Finished Basement | Bedroom Egress Requirements

By Todd Fratzel on Basements, Design

Basement Egress Window WellBasement Egress

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.

Basement Bedrooms

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.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Tool Box Buzz. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this article! Im interested to learn how complicated/expensive of a project it is to have a window enlargened. I purchased a home that has a NEARLY finished basement bedroom. For re-sale value, I’d love to convert this to a “legal” bedroom, but not sure if it’s possible. Any advice?

  2. John says:

    Looking to remove bulkhead and create a walk out basement with masonry stairs and walls. Also want to enlarge doorway and window openings. Having hard time finding a company that does concrete cutting and masonry all in one contractor. In Mass. Do you have any companies you could recommend? I’m also close to SNH as well. Thanks

    • Todd Fratzel says:

      I don’t….typically as a general contractor we would hire a specialty concrete cutting company (there are lots of them out there), then a concrete sub-contractor and also a mason. Good luck.

  3. Laurie says:

    Do you have an opinion of which is best, egress window(s) or a bulkhead for a basement exit? Maybe share pros/cons of each?
    Thank you.

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