Does My Boston Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the simplest ways to add additional space to your Boston home. It can be an a good area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.
As you plan your basement remodeling project, be aware that you may need to add 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 welcoming.
Basement bedrooms and living spaces are required to have egress windows. Living rooms can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This requirement also applies to unfinished basements.
Why Are Egress Windows Important?
Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. every year.
There’s not a lot of time to flee a house fire. It can become life-threatening in as little as 2 minutes and engulf a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to leave, correctly sized egress windows are a critical altermative 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 constructed 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 predate modern egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a smaller opening.
If you live in an older home, there’s a good possibility it has skinny windows in the basement. Also called 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-outfitted first responder to fit through.
How to Measure Your Basement Windows
Uncertain if your existing basement windows meet modern requirements? All you need is a tape measure.
- Open the window as wide as possible.
- 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 bigger windows installed.
Requirements for Egress Windows in Basements
Building codes mandate the size of basement windows. This allows for a quick 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 beneath ground level, you will need to have a well dug underneath 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 uncomplicated to install steps. Plus, you can include 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 room 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 a way out, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removable from the inside without keys or tools.
It’s also important that basement windows can completely open. The window sash shouldn’t interfere with the opening. This enables your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may vary. Check with Boston 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 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 using a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate 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 are great for adding more light to large basements. These windows have to be wider and taller, 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 include extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers provide even more effortless operation.
This window must have at least 16 square feet of net opening.
Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Boston
Basement escape windows are an essential for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving device in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of Boston. We can help when you're redoing your basement.
We can also assist you in finding the right window that fits your project, budget and local egress requirements.