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What Is an Egress Window? Advantages, Disadvantages, & Types

Egress Window

Egress windows provide an escape from a house in the event of a fire. It’s a safety measure that recently became part of the building code across much of the United States to prevent the loss of life. If you are building a new home or are looking to update your old windows, you will likely come across regulations requiring you to install this kind of window, so keep reading as we discuss what they are and where you need to put them.

house divider How Does It Work?

Egress windows are similar to traditional windows except that they are larger. The building code states that the window must open wide enough for an adult to fit through, and many areas specifically require you to provide enough room for a firefighter. It can vary slightly from city to city, but the International Residential Code outlines the following rules.

International Residential Code:
  • It needs to have an opening width of at least 20 inches.
  • The opening height needs to be at least 24 inches.
  • It needs a net clear opening of at least 821 square inches, equal to 5.7 square feet, except when the window is below grade level, when it can be 5 square feet.
  • The window sill must be no more than 44 inches off the floor.

What Are the Different Types of Egress Windows?

Casement Egress Windows

Casement egress windows are arguably the best option because they swing open like a door, providing plenty of space to crawl through to make an escape. You operate the window via a crank, so it’s important to ensure that it’s not being blocked by anything. Casement windows are ideal for basements, where wall space is limited. They are also good if you have children because there are easy-to-remove stops that prevent a child from opening the window too far while still enabling you to use it as an emergency escape.

Casement Window
Image By: Sompetch Khanakornpratip, Shutterstock

Double-Hung Windows

Double-hung windows are similar to traditional windows but are slightly larger. The bottom half of the window slides up to open, and the top half slides down. These windows are easy to clean and install into older buildings, and since both sides operate independently, there are more options for escape. Double-hung windows are ideal when children are around because it is easy to create stops that prevent them from opening the window while still enabling it to work as an emergency exit.

Sliding Windows

Sliding windows open sideways like a glass door, and they are more common in modern buildings. The primary advantage of this type of window over a double-hung window is that it opens easily and quickly. There is no worry about the window slamming down on you as you make your escape, and there are no hidden sashes or crank handle components, so they tend to be less expensive. The downside is that they are easy for children to open, which can increase the chance that they will fall out, and it’s hard to create effective stops that enable it to only open partway to allow ventilation.

Slider Window_Svetlana123_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Svetlana123, Shutterstock

Basement Egress Windows

If you intend to use any part of a basement as a bedroom, it will need a means of escape, like an egress window, and the same goes for the attic. That said, many basements are below ground and require extra consideration. You will likely use a casement window, but you will also probably need to create a window well.

Window Well

The window well is an area that you need to dig out in front of the egress window to facilitate an escape when the window is below ground level. The well needs to extend out from the window 36 inches and be 36 inches wide. If the well is more than 44 inches deep, you will need to install steps or a ladder that doesn’t infringe more than a few inches on the required 9-square-foot well, which often requires you to dig out an even larger area. If the area tends to collect water, you may also need to install a drain.

Where Is It Used?

The International Residential Code states that basements, habitable attics, and bedrooms need at least one operable emergency, escape, and rescue opening. The opening must be operational inside the room without keys or special knowledge.

Advantages of an Egress Window?

The primary advantage of an egress window is that it provides a means of escape in the event of a fire. These windows also provide a way for emergency personnel to reach you. Knowing that you are not trapped can help you feel safer, and the larger windows also let more light into the rooms, helping you feel more alert.

Exterior of a townhouse with a Window Well_Jason Finn_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jason Finn, Shutterstock

Disadvantages of an Egress Window?

The primary disadvantage of egress windows is that their large size can require modifications to your home that can be quite expensive. The cost can be prohibitive if you have several bedrooms in your home, especially if you weren’t expecting to need this kind of window. Installing the window well can also be an expensive hassle.

divider 4 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where in the Building Code Does It Mention Egress Windows?

You can find the guidelines in Section 310 of the International Residential Code in the section covering Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening.

How Do I Know If My Window Is Large Enough to Be an Egress Window?

The best way to see if your window is an egress window is to open it completely and carefully measure the length and width of the opening. Multiply the two numbers together, and if it is larger than 821 square inches, the window sill is less than 44 inches off the ground, and it’s easy to open, the window qualifies.

When Are Egress Windows Required?

  • If you want to change any existing windows in a bedroom or other room that you use as a bedroom, you will need to upgrade to egress windows.
  • If you are building an addition to your house that someone will sleep in, you will need to install egress windows.
  • If you are creating a habitable space in your basement or attic, you will need to install an egress window.

house divider Conclusion

Egress windows are windows that are large enough to provide a means of escape for an adult. Modern building code requires them to be in every room where someone sleeps. If the egress window is in a basement that is below ground level, you will also need to install a window well, which is an area in front of the egress window where a person can climb to escape. If the well is more than 44 inches deep, you will need to provide a way out, such as a ladder or steps that do not reduce space in the well. Though installing the windows can be costly, the safety that they provide your family makes it worth the price.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay


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