Window Egress & Safety: What You Need to Know 

As a remodeling contractor, I often get asked about window egress, particularly in basement remodels where the homeowner wishes to dedicate part of the basement to sleeping space. This is an important topic to cover, as egress requirements are put in place for the safety and well-being of occupants. Here’s a quick overview: 

What is window egress? 

Window egress is a building code requirement for any basement, bedroom, or other habitable space. In the event of an emergency, such as a fire, it is a necessary safety measure. Egress windows must meet specific size and placement requirements. 

Why are egress windows important? 

Egress windows are crucial for safety reasons. In the event of a fire, smoke can quickly fill a room, making it difficult to see and breathe. An egress window provides an emergency escape, even if the main exits are blocked. They also allow emergency responders to easily access the space in case of an emergency. 

Basement egress windows 

If you are considering finishing your basement, you probably have a few ideas, such as creating a guest bedroom, a home office or a second family room where your teens can hang out. If you plan to “inhabit” the space, an egress window must be installed. Egress windows are also required for some types of home additions, such as mother-in-law suites.  

Requirement for window egress 

Every sleeping room must have at least one operable window or exterior door that’s emergency egress or rescue approved. Egress windows must meet certain size and placement requirements. The window must also have a clear path to the outside, with no obstructions. 

Local Building Codes*: Fairfax County, Virginia, has pulled together an egress rules sheet in accordance with the Virginia Maintenance Code. Here’s what they have to say about basement windows: 

“Basement windows must have a minimum clear opening of 5.7 square feet, requiring a minimum window opening 20 inches wide x 24 inches high … with the opening no higher than 44 inches above the basement finished floor.” 

Loudon County’s egress window requirements are the same. 

Types of Egress Windows 

Egress windows come in various types, each with its unique features. The most common types include casement, sliding, and double-hung windows.  

  • Casement windows: These are hinged at the side and swing outwards with a hand crank. They are easy to operate, providing a large opening for escape or rescue. However, they require a clear area outside to swing open effectively. 
  • Sliding windows: These windows operate by sliding horizontally along a track. They are an affordable option but only provide half the opening space of a casement window. 
  • Double-hung windows: These have two sashes that slide vertically up and down. The bottom sash can be lifted, creating an opening for escape or rescue. However, standard-sized windows may not open wide enough to meet egress requirements. 

When choosing an egress window type, we help homeowners consider factors like ease of operation, size of the opening, and space outside the window so they can choose the appropriate style to meet egress requirements while still meeting their design needs. 

Benefits of window egress 

In addition to providing a safe escape route in an emergency, egress windows also offer several other benefits. These include: 

  • Natural light and ventilation: Egress windows allow natural light into a basement space, making it feel less dark and enclosed. Even if your basement is below grade, this can be achieved with a window well. They also provide a source of fresh air and ventilation, which is essential for maintaining good indoor air quality and overall, improving your home’s health. 
  • Increased home value: Finishing your basement (or partially) and adding egress windows can increase the value of a home because it creates additional living space.  
  • Improved basement functionality: Egress windows can make a basement feel more like an extension of the home rather than just a musty, spidery storage area. Overnight guests can gain a little more privacy (as you will, too), by sleeping down there, and your have more space for hobbies and activities, such as working out, crafting or simply hanging out with your family and friends.  

Window safety & fall prevention 

One of the concerns with windows is protecting children from falls. Windows are open to let in the breeze, and a child pushes the screen and falls out of the window (unfortunately, we hear about this every year). Here are some tips we’ve gleaned from the National Safety Council and Window Safety Week (first full week of April). 

  • Don’t place furniture near a window to prevent young, curious kids from climbing and gaining window access. 
  • Don’t rely on insect screens to prevent a fall from a window. Instead, install compliant devices to limit how far a window will open (newer windows come with this device built-in). 

Source: Window Safety Tips 

Whether you have young children or not, window safety is an essential aspect we don’t overlook when remodeling your home. 

To sum it up, understanding and implementing window egress rules is an integral part of home safety and design. By correctly installing egress windows, we can ensure that our clients’ homes are not only compliant with local regulations but also possess essential safety features that could potentially save lives during emergencies. 

*Note: This document is for informational purposes only