Does My Portsmouth Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the easiest ways to add extra space to your Portsmouth 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 add larger 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 inviting.
Basement bedrooms and living spaces are required to have egress windows. Living spaces can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This mandate also involves unfinished basements.
Why Are Egress Windows Important?
Basement fires happen regularly, with firefighters responding 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 deadly in only 2 minutes and engulf a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to escape, large egress windows are an important 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 made 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 have preceded up-to-date egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a smaller opening.
If you have an older home, there’s a good possibility it has skinny windows in the basement. Also referred to as hopper windows, these above-ground windows open inward to let in fresh air.
But these windows are small—too small for an adult or fully-equipped 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.
Is your measurement equivalent to the required 821 square inches—or 5.7 square feet? If not, you need to have taller and wider 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 underneath the window frame. This well should 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 simple to add steps. Plus, you can add a couple small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.
It's OK for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there must be enough room for an average-sized adult to escape.
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 taken off from the inside without keys or tools.
It’s also important that basement windows can open entirely. The window sash shouldn’t interfere with the opening. This enables your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may vary. Check with Portsmouth 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 operate like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.
Casement windows open by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows incorporate a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't disrupt curtains.
This window must have at least 8 square feet of net opening.
Sliding windows are great for adding more light to spacious basements. These windows have to be wider and taller, 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 feature extra-durable tandem nylon rollers. These rollers provide even more effortless operation.
This window must have at least 16 square feet of net opening.
Talk with the Professionals at Pella of Portsmouth
Basement escape windows are a must-have for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of Portsmouth. We can help when you're remodeling your basement.
We can also recommend the right window that meets your project, budget and local egress requirements.