Egress windows and Egress window wells: helping your family survive a house fire

egress window well

Fire alarms and smoke detectors help alert you to a fire but what is your escape plan? Egress windows on each floor and egress window wells in the basement will provide an alternative way out of a house fire.

What is an egress window? Where are they required? What style of window provides for a better egress window? How to design an alternate means of egress out of your basement? Make egress window design part of your window replacement or basement renovation project now by registering for! Using the free easy home renovation planner tool you can create as many projects as you want, collect any information you need from images for ideas to quotes, to invoices, to warranties and more. The ultimate home improvement portfolio tool for homeowners.

My house is new, of course it meets code!

You're likely right, so look around and try to determine which window on each floor is your emergency escape window. An egress window has a clear opening of 5.7 square feet with a window sill no higher than 44 inches off the floor, and it opens from inside without keys or tools.

What's behind the code? 

egress windows

A 5.7 square feet opening is required to permit the average person to get out and/or for emergency services to get in during a fire. 44 inches from the floor is low enough for the average person to get a foot on the sill and pull themselves through. The code dictates that you must be able to open the window from the inside without tools. This is required for emergency situations. Do you have windows with security bars? Are they locked? Do they prevent the prescribed egress window from being used in an emergency?

Is there a means of egress from your basement?

All too often Basement renovations are done after the final house inspection is completed. Code only requires there to be an egress window on floors with bedrooms so if the renovations were done after inspection the code violation would not be enforced. Even if you don’t put a bedroom in your basement consider installing an egress window and egress window well, as there is only one way out!

My house is old, do I still need to comply with current code?

Codes are put in place to protect lives therefore even when you are not obtaining a building permit you should try and comply. If you’re renovating your basement think about your escape route when disaster strikes. If you’re replacing windows a simple change in the style of a window may meet egress standards and keep you and your family members safe.

What to consider beyond the egress window!

Consider what is on the other side of the egress window when you finally do make it through during a house fire. The landing spot is not dictated by code however if there is a choice to put an egress window where you can exit and stand on a lower roof before jumping to the ground, do so. Think through your entire escape, it may be difference between life and death. Small children or the elderly may need less than the code required 44” minimum from floor to sill, consider building in a bench or have a stool handy to assist exit during an emergency. Hand bars on the inside and the outside of the windows again may provide assistance in cases of physical limitations.

Egress window wells provide a basement escape route.

Rockwell - Decorative Window Well -

Egress window wells are not the same as typical window wells which are designed to only let the light in, Egress window wells permit an escape route should disaster strike. If it is a true egress window well it will provide a minimum of at least 9 square feet clear space after the window is open completely: typically this is 3’ wide and 3’ from house wall. If the window well is more than 44”deep, then you need a built in climbing device to get up to grade. The ladder can be built into the window well itself as long as it doesn’t interfere with the window opening or encroach on the required space of 9 square feet. Like upper rooms, consider what and where the basement egress window is opening up into. If it is under a deck, ask yourself how are rescue personnel going to get in or how is your family going to get out. Most municipalities want at least 48” from grade to bottom of a deck if this is where your egress window opens.

A traditional galvanized window well is not approved as an egress window well and isn't appealing to look at. Take a look at these approved egress window wells manufactured by rockwell.

How do each style of window perform as egress windows?

Casement windows hinge from the side and can provide a clear opening to meet egress requirements without having a super large window. Casement windows work quite well for basement egress windows as long as there is a good egress well installed.

Double-hung windows just by their design only permit half the opening space to total window size. Double-hung windows typically are not used as basement egress situations due to the overall size required to permit the required 5.7 square feet of opening space.

Gliding windows have the same challenges as double-hung windows whereby the overall window has to be twice as large as the opening space of 5.7 square feet. Side glide windows are often seen in basements; however, they seldom meet egress standards.

egress window

Awning windows are hinged at the top and, therefore, typically don’t open high enough to work as a good egress window on any level. In the basement, the open awning window will block any chance of escaping up a window well.

Fires are never predictable. The only control you have are the precautions you take now during renovations. Identify the egress windows in your home. Is there a safe alternative way out from every floor when the fire alarm sounds?


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3 Thoughts to “Egress windows and Egress window wells: helping your family survive a house fire”

  1. Great Post! With an egress window you’ll get more natural light as well as an emergency escape. Adding an egress window is essential when you remodel your basement to make a new bedroom or other living space.

  2. Geosynthetic Systems

    I am thankful this post.You explained very well about window-wells. It helps to improve our knowledge related to this project.

  3. David Quin

    I love the idea of egress window and the way it will provide our family safety. But I have one question is this also safe for burglars? I think this will also be a way in for those people who wants to do bad things. Just want to know more about these windows before installing one.


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