Does My Cape Cod Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the most cost-effective ways to add extra space to your Cape Cod home. It can be an a good area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.
As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, keep in mind you may need to install bigger windows. Egress windows are large openings that provide another way out in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more appealing.
Basement bedrooms and living spaces are required to have egress windows. Living spaces can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This rule also involves unfinished basements.
Why Are Egress Windows Important?
Basement fires are common, with firefighters responding to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. each year.
There’s not a lot of time to escape a house fire. It can become fatal in only 2 minutes and overtake a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to leave, big egress windows are a crucial substitute 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 made before World War II.
Homeowners during that era used this type 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 shorter opening.
If you own an older home, there’s a good chance it has narrow windows in the basement. Also called hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to provide fresh air.
But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-geared first responder to fit through.
How to Measure Your Basement Windows
Not sure if your current basement windows meet present-day 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.
Is your measurement equivalent to 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 at the base 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 simple to put in steps. Plus, you can add several 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 should be enough room 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 escape route, they must open from the inside. Any screens, grilles or bars need to be removed from the inside without keys or tools.
It’s also important that basement windows can open entirely. The window sash shouldn’t impede the opening. This helps your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may differ. Check with Cape Cod building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing Basement Egress Windows
There are several kinds of windows that work well for basements and fulfill building code requirements.
Casement windows are a good option for less wall space. These windows work like a door, swinging free to provide a spacious opening.
Casement windows open by using a handle. Pella® casement windows use 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 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 moving the sash from left to right. Some Pella models have extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers give even smoother operation.
This window must have at least 16 square feet of net opening.
Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Cape Cod
Basement escape windows are a necessity for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Meet with our professionals at Pella of Cape Cod. We can help when you're updating your basement.
We can also assist you in finding the right window that meets your project, budget and local egress requirements.