Does My North Carolina Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the easiest ways to add more space to your North Carolina home. It can be an an ideal area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.
As you plan your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to install bigger windows. Egress windows are large openings that give another way out in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more welcoming.
Basement bedrooms and living spaces must have egress windows. Living rooms can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This rule 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.
Time is limited to flee a house fire. It can become life-threatening in just 2 minutes and overtake a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to escape, correctly sized egress windows are a crucial substitute exit.
Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small
Basements in older homes were not created to be sleeping or living areas. This is especially true for homes constructed before World War II.
Homeowners during that era used this kind 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 own an older home, there’s a good chance it has short windows in the basement. Also referred to as hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to circulate 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
Uncertain if your existing basement windows meet today’s 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 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 must 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 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 space for an average-sized adult to get out.
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 an exit, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be taken off from the inside without keys or tools.
It’s also essential that basement windows can fully open. The window sash shouldn’t impede the opening. This enables your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may differ. Check with North Carolina building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing Basement Egress Windows
There are several styles 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 a spacious opening.
Casement windows open by rotating 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 larger, 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 have extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers deliver even smoother operation.
This window must have at least 16 square feet of net opening.
Talk with the Professionals at Pella of North Carolina
Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be lifesaving equipment in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of North Carolina. We can help when you're updating your basement.
We can also recommend the right window that fits your project, budget and local egress requirements.