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When many people think of a basement, dark, dingy, musty, potentially frightening areas come to mind. Or just a place to do laundry, store holiday decorations, or stash away old toys and clothes. But basements can be so much more than that. They don’t have to be scary or just used for storage. Once they have been properly waterproofed, basements can function as extra bedrooms and living spaces, entertainment areas, gyms, offices, you name it. 

But they must be up to code. The International Residential Code states that all habitable spaces, including basements, are required to have an emergency escape and rescue opening. That means an egress window system is needed.

Typical basement windows are small and do not function as an exit. But expert contractors, like the team at FSM, can install an egress window system that is not only code compliant but durable and attractive as well. Read on to learn more about these essential systems.

What Are Egress Windows?

An egress window is larger than your typical basement windows. If you have windows in your basement, odds are that they are either small single-pane windows closer to the ceiling (as basements are partially or mostly below grade), or a bit larger glass block. Neither of these windows lets much natural light into your basement, and they certainly aren’t big enough or function properly for anyone to climb through as an emergency exit. 

An egress window is a window large enough, as defined by local building codes for entry or exit in case of an emergency. No one wants to think about having to evacuate their home in the event of a fire or other emergency. But it’s a good idea to have a plan in mind, put that plan on paper, and practice it with your family.

An egress window also seals out moisture and is designed to dramatically increase the amount of natural light that comes into your basement.

Most egress window systems will have some type of ladder or step system, usually built into the window well outside the window. Having a window well cover also keeps debris, water, and other nuisances out of the window well, and if it is translucent, helps bring in more natural light.

Egress Window Specifications

If you intend to finish your basement to use it as additional living space, it is required by law (the International Residential Code) to have an egress window. You may also want to check with your local city or county about any requirements for natural light or ventilation, as well.

An egress window and well cover must be easily operational without the use of keys or tools, and there must be enough room to be able to crawl through for quick escape.

Here are minimum dimension specifications for egress systems, as laid out in IRC Section R310:

  • Opening:
    • Net Clear Area: 5.7 sq. ft.
    • Net Clear Height: 24 in.
    • Net Clear Width: 20 in.
  • Window Wells:
    • Horizontal Area: 9 sq. ft.
    • Horizontal Projection & Width: 36 in.

Additional requirements include a maximum sill height of 44 inches from the floor to the bottom of the clear opening and having a permanently affixed ladder or steps.

Egress Window Dual Purposes: Safety and Waterproofing

Along with serving as a safe and secure emergency exit, egress window systems also double as waterproofing measures. Having properly installed, sealed, and functioning window systems in your basement is crucial for keeping your home safe and dry. These systems are part of a total basement waterproofing solution.

One of the best ways to improve a basement’s appearance after water damage is with energy-efficient replacement windows that provide a clean look and let in natural light. Your basement windows will require a window well to ensure that the area is protected from the elements. Window well covers also help keep leaves, debris, water, and pests out of the window well and away from your basement.

Basement windows add appeal to your space by bringing in natural sunlight. If those windows are rusted, covered in debris, or doing little more than affording a view of an old, rusty window well, then they’re not doing their job. Meanwhile, old window wells often fill with leaves, dirt, and weeds, and they can fill with snow and water, which may leak into your basement.

With some waterproofing systems, this water can still leak into your home. But coupled with our trusted basement waterproofing solutions, they can maximize the health, beauty and function of the basement space. Your FSM inspector can help you decide if you’re in need of basement windows as a part of your waterproofing system.

Covered window wells keep cold winter winds from blowing against the panes, while the energy-efficient glass can help with energy bill savings. It’s a small upgrade that can really make a big difference for your home!

How Are Egress Windows Installed?

Egress Window

It depends how much work your window system needs, but average installation time can be one to two hours for windows, and up to an additional two hours for window wells. Egress window systems typically require more time and work including removing existing windows, cutting into walls to enlarge openings, and digging down to the proper depth outside your basement to accommodate the escape wells.

After excavating the area outside the location for the window, our expert crews take great care in cutting an opening in the foundation wall to meet the window’s size specifications. The new window is then installed. The double-pane glass is energy-efficient, and the all-vinyl frame resists rust and corrosion.

We then install a means for proper drainage and a window well equipped with steps for easy access. Our window wells are lightly colored and allow more natural sunlight to enter and brighten up the basement. Clear covers also can be placed on top of the window wells for safety purposes and to keep leaves, debris, precipitation, and even animals and pests out of the window well.

Because of the specialized work and tools, it is not advisable for you to attempt an egress window installation on your own. It is best to leave this type of project to experienced professionals, like the team at FSM.

Contact Us for Professional Egress Window Installation

Why put up with unsafe, unsightly windows in your basement? Have them upgraded to more reliable systems. Having new windows and trustworthy basement waterproofing solutions installed together will help you better protect your home’s safety and health. 

If you need an egress window system for your basement, don’t hesitate to contact the professionals at FSM for a free inspection and estimate. Our expert team can evaluate the condition of your basement and its window systems and then recommend solutions best suited to your repair needs.

Egress Windows


While DIY projects are popular with many homeowners, an egress window system installation is not one that you should take on by yourself.

The Costs of Installing It on Your Own

You may think you’re saving money by embarking on this project yourself, but the materials, tools, and other equipment needed for an egress window system can be expensive and difficult to find for non-professionals.

The installation involves removing any existing windows, digging outside of your home, cutting a hole into the foundation wall, and properly connecting and sealing everything. Without the right knowledge and experience of the steps involved, it’s possible to install something incorrectly or cause other damage to your home.

Why Professional Assistance is Better

Experienced professionals will have the necessary tools and materials on hand to install your egress system the right way the first time, not to mention the best training and time on the job to back them up. They know all the ins and outs of egress window installation and how to complete it safely and effectively.

Plus, part of the project includes acquiring the proper permits. Typically, the areas we work in require a permit for egress window installation. This is a good procedure, because you want someone to inspect the process of cutting your original foundation and removing soils around your foundation. The expert team at FSM is more than qualified to help with this type of project.

If you have a finished basement or are planning to finish it to use it for purposes other than storage – such as a bedroom, office, entertainment area, gym, etc. – you need this type of window system in your basement. Egress windows are a safety and code requirement if the basement is finished and being used as a living space.

Building Code Requirement

The International Residential Code states that any sleeping room, including in basements, must have one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. This means that an egress window system is

necessary. Egress windows are larger than typical basement windows, which are usually very small and may or may not be able to open.

The minimum dimensions include a net clear area of 5.7 sq. ft., net clear height of 24 in., net clear width of 20 in., horizontal window well area of 9 sq. ft., and horizontal window well projection and width of 36 in. Additionally, an egress window and well cover must be easily operational without the use of special keys or tools.

Safety Plan – Establish and Practice It

No one wants to have to think about evacuating their home because of a fire or other emergency. But it’s important to have a plan, have it written down somewhere, and routinely practice it with your family. Everyone in the house needs to know where all emergency exits are located and how to reach safety.

It’s also important for everyone to know how to operate all doors, windows, locks, and egress window systems. In the event of an emergency, drawing on the knowledge and experience of opening and closing these systems will help maintain everyone’s safety.


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