A Beginner’s Guide to Egress Windows

Egress windows double as emergency exits. They must be big enough for the average homeowner to crawl through in case of a fire.

Egress Windows

International code dictates that you must have egress windows in all sleeping rooms – meaning most of the windows in your house are probably compliant. But the real issue with egress windows is in basements, where space is limited.


What is an Egress Window?

An egress window is an emergency exit that allows you to escape a fire and provides space for firefighters to enter the residence.

According to the International Residential Code, all sleeping rooms in a home must have at least one method of egress.

While installing large egress windows on the first or second floor isn’t an issue, it’s much harder in the basement. Basements are partially or fully underground, so installing a big enough window can be costly and labor-intensive.


How Big Does an Egress Window Have to Be?

The International Residential Code sets standards for the egress window size. But, before you begin on a project, check with your local zoning office.

Here are the latest egress window standards:

  • Window minimum net clear opening height: 24 inches
  • Window minimum net clear opening width: 20 inches
  • You must not install the window more than 44 inches from the floor
  • The window must have a net clear opening of 5.7 square feet or 5 feet for a ground floor

What is an Egress Window Well?

An egress window well is used in below-grade basements. The good area is clear from dirt and surrounded by a protective u-shaped piece of plastic or metal. The u-shaped surround keeps the encircling area from caving in. It also allows occupants and firefighters to exit or enter the home.

An egress window well must be a minimum of 36 inches from the window, at least 9 square feet, and not interfere with the window opening.

You’ll also need to install drainage so the well doesn’t flood.

What is an Egress Window Cover?

An egress cover goes over the window well to prevent pets or children from falling into it. The cover also keeps the area clear of debris. These covers are typically plexiglass.

To be up to code, an egress window cover must be easy to remove without tools.


What are the Types of Egress Windows?

Any window that fully opens with a minimum net height of 24 inches and minimum net width of 20 inches qualifies as an egress window. There are three main types: casement, horizontal sliding, and double or single hung.

Casement Window

Casement windows are the most popular egress window for basements. They work on a hinge and fully open outward to one side. Since the entire window opens, they are much more practical for tight basement bedrooms.

If you use casement windows, the window well must be large enough not to block the window from opening.

Horizontal Sliding Windows

Horizontal sliding windows work well for basements that have space for a long skinny window. To open these windows, you slide one sash to the side. Since you can only open one sash for an exit, these take up more space than casement windows.

Double or Single Hung Windows

Double and single-hung windows are the standard in most homes’ first, second, and third stories. They are a tall rectangle with two sashes. In a single hung window, the bottom sash pushes upward. In a double-hung window, the bottom panels move upward and the top sash downward.

Since these windows are tall, they aren’t practical to use in a basement.


How Do You Open an Egress Window?

The way you open an egress window depends on the type you have. For example, if you have a casement window, the most common type for a basement, you’ll turn a crank or push on the handles until it’s fully open.

If you have a single or double-hung window, lift the bottom section upward. If you have a horizontal sliding window, push the opening section toward the side.

How Much Do Egress Windows Cost?

An egress window itself is not much more expensive than your average window. The highest cost comes from digging a window well and creating a hole in the basement wall. For a brand new window install and excavation, the price is about $1,500 to $3,000.

If you’re replacing an egress window, expect to pay about $200 – $950 per window, which includes material and installation.

Will an Egress Window Add Value to a Home?

To add basement bedrooms to your home, you must install egress windows. So while the extra bedroom can add value, the window itself won’t.

Instead, egress windows are a requirement for all rooms a person sleeps in. They are part of the international fire code that every homeowner must meet.


Why Do Egress Windows Leak?

A well-installed egress window shouldn’t leak. If your egress window leaks, one possible cause is a lack of drainage in the window well. If water builds up in the well, it can eventually seep in through tiny cracks.

Another reason windows leak is age. If your window is over 20 years old, it might be time to replace it.

Egress Window vs. A Day-Lite Window

If you’re considering a Day-Lite window for your basement, it does not count as an egress window. In fact, it doesn’t count as a window at all.

Day-Lite windows are faux windows. They feature panels that look like windows and lights that mimic daylight. You can install one anywhere in your home by hanging it on the wall.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Can an egress window be under a deck?

The International Residential Code states that egress windows can be under a deck as long as the window has a path that’s 36 inches wide by 36 inches tall and leads to a yard or court. The window must also be fully openable.

How many egress windows per basement bedroom?

Every basement bedroom must have at least one egress window.

What kind of egress window should you use in a basement?

The casement window is the most popular type of egress window for a basement. Casement windows are ideal because they open fully and therefore take up less space than other types of windows.

What’s the difference between an egress window and an escape window?

An egress window is an escape window – these terms are interchangeable. But, to meet safety codes, an egress or escape window must have a minimum opening height of 24 inches and a minimum opening width of 20 inches.

Can you put curtains on an egress window?

You can put curtains on the egress window. Ensure your window treatments are easy to move out of the way if you need to make an emergency exit.

Final Thoughts

You must have an egress window in every bedroom or area a person sleeps. While this is no big deal on a home’s main or upper levels, it can pose a problem in basements. Since basements are below grade, it’s tricky to install tall windows in them.

If you are creating bedrooms in your basement, you’ll need to choose a spot for an egress window, excavate around it, and install a window well. Make sure your window meets all minimum requirements so occupants can escape in the event of a fire.