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Egress Windows: Requirements, Planning, and Installation

Egress Windows: Requirements, Planning, and Installation

Think your basement is too dark? Allow us to brighten it up with some ideas about egress windows. This DecorDezine article defines the implementation and benefits of egress windows.
Vijith Menon
Did You Know?

The tilt and turn window is the dominant window style in Europe, now gaining popularity among discerning architects, designers, and homeowners in North America.

An egress window is an emergency window designed to escape from emergencies such as fires. Vehicles like buses and aircraft are equipped with these kinds of windows, also called emergency exits.
Many people don't feel the need for an egress window. But recent rulings have deemed the necessity of this device. They have helped save the lives of many, and make it easier to escape in case of dire situations. For only $500, and two people on the job, it can be a wise investment. How you ask?
Well, for one thing, it lights up the atmosphere in a dank basement. Light is a critical design element in all structures. Of course, the primary benefit is an easy accessible opening for firefighters to rescue you. Basement fires are a common issue, so this goes beyond the code. Plus, with an extra bedroom, you could recover 10 times the cost of your window installation while reselling the place.
Size Requirements
An egress window must contain the following four International Residential Code (IRC) criteria:
  • Minimum width of opening: 20 in
  • Minimum height of opening: 24 in
  • Minimum net clear opening: 5.7 sq ft (5.0 sq ft if you are on the ground floor)
  • Minimum sill height: 44 in
The minimum net clear opening must be 5.7 sq ft. Net clear opening refers to the space an actual person can crawl out of, and not the size of the actual window.

The window should be operational from the inside without the help of any tools. Bars, grilles, and grates may be installed, but shouldn't pose an obstruction while getting out, and should allow a minimum clear opening.

You might assume a 20 × 24 in would be acceptable for egress, but it would provide a clear opening of only 3.3 sq ft. To get an opening of 5.7 sq ft, a 20 in window would have to be 42 in high. Likewise, a 24 in window would have to be 34 in wide.
Different Types of Egress Windows
Casement Window
This is the most ideal type of window used in housing projects. They have hinges on one side, and swing towards the inside. This makes it easy to climb out or escape in case of an emergency.
If this window opens into an active area, it can cause a safety hazard. Once these concerns are taken care of, it is a simple matter of determining if a casement window is right for the project. This type is also known as a crank-out window.
Double-hung Window
This type of window opens at the top and bottom. It makes for easy ventilation in a confined space. These are often placed close to patios or walkaways. Also known as sash window, the name probably refers to a double-hung window with two sashes that can move up and down in the window frame.
These windows provide interior cooling for warm weathers. Plus, they make for an easy escape as both windows open an equal amount. Go for this type of window if you love the Victorian Era look.
Awning Window
An awning window is useful in rainy areas, as the rain just rolls off the window onto the ground. Though these may look good with the decor, it is not suitable to install this type of window. It swings out from the bottom and may prove to be risky if you need to make a hasty retreat. Plus, even in above-ground bedrooms, their opening hardware and hinges are centered in the middle, and can block an easy escape.
Glider Window
Here, a sliding screen is provided for easy ventilation, allowing all kinds of smells to pass through. When we slide the window to one side, the glass takes up half the width of the window.
To achieve the required size, these windows have to be bigger than the actual opening that you may want in your basement.
Basement Window Wells
  • These types of windows have special requirements. Since they open up underground, a ladder needs to be placed for an easy getaway. Also, if the well is under a deck, make sure that there is enough room between the deck and window. In other words, make sure that there is enough room to escape. These windows won't do you any good if there are exterior obstacles in your path.

  • Special covers are available for covering the basement well. These plastic covers are made from an unbreakable material known as Polycarbonate, sometimes referred to as Lexan. These covers support up to 400 lbs.

  • Now they come in bubble cover made of the same material as the regular ones. These won't shatter when hit by a stray rock or a baseball bat. They withstand UV rays, without withering in summer or winter.
1. First, dig a hole next to the foundation. Mark the perimeter of the opening with grease or chalk. Rent a concrete saw for the job, and make your first pass about ¼ in deep. With a concrete block, a 1 in deep cut is adequate. For a solid concrete wall, make a 3 in deep cut.
2. Create a pressure-treated box with dimensions of 2 × 10, or however wide your window is. Apply it to the opening, and apply construction adhesive to the surfaces that will mate with the box.
3. Nail the top of the box to the sill plate with 2½ in concrete nails. Do the same to all sides of the box. Drive the nails into the mortar joints, and not the concrete blocks.
4. The top of the window sometimes extends into the siding. Mark it at the top of the opening for an inset trim. Use a circular saw to cut 2½ in deep, and a sharp chisel to cut the corners.
5. An untrimmed window has metal fins sticking out that act as nailing tabs. Fold the fins out and add some caulk to the box perimeter.
6. Set the window in place and check if it is level. Place the window into the opening, and drive galvanized nails into the opening while someone holds it from the inside.
7. Mix a small amount of mortar to fill the gap between the wall, the box, and any other cracks that were caused by the demolition.
8. Cut the trim from the sides and bottom, and nail it into place.
9. Caulk the seams between the trim, wall, and all around the window. Then, prime and paint the trim.
10. Level the ground in front of the window. You can install a well in front of this window too.
  • The cost of an egress window, including installation by a professional, can come under the range of $1,000 - $5,000. These windows are fairly complex to build, including digging out the exterior, installing the window, cutting out the basement opening, building the window opening, and sealing the window.

  • You get DIY kits for installing these windows. But take an opinion from a structural engineer to determine if they need headers for the window to bear the load of the house above. Adding a grate and drainage would need another $500 - $800.
It might take money and time to install egress windows, but they are made for your safety. Make sure to plan ahead and get the project inspected, before, during, and after the installation. It's always a good idea to look up the safety code and regulations in your area, or take the opinion of a structural engineer, prior to construction.