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What You Need to Know About Egress Windows

Mar 10, 2019

Many windows serve primarily aesthetic purposes for your home, but they also provide insulation and sunlight benefits. However, certain windows serve a more functional purpose – namely egress windows. These windows provide emergency exits in the event of a fire or other life-threatening situation. Depending on the layout of your home, the use of each room in your home, and your renovation plans, you may need to consider installing one or more egress windows in your home.

How Does an Egress Window Work?

Most fire codes require all bedrooms in a home to have at least one window that can be used for egress in a fire or other emergency. Egress windows offer enhanced overall security for your home. In fact, your home may already have egress windows in a few places, and you may need to consider adding more. Egress windows also increase a home’s property value as a potential buyer would have increased home security in an emergency.

Basement windows usually must meet egress requirements set forth by the applicable fire code. This ensures anyone dwelling in a basement bedroom or other room in the basement has a way to escape the house in the event of a fire blocking access to the upper floors. If you are considering installing new windows in your basement, look at whether they meet egress requirements already. Ensuring safety and security with new egress windows may be as simple as installing new windows. However, if the existing window openings are not large enough to fit egress windows, the renovation may be more challenging and expensive.

Installing Egress Windows

If you decide to install egress windows in your basement, first check the applicable fire code and make sure the window opening is large enough. An egress window must open fully from the inside and allow enough room for an average-sized adult to leave the home through the window. The fire code will usually contain different minimum dimensions for egress windows, which must offer a certain amount of unobstructed space to allow safe egress from the home. Most egress windows must offer at least 3.77 square feet or more of unobstructed space and no dimensions shorter than 15 inches.

Concrete Cutting and Window Wells

If your basement does not have egress windows already and you need to install them, you may need to widen the window openings by cutting the concrete around them. This requires coordination between a concrete cutting contractor and the window installer. You may need to arrange this work so the window installer can fit your new egress windows as soon as the concrete cutter finishes widening the window openings. This can come at significant expense and may even require a building permit depending on local laws, but ultimately is worth it to ensure safety and compliance with the fire code in your home.

You may need to dig out window wells around your basement windows if you are installing egress windows for the first time. A window well is a semi-circular hole dug around your basement windows, allowing an individual climbing out of the egress window enough room to escape to the surface. Most homeowners will install covers over window wells to allow light into the basement windows while protecting the window wells from rain and precipitation.

When installing egress windows and digging the window wells, homeowners may have various options for lining the window wells for added security and protection from the elements. For example, a window well could have a steel or vinyl lining and a concrete pad outside the base of the window for added stability. Ultimately, refer to the egress window manufacturer’s instructions for installation and window well configuration to ensure your egress windows offer the safe functionality you expect.

Economic Benefits of Egress Windows

The primary benefit of egress windows is potentially saving someone’s life in an emergency. An egress window can allow a home occupant to quickly and safely escape a dangerous situation. This not only prevents injury and death but also spares the economic expense of hospital bills and other damages from fires, floods, and home intrusions.

Egress windows also offer several less noticeable economic benefits, at least at first. Installing any type of extra security features in your home increases the property value, should you decide to sell the property. Failure to install egress windows as required may even diminish your property’s value. For example, if you renovate your basement into a finished bedroom but fail to install egress windows, your home may technically be out of code and you will eventually need to fix this problem.

Be sure to check the fire code and determine how you plan to use your basement to decide whether you need egress windows, how much not having them affects your home’s property value, and how much you are willing to invest in installing them before selling.

Egress windows also make your basement more comfortable by allowing extra light into your basement rooms. Egress windows can also help with ventilation as you can still install screen coverings on them if they can be completely removed in the event of an emergency. This can allow fresh air into your home while open and help insulate your basement when closed, potentially leading to savings on home heating and cooling costs.

Things to Remember About Your New Egress Windows

The first thing to remember about egress windows is they are often mandatory. Your home may already have egress windows in need of an update, or perhaps you purchased a home with an unfinished basement that did not qualify as needing egress windows under local fire codes and building ordinances. However, if your basement meets the criteria for requiring egress windows you may need to install some or update existing ones.

Maintenance for egress windows falls along similar lines to maintenance for other windows in your home. However, since they are closer to the ground, they are more susceptible to water damage in some areas. This is especially true if you have faulty or ineffective window well coverings that allow water to seep around the window. Water damage is incredibly expensive if it goes on too long unchecked. Make sure to visually inspect your basement windows on a regular basis and check for any signs of water accumulation in your window wells.

Egress windows are a vital safety feature of your home and require the same level of care and attention as the other windows in your home. Investing in high-quality egress windows and paying for expert installation will ultimately protect the people in your home and help preserve property value and security.

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