Does My Minneapolis Basement Need Them?
A finished basement can be one of the easiest ways to add extra space to your Minneapolis home. It can be an a great area for bedrooms, a family room or a playroom.
As you prepare for your basement remodeling project, be aware that you may need to put in bigger windows. Egress windows are large openings that offer an escape route in an emergency. They can also add more natural light and make your basement feel more inviting.
Basement bedrooms and living spaces must have egress windows. Living rooms can be offices, TV rooms or workshops. This mandate also applies to unfinished basements.
Why Are Egress Windows Important?
Basement fires occur frequently, with firefighters being called to about 6,500 of them in the U.S. every year.
Time is limited to escape a house fire. It can become deadly in just 2 minutes and overwhelm a home within 5 minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When you only have minutes to escape, large egress windows are a critical secondary exit.
Basement Windows in Older Homes May Be Too Small
Basements in older homes were not designed 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 have preceded today’s egress window requirements. Or it may have windows with a tinier opening.
If you live in an older home, there’s a good likelihood it has short windows in the basement. Also referred to as 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 enter through.
How to Measure Your Basement Windows
Unsure if your existing basement windows meet modern 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 larger 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 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 an attached ladder or steps.
Using timber or concrete blocks in the well makes it easy to add steps. Plus, you can add a few small landscaping features, like crushed rock or potted plant.
It's acceptable for basement windows to be under a deck or porch. But there must be enough space for an average-sized adult to exit.
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 essential that basement windows can fully open. The window sash shouldn’t obstruct the opening. This allows your family to quickly exit—or first responders to quickly enter.
Local requirements for basement windows may differ. Check with Minneapolis building officials to learn more about area guidelines.
Choosing Basement Egress Windows
There are several styles of windows that work well for basements and satisfy building code requirements.
Casement windows are a good option for limited wall space. These windows work like a door, swinging free to provide a wide opening.
Casement windows open by rotating a handle. Pella® casement windows use a crank that folds away. That way, the crank won't interfere with window treatments.
This window must have at least 8 square feet of net opening.
Sliding windows are great for adding more light to big 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 pushing the sash from left to right. Some Pella models include 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 Minneapolis
Basement escape windows are an essential for downstairs living spaces. They can be a lifesaving tool in an emergency. Talk with our professionals at Pella of Minneapolis. We can help when you're updating your basement.
We can also assist you in finding the right window that fits your project, budget and local egress requirements.