We all know what windows are, the ones you find in houses … not on your computer, LOL. There are many different window styles and we don't know all their names. So what is an egress window? Egress windows are operable windows large enough that a person can easily escape in case of an emergency, like a fire. They are required in all habitable spaces, especially bedrooms.
Everyone in your family should know how to exit your home in an emergency. This means you'll want to identify egress windows and make sure children know how to open them. If you don't already have a plan, here's a really helpful article, How to Make a Home Fire Escape Plan, from the National Fire Protection Association.
Who Determines Egress Window Requirements?
Requirements for egress windows are included in the International Residential Code. The code is updated every three years but it's best to check with you local building department to see which version of the code they're currently using.
The requirements for egress windows is to save lives if there's a fire. You will more discussion about egress windows when finishing a basement or attic. In fact these same requirements are used for bedrooms on any floor of the house.
What Are the Egress Window Size Requirements?
All of these requirements for egress windows focus on making it easy for a person to escape the room if there's an emergency. Remembering this will help you make sense of the following egress window size requirements:
- Distance above the floor – can't be more than 44 inches from the finished floor. Consider making windows lower in bedrooms for younger kids. You can also lower light switches which I did for my boys who were 4 and born two months before we moved in.
- Height of egress window opening – must be 24 inches or taller. Picture slithering through this opening and it makes sense.
- Width of windows – must be a minimum of 20 inches … and wider even better. That means when you're planning your window layout for curb appeal, you should start with the bedroom windows and work down to the first floor.
- Minimum window opening size – must be 5.7 square feet (821 square inches). That doesn't seem like much space so I went and measured the windows in my bedrooms (Florida production built house where they emphasized minimum cost). Sure enough – window opening is 32 inches wide by 26 inches tall = 5.7 square feet.
My introduction to egress windows happened when I started my handyman business. A Portsmouth, NH homeowner asked for an estimate to build a bedroom in his basement. With limited construction experience at the time, I explained he first needed a design that satisfied building code requirements. This was smart as a basement door to the outside was also required for fire safety.
Window Wells Aren't Ugly
With basement windows below ground level, you have egress window wells, to provide enough space outside when exiting through the window. Outdoors you can add landscaping to integrate them into your home's foundation plantings. You will see them inside and they can look nice with a coat of paint.
These too have building code requirements:
- Minimum distance from window – to the back of the egress well, must be at least 36 inches.
- Minimum area of the well opening – must be nine square feet, so there's enough room for anyone using this escape route in a stressful situation.
- Fully operational windows – require the egress well to be large enough that it doesn't hinder opening the window … from the inside.
- Egress ladder or steps – are required for wells deeper than 44 inches. They must be permanently attached with rungs at least 12 inches wide and no more than 18 inches between rungs.
- Egress well covers/grates – must be easily opened or removed without tools … from inside the well.
PS When installing window wells, be sure to address drainage requirements so water doesn't penetrate your foundation (read: Basement Waterproofing & Keeping Your Basement Dry).