A Few Things to Consider Before Installing Egress Window Wells

Published: 16th June 2010
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When you start to think about remodeling your basement, one of the major considerations you have to make is whether or not to install basement egress window wells. These days building codes actually require egress window wells in every room that is intended for sleeping. So if you are planning to remodel any of the rooms in your basement to a bedroom, an egress window well is required. This means that not only will you need to plan on adding a window to one of your basement walls, but also that the exterior of your home will need a brand new well just outside that window.

There are so many factors and details involved in installing egress window wells, it might be necessary to hire some professional help if you are not exactly sure what you are doing. Some of the things you will need to consider are the code requirements that you have to meet, dampness issues, available headroom, and the type of window you will need to install. If you plan on taking on this job by yourself, consider the following points of interest before you start.

Do not start this project without a clear plan.
If you plan on installing more than one egress window well, you will need to get a permit. In order to provide a safe escape, your windows will have to meet specific requirements. To avoid any messy encounters with the building inspector later, have a clear plan documented. This will help you keep your project organized, and if you end up needing help from a professional, they will know exactly what the situation is.

Be familiar with your city's code requirements.
If you do not build your egress window wells according to the building requirements the first time, you will have to tear it all down and start over. No exceptions. Egress windows can be no higher than 44 inches from the ground to the sill inside. It needs to be at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches high while still providing at least 5.7 square feet of clear space when it is open. At the minimum, your window dimensions need to be 20x41 inches or 24x34 ½ inches.

Now, about the well...
The well itself also follows strict building requirements. It has to be at least 36 inches wide. A well that is deeper than 44 inches must have a ladder or staircase included to provide an easy exit. In order to install the wall sides of the well, or to insert a molded well, you will first need to dig out the ground around the foundation. There are also a lot of requirements involving water drainage. Without the proper water drainage, your basement could become flooded and be exposed to all kinds of mold.

Avoid dampness and water damage.
One of the building requirements that help prevent water damage include digging an 8-inch buffer area around each side of the egress window well that prevents water from seeping into the sides. Water runoff could easily enter the egress window well if your house has been built on a slope or if the ground around your home is uneven. In this case the ground must be heightened to slope away from the foundation. Gutters needs to be checked for leaks while downspouts need to be relocated if they meet the ground where the window well will go.

Prepare to have enough headroom.
All egress window wells need to have a certain amount of headroom to allow for installation. Your basement needs to be high enough to allow for this headroom, otherwise they will not meet the code requirements and building an egress window well for your basement will become much more difficult, even impossible. This is just one more reason to check with a building inspector before starting this project.

Choose which type of window to use.
The last thing you will need to consider is what type of window you want to use for your egress window well. A casement window will provide you with a large total open area contained within a smaller frame. Double hung and gliding window have to have larger frames to provide the same amount of total open area, which could potentially cause you more problems during the installation process.

Digging giant holes and cutting into the concrete foundation of your home is a serious project. Consult a professional contract if you are not sure exactly what is involved in installing egress window wells. Even after all the time and effort it takes to create the plan for this project, the work itself it still very extensive. Be sure you understand what you are getting yourself into before you start on your own.

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