy to install steps. Plus, you can add a couple 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 space 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 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 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 be different. Check with Champaign building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing Basement Egress Windows
There are several kinds of windows that work well for basements and fulfill building code requirements.
Casement windows are a good option for limited wall space. These windows operate like a door, swinging free to provide an ample opening.
Casement windows open by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't interfere with curtains.
This window must have at least 8 square feet of net opening.
Sliding windows are great for adding more light to spacious basements. These windows have to be larger, 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 include 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 Champaign
Basement escape windows are a necessity for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of Champaign. We can help when you're updating your basement.
We can also recommend the right window that matches your project, budget and local egress requirements.