Does My El Paso Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the simplest ways to add more space to your El Paso home. It can be an a great area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.
As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to put in bigger windows. Egress windows are large openings that give an escape route 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 areas can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This requirement also affects 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. annually.
You don’t have much time to get out when there’s a house fire. It can become fatal in as little as 2 minutes and overwhelm a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to escape, big egress windows are a critical altermative 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 constructed before World War II.
Homeowners back then used this style of basement for utility space, laundry and storage.
Depending on its age, your home may predate up-to-date egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a tinier opening.
If you live in an older home, there’s a good possibility it has skinny 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-outfitted first responder to climb through.
How to Measure Your Basement Windows
Not sure if your present 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.
Does your measurement match 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 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 fixed ladder or steps.
Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it easy to put in steps. Plus, you can include a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.
It's all right for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there must be enough room for an average-sized adult to exit.
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 vital that basement windows can completely open. The window sash shouldn’t impede the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may vary. Check with El Paso building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing Basement Egress Windows
There are several styles of windows that work well for basements and meet building code requirements.
Casement windows are a good option for limited wall space. These windows work like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.
Casement windows open by turning a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't get in the way of window treatments.
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 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 pushing the sash from left to right. Some Pella models feature 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 El Paso
Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Meet with our professionals at Pella of El Paso. We can help when you're updating your basement.
We can also assist you in finding the right window that matches your project, budget and local egress requirements.