The word “egress” is often used when talking about basement bedroom requirements. For many people, it is the first time they hear it. And for quite a few, basement egress requirements become a headache.
In addition to egress, the IRC has many other finished basement bedroom code requirements. Building to the code turns the space into a true bedroom that can be listed as such when selling, which increases resale value.
Note: Most of these code items are also in place for above-grade bedrooms. Along with additional and different regulations covering things such as egress, electrical, HVAC, and more.
The International Residential Code and Basement Bedroom Requirements
Anything that can be built is covered by a code–including basement bedrooms. The International Residential Code (IRC) is used as the basis of most local codes. (Up to 90% of US communities have adopted this code.) It is updated every 3 years.
Make sure that you consult local building codes. Most of them tailor their building codes to local conditions. Some of those conditions may include:
- Drainage. Local water tables may require special window well drainage codes.
- Encroachment. How close can parts of a house be to the neighbors?
- Basement Suites. Legal or not.
- Community Standards. For instance, over 55 communities may have filed a covenant with the city with certain restrictions.
Basement Bedroom Egress Requirements
The Cambridge Dictionary defines egress as “the act or way of leaving a place”. The International Residential Code (IRC) has minimum requirements for egress windows in all bedrooms–not just bedrooms in the basement.
Bedrooms are required to have two means of egress. One is the door, and the other must open directly out of the building. There can be two doors and no windows in the bedroom–as long as one door opens directly outside.
The IRC has minimum requirements for egress windows. Basement egress minimums:
- Width and Height. The opening of the window must be a minimum of 20” wide and a minimum of 24” high. This is the open area–not the window sash.
- Open Area. The window shall provide at least 5.7 square feet of open unobstructed area.
- Height From Floor. The bottom of the window cannot be more than 44” from the floor. It also must be no closer to the floor than 24”. One dimension allows people to get out of the window, and the other helps prevent them from falling out.
- Tools and Knowledge. The window has to be easy to open without tools, keys, or special knowledge. Awning windows do not qualify as egress windows because of the need to disconnect the scissor arm before it will open completely.
Note: Check your local fire codes. Egress windows are not only to let the occupants get out. They also provide access to firefighters and other emergency personnel–even with equipment strapped on.
Requirements for Basement Egress Window Wells
Basement egress window wells require a little extra space. Any window that is even partially below grade should have a window well around it to allow light and ventilation.
If it is an egress window, the well has to be big enough to allow the window to open and the person to escape or the firefighters to get in.
IRC says that the back of the window well has to be at least 36” away from the window. Enough clearance for an adult to get into and out of both the window and the well. The floor of the well can be no less than 9 square feet (length x width). If the egress window is a casement, it must be able to open fully without touching the well.
Any well that is more than 44” into the ground requires a permanent ladder to allow people to reach ground level. Ladder rings must be no less than 12” wide, 18” apart, and extend no more than 6” into the well.
Note: None of the window wells I ever installed met that ladder code. 44” is too much for smaller kids or someone with a physical problem. I installed ladders in every well over 24” deep and the rungs were 12” apart like a normal ladder.
Many deeper window wells–over two feet–have covers that allow light, but keep animals and clumsy people from falling into them. The cover also keeps snow and rain from accumulating–although there should be a drain pipe down to the weeping tile.
The covers should have a latch inside that prevents them from blowing open or off. The latches should be easy to operate–even for children. (A little fire drill training is never a bad thing.) Your latches will not slow down firefighters – they have axes.
The following YouTube video shows how a window well and egress window are installed.
Basement Bedroom Size Requirements
For one person, a basement bedroom must have 70 square feet of floor area with no dimension less than seven feet. Each additional sleeper over one year old requires an extra 50 square feet. At least half of the ceiling must be at least seven feet high.
Basement Bedroom Window Light and Ventilation
All bedrooms must have at least one window. The total area of the glass must be a minimum of 8% of the bedroom’s floor area. The total maximum open area of the window or windows must be at least 4% of the floor area.
Basement Bedroom Access
Every bedroom must have individual access to and from hallways or other living spaces. You cannot access one bedroom through another.
Basement Bedroom Heating Requirements
A space heater is not an acceptable basement bedroom heat system. The room’s heat source must be able to maintain a temperature of 68 degrees F. A furnace vent, radiator, or heating unit is acceptable.
Basement Bedroom Electrical
The bedroom must contain a minimum of two electrical outlets.
Basement Bedroom Smoke and CO Alarms
Smoke alarms must be located close to any location where people sleep. Some jurisdictions require new homes with attached garages or gas appliances to have a carbon monoxide alarm in each bedroom. Usually, existing homes do not have to comply.
Basement Bedroom Closets
The IRC has no comment about basement bedroom closets.