Converting your basement is like finding new space, fully equipped with plumbing and heat. Before
you begin your remodeling, however, you’ll need to check local codes for safety exits or egress.

Know Your Code
Basement living space requires emergency escape and rescue openings. Your first step is to check
local building codes. Your code authority may have authored its own rules or it may be among the
more than 90 percent of communities in the United States that adopt the standards of the
International Code Council (ICC). The council is a nonprofit organization that publishes new
editions of the codes every three years and, in interim years, produces a supplement.

The ICC’s 2006 International Residential Code for One- and Two-Story Dwellings has new
language stating basements that contain one or more sleeping rooms are required to have
emergency egress and rescue openings in each sleeping room. Emergency exit and rescue
openings are not required in adjoining areas of the basement, according to the code. Emergency
exits are required in basement sleeping rooms or habitable space—defined as spaces used for
living, sleeping, eating, or cooking. While that does not include spaces like bathrooms, toilet
rooms, closets, halls, storage spaces, or utility spaces, it does include offices, recreation rooms,
bedrooms, and home theaters.

There are some fine points. For example, a basement that has no bedroom, but has an office
would need an emergency exit for the office. But, say you have a basement bedroom and an office
which is not in the bedroom. How many emergency egress and rescue openings do you need?
Answer: One, but it has to be in the sleeping room.

Egress Requirements
Whether it is an egress window or an egress door, it has to open to the outside and open easily
without the use of keys or tools. It must also follow code requirements for height and width of
basement egress windows. Egress opening requirements include:

   •   A window with a minimum width of opening of 20 inches
   •   A window with a minimum height of opening of 24 inches
   •   A window with a minimum net clear opening –- the actual opening through which a person
       must crawl—of 5.7 square feet
   •   A sill height no higher than 44 inches above the floor
   •   A window-well floor space of 9 square feet with minimum dimensions of 36 inches wide and
   •   A permanent ladder or steps if the window well depth is more than 44 inches

Homeowners may come up with all sorts of reasons why they don’t think they need an
egress. But, It’s not about you. It’s about the firefighter or rescue worker carrying
gear and wearing an oxygen backpack who has to get through that opening to drag
you out in case you are unconscious from a fire or other emergency. It’s also about
anyone who will own the home after you and may use that basement space.
Basement Egress Options
Many manufacturers offer basement egress options. The Bilco Company, based in West Haven.
Conn., has its high-density polyethylene ScapeWel terraced-step window-well system that accepts
other manufacturers’ windows. The ScapeWel works for new or retrofit work. Bilco’s poured-in-
place ScapeView two-piece window system works with the ScapeWel for new home construction.
Jim Edgeworth, director of sales and marketing, says the ScapeView now gives its customers one-
stop shopping.

Bilco also offers an alternative basement egress. PermEntry is a pre-cast concrete stairwell with
steel or maintenance-free polyethylene basement doors. The direct basement access can be
installed by a Bilco dealer in a few hours. According to Edgeworth, PermEntry works for both new
construction and remodeling. Retrofits involve excavating and cutting a hole in the foundation. The
entrance system sits on the footing and is drawn tight to the foundation for a watertight seal.

Have any questions for Jack Dever? Email him at

To top