What is an Egress Window? How it Should Be Done Right

Egress windows provide an emergency escape in the event of fires, floods and other disasters to the home. Not only can they offer a safe exit from a burning building, but they can also preserve your belongings and prevent smoke damage by allowing fumes to pour into the night instead of “bottling up” inside your house.

The good news is that any window can be an egress point as long as it meets sizing and placement requirements. Remodeling your bedroom to make it fire-safe is easier than you think! Here's what you need to know before you call your window contractor.

Sizing Requirements

Few people realize that egress windows are actually required by law. While not all homes will have them, especially older homes that predate egress laws, there are very specific regulations about their construction.

According to the International Residential Code (IRC), egress points must have the following:

  • A minimum width of 20 inches and a minimum height of 24 inches.
  • A maximum sill height of 44 inches. This is the space between the ground and the window; it can't be insurmountable to rescue teams. It needs to be accessible.
  • A minimum net clear opening of five sq. ft. for ground floors and 5.7 sq. ft. for upper stories. This is the space that's actually provided by the window once opened. It needs to be large enough for fully-uniformed firefighters to climb through with air tanks on their backs.

Additional Requirements

There are a few other guidelines from the IRC that you'll need to follow.

  • Every room should have at least one window to use as an egress point, including basements and “sleeping rooms.”
  • The windows should open directly into a street, yard, courtyard or other “fresh air” space. Windows opening into another building don't count; fires can spread between them.
  • Windows must be operational without tools. For example, if you have bars or grates over your window, you need to be able to tear them off in an emergency without the use of keys or power drills.

Whether you're building a new home or just remodeling your second floor, consider this your guide to egress windows. They may require a little time and planning to install, but the safety of your family is worth it. You never know when disaster will strike, so it's better to be prepared.

Please note: This post is for informational purposes only. Please contact the International Residential Code (IRQ) for additional information on egress window requirements.

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