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Egress Windows Inspection and Codes

There’s no doubt that windows add incredible value to your home. They are a source of natural light, can assist with air circulation on a breezy day, and in energy-efficient models can actually save you some substantial costs on your utility bills. According to some building codes however, windows can (and must) serve as a lifesaver in providing an exit point in the case of an emergency.

Windows that are large enough for exiting and entering in emergency purposes are known as egress windows. These types of windows not only have to be large enough for escape and entry, they must also have a clearance built in around them. The codes that define egress windows are determined by three factors:

  • Type of room
  • Size of window
  • Style of window

Type of Rooms Needing an Egress Windowwindow well

The most obvious choice of where an egress window would need to be placed is in a bedroom. In the unfortunate event of a fire in the middle of the night, rescue crews must be able to access a bedroom no matter what story of the house it may lie. If a fire is present in a hallway and other interior areas of a home, residents must be able to escape to the outside safely via an egress window.

Egress windows also need to be installed if a basement is going to be finished into a habitable area, especially if an extra bedroom is going to be framed in. You definitely don’t want to be trapped underground in an emergency situation. Egress windows in a basement must also have an appropriate well built around them so that access to and from the basement can be granted. Wells need to project out a minimum of 36” and have a horizontal area of 44” wide. If the vertical depth into the basement well is greater than 44”, a ladder or steps must also be affixed permanently.

Egress Window Size Requirements

In order to satisfy egress window requirements, the unit must be able to be safely evacuated or entered by people of multiple body types. These window types must meet:

  • have a minimum width opening of 20”
  • have a minimum height opening of 24”
  • have a minimum opening area of 5.7 ft2
  • have a maximum sill height above the floor of 44”

Width opening and height opening are relatively self-explanatory. The minimum opening area (net clear opening) refers to the total space that is free and clear. It is based on a firefighter trying to enter through the window with his or her breathing apparatus in tow. Just because a window itself is a certain size doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire area is accessible, especially on double hung or awning style windows.

Sill height maximums are put in place so that the average person can enter into the window for escape without the use of a ladder. This mea
surement is taken from the inside of the home since second story egress windows are much higher than 44” from the ground.

If the escape window opening is between 44 inches and 52 inches off the finished floor height then securing a step, platform, or bed to the wall directly underneath the opening can be utilized. The top of the step, platform or bed shall be no more than 44 inches from the opening and should not protrude less than 18” from the wall.

Types of Windows that Can Be Used for Egress Purposes

Homeowners do not need to sacrifice their preferred aesthetics just to satisfy egress building code requirements. This is because a number of different window styles can be used as an egress so long as they provide an adequate opening for safe entry and exit. The pros and cons of specific window types include:window

  • Casement windows – take up the smallest amount of space while still fulfilling egress requirements. They are side hinged which provides the most net clear opening space of any window type. Casement windows can also be outfitted with an operator arm that allows the unit to open even further than standard.
  • Double hung windows – a tricky option because even when the window is fully open, it slides vertically so that half of the opening is covered by glass and paneling. In order to fulfill egress requirements a double hung window needs to be over 4’9” in height. For most basements, there simply isn’t room for double hung windows.
  • Sliding Windows – instead of opening vertically like a double hung window, these gliding windows slide horizontally which provides more opportunity to satisfy egress requirements.

There really aren’t many other window types that can meet egress codes. Awning windows are nowhere near large enough for access in and out and picture windows don’t open at all.

Does Your Windows Meet Egress Requirements?

It should also be noted that many older homes had different safety provisions considering means of egress. This doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a safe option to replace them however. New home construction will need egress windows in all bedrooms and finished basements to meet inspection protocol. When you are replacing windows, a good rule of thumb to follow is to meet the egress minimums even though your local codes may not require it.

For escape windows installed prior to July 10, 2007:

  • Minimum 20” width
  • Minimum 20” height
  • Minimum 4.5 square feet of clear opening

See the below link that provides dimensions and ways to measure current and past egress requirements:

INS-1999-26 Egress Windows (Emergency Escapes)


Radon Gas


Simply put, a home with impure breathing conditions is miserable to be in. There are natural irritants such as pet hair and dust and then there is dander and debris that gets kicked around every time a forced air HVAC system operates. While these types of foreign substances can definitely be a nuisance, they pale in comparisons to the extreme health risks that arise when radon is present in your home.

Radon has three characteristics going for it that make it so harmful – 1) it is colorless, 2) it is odorless, 3) it is radioactive. This gas could definitely be considered the silent killer as it is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths, killing as many as 20,000 people annually in the U.S. Radon codes are in place to prevent exposure in new home construction and regulations are set forth in dealing with radon that forms in buildings over time.

What is Radon?

Radon forms naturally as elements such as uranium decay over time. The radon formation starts in the soil and rocks but eventually creeps into the air or even into underground and surface water supplies. Radon is actually present in very low levels outdoors and in rivers and lakes, but is found in much higher concentration on the indoors of homes and other buildings. Radon can attach itself to dust and be breathed into the lungs or it can break down and give off radiation that is absorb into the body’s cells.

Limiting Your Exposure to Radon

Obviously it becomes very important to limit your exposure to radon. Testing should be done on a regular basis to make sure that home or business radon levels are below 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The average home has an indoor radon level of 1.3 pCi/L which is widely considered harmless.

Radon Testingmap-text-2

The first step in determining if your home may be posing a health risk because of high radon levels is to test it. Radon test kits come in either the passive or the active form. A passive test can consist of charcoal cannisters, electrical chamber detectors, and similar devices that are exposed to a room and then sent to a laboratory for testing.

Active radon tests use power to function. They are real-time radon detectors that continuously monitor and record levels in the home. The devices provide a report that show long term and short term radon levels in your home. They are especially useful in basements which are closer to the soil and concrete that could be forcing radon into your home.

What to Do With High Radon Levels?

If a radon inspection finds that your levels are above or near the 4.0 pCi/l level, there are a few methods to try and get those numbers lowered. The best way is to force air the other way – out of your home with suction that brings air from the basement below the slab and exhausts it out the roof. If your water is the source of radon in your home well repairs will likely be needed.

Radon is not something to be left for chance. It may take weeks or months to show signs of radon exposure so it’s best to have your area tested to provide a sound peace of mind. Since radon is colorless and odorless, a professional test is really the only sure fire method to make sure your home is safe.