Egress Windows Buying Guide
Building codes in many areas require egress windows as a matter of home safety. Taking its name from the act of departure, an egress window is designed to provide an emergency means of leaving a dwelling. This guide reviews egress window requirements for basements and upper floors as well as the different types of egress windows.
An egress window should be large enough for residents to escape through in case of emergency. Building codes in many areas require them to be large enough to allow entry for a fully-equipped firefighter.
- For determining egress window sizes and placement, the International Building Code holds that every bedroom must contain at least one egress window. It must be at least 5.7 square feet, that is at least 20 inches wide by 24 inches high, with an opening no higher than 44 inches from the floor.
- In addition, the egress window requirements for basements specifies that they be at least 36 inches in height and width with a fully functioning opening. If a window is more than 44 inches from the ground, a ladder or steps at least 12 inches wide must be present.
- Basement egress windows must also include window wells that provide enough clearance to allow escape.
Tip: Individual states and municipalities may have their own specifications for egress windows.
Different types of windows can serve as egress windows as long as they meet the minimum requirements for size and clearance.
Casement egress windows usually have one or more hinges at the side and swing in or out to open like a door. This design can allow for windows to meet the egress requirements while being comparatively small and thus be suitable for basements and areas with limited space. Casement egress windows tend to be the most popular. Their measurements can range from 28 inches to 36 inches wide by 35.5 inches to 48 inches tall.
Single-hung egress windows feature two panes of glass and are normally designed so the top sash is stationary and only the bottom sash designed to move. Single-hung windows tend to be more popular in older homes and colder climates, and need to be relatively large to meet the minimum size requirement for egress windows.
Double-hung egress windows feature two panes of glass and are normally designed so that both the top and bottom sash can be raised and lowered. They also need to be relatively large to meet the minimum size requirement for egress windows, needing a space 28 inches to 60 inches wide and 23.5 inches to 60 inches high.
Gliding or sliding egress windows slide open horizontally, like sliding glass doors, and must be at least 4x4 square feet to meet requirements. Like double-hung windows, sliding windows need more room than casement windows to meet egress window codes. They need space that can accommodate a window 47.5 inches to 60 inches wide by 35.5 inches to 60 inches tall.
Awning egress windows usually have a hinge at the top and tilt outward open. (When open, they can resemble an awning on the outside of a building.) Many older awning windows often have limited opening space, so check carefully to make sure they’re up to code. New egress awning windows typically measure 36 inches to 48 inches wide by 23.5 inches to 36 inches tall. These windows often prove unsuitable for basements.
- Most new homes will be built in compliance with egress window code. When renovating an older residence, homeowners may need to install replacement windows that could be larger than the originals. Multiple types of egress windows are available that can fit in a preexisting frame.
- In many cases, enlarging the height of the window opening will require less structural work than enlarging the width, which may require additional horizontal structural support.
- Enlarging a hole or cutting a hole to accommodate a new window frame often requires carpentry and construction experience, especially in basements made of solid concrete.
- Like any type of windows, egress windows experience wear and tear over time. Windows that allow drafts or show signs of condensation between window panes may need replacement with more energy efficient designs.
Building codes require bedrooms to include egress windows in case an emergency escape is necessary. To meet requirements, make sure you choose a type of egress window that fits the available space.