Egress for buildings is defined as a means of escape and rescue. All building codes address a means of egress as part of life safety measures meant to protect occupants in case of emergencies like a fire. The International Residential Code (IRC) requires:
Emergency escape and rescue required. Basements with habitable space and every sleeping room shall have at least one openable emergency escape and rescue window or exterior door opening for emergency escape and rescue.
The code goes on to tell you specific details about the minimum require dimensions of doors and windows for egress. It’s really important to note that every building code is a bit different and you need to check with your local building officials and make sure you’re meeting local and state requirements.
Lately I’ve had quite a few questions about finishing basements and some questions about building bedrooms in the basement. So I thought it was important to talk about the egress requirements that apply to basement bedrooms.
Any and all bedrooms whether they are in the basement or not MUST have an egress window or door to the exterior. This means you must have a door or window IN the bedroom that has direct access outside. For basements this poses a significant design challenge that might prevent you from legally installing a bedroom in your basement.
There are several options that you can use to achieve the egress requirements for a bedroom in a basement.
- Walk-Out Basement – Walk-out basements provide the most flexibility for building a bedroom in the basement. You can arrange the bedroom so that one of the exterior walls has a properly sized egress window or exterior door in it.
- Bulkhead Door – A bulkhead is another option for providing egress to a basement living space. With this situation you’ll want to install an exterior door at the base of the bulkhead stairs to create an insulated door to the outside. The door must be located in the bedroom for direct access to the outside. It is important to note that the door MUST open outwards in order to meet most codes. This means you’ll need to plan the wall and door in front of the bulkhead accordingly.
- Window & Window Well – Window wells can actually be installed with sufficient size to accommodate an egress sized window. There are several companies selling emergency egress window wells that you can install to meet the egress code requirements.
The important thing to realize is egress requirements are meant to protect you and your family in the event of an emergency. Basements certainly provide design challenges, however, with some planning they can be overcome. So if you’re planning on building a bedroom in your basement be sure to check with your local building code officials to be sure you’re meeting the egress requirements.