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Part of a comprehensive fire safety plan for a home involves making sure that the structure complies with the local fire safety code. These regulations are in place to ensure that domiciles are constructed safely to allow occupants to escape in the event of a fire. One important fire safety stipulation involves escape avenues from sleeping quarters. Bedrooms must have at least one exit point that leads to the outside of the building in order to be fire code compliant. These codes apply to owner-occupied homes as well as rental homes and apartments.

Q: What is an egress window?

A: The word egress is defined as a means or point of exit. The logical definition of an egress window, therefore, is a window that is big enough to serve as a point of exit in the event of an emergency. Egress windows can also be a point of entry for an emergency responder. Safety codes require that a finished basement with a living or sleeping area has an egress window installed to provide inhabitants with a means of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency. Egress windows are an important safety feature, and they can also be a beautiful enhancement to a living area, adding natural lighting.

Q: Why are egress windows important?

A: Not only are egress windows potentially a crucial means of escape in an emergency, but they are also required by construction codes for all habitable rooms in a home. Most above-ground rooms in a house will have windows as standard features. Unfinished basements that are renovated to become habitable spaces will need to include egress windows as a part of the renovation project. Once they are installed, you will have peace of mind knowing that family members will have adequate means of escape in a fire, and firefighters will have another entrance point if other doorways are inaccessible. Egress windows also allow natural light into a basement, which can be appealing. As you plan and install an egress window, make sure all window blinds are easy to remove or move aside in the event of a fire.

Q: What are the regulations surrounding egress windows?

A: To meet International Residential Code criteria, egress windows must have a minimum opening width of 20 inches and a minimum opening height of 24 inches. They must also have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet and be no more than 44 inches from the floor at the sill. You also need to be able to operate the window from the inside without the need for tools or keys.

Q: Can my home have a bedroom without an egress window?

A: Local fire codes will dictate whether a bedroom can be legally defined as a bedroom if it doesn't have an egress window. The rule of thumb is to assume that any bedroom must have at least one means of egress leading to the outside of the structure. Another egress could lead to other rooms or hallways in the home.

Q: Are there any legal concerns surrounding non-egress windows in homes?

A: A bedroom must conform to local codes requiring egress windows, and if a room does not have a conforming egress window, it legally cannot be termed a bedroom. Designating a bedroom as such without a conforming egress window installed could lead to liability issues in the case of a fire. Misrepresenting the number of bedrooms in a house listing by including rooms with non-egress windows could also lead to legal issues. Similarly, windows that do not meet minimum requirements for size and configuration would not be considered legal egress windows, thereby making a room illegal to be termed as a bedroom.

Q: What window types adhere to egress requirements?

A: To adhere to egress requirements, a window has to have an opening that's wide enough for someone to crawl through. An egress window that's too small can have devastating repercussions. Casement windows make ideal egress windows for the basement because they take little wall space and the side hinges allow the window to open wide. Double-hung windows can meet code requirements as long as the windows are large enough. When open to the fullest extent, double-hung windows will still have glass covering half of the opening, so it's necessary to factor this in when determining the required size.
Article written by Lexi Westingate
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