Why Are Egress Windows So Important?

Date Published: August 17, 2022

Update: As of October 25, 2022, the egress rules have changed for residential rental license requirements in the city of Denver. Please refer to the egress section of  the Residential Rental Program Guidebook for the updated guidelines. Though some of the egress requirements now differ for Denver rental properties, the article below still outlines important egress concerns.

If you are a professional in the housing market, you have likely heard about proper egress standards.

Agents, you’ve probably heard of the term, “non-conforming bedroom,” which generally refers to the egress methods (or lack thereof) in a bedroom. Property managers, you are probably familiar with the egress requirements of rental properties, which often vary from county to county. In this industry, the word “egress” gets thrown around a lot.

But what is an egress? The dictionary defines egress as: a path or opening for going out; an exit. In the residential setting, an egress is simply a viable means to get out of the house.

Having sufficient and safe exits from the home seems to be a no brainer, right? However, there are still areas that get overlooked and end up without suitable egress options – especially areas situated below grade, aka basements.

Sometimes basements were constructed before the standard egress code was implemented. Or, they were converted from storage spaces to dwellings and safety protocol was not properly followed.

Regardless of the reason, sometimes proper egress code is just not met, and this can lead to huge safety hazards. When living in the basement, it is absolutely imperative to have the right emergency escape methods. And this can commonly be achieved through the construction of egress windows.

Egress Window Open

Image sourced from: www.flickr.com

Why Do We Need Egress Windows?

Egress windows are necessary for one main reason – safety. In the case of an emergency, people need the means to exit the home, and rescue personnel need a way to enter the home as well. According to the 2021 International Residential Code (IRC), each dwelling unit in a residential home must contain at least one egress window (or door). This is in addition to a standard entrance.

Basement egress windows are especially important. There are certain scenarios, like fires or floods, that could potentially obstruct or make inaccessible the primary basement exit. That is why each bedroom and living space in the basement must have no less than one egress window.

Recently, the world witnessed the dangers that can arise when basement dwellings are unequipped with sufficient escape options. On August 8, 2022, Seoul, South Korea experienced record high rainfall, which led to detrimental, city-wide flooding. Residents living in semi-basement apartments (also known as banjiha), experienced the worst of the flooding.

The flooding overtook these basement apartments, and in some cases, trapped banjiha residents. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, 9 people were confirmed dead from the disaster.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visiting a flooded semi-basement.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visiting a flooded semi-basement. Image Sourced from: www.cnn.com

In all of these cases, the dwelling units did not have proper egress windows. Most of the windows in these units are small, hard to access, and sometimes sealed by security bars. This is an extreme case to illustrate how necessary egress windows really are.

Basement egress windows are also beneficial in that they increase the amount of natural sunlight and ventilation in the living space.

What Are Proper Egress Windows?

The 2021 IRC discusses basement egress windows in Section R310: Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings. In this section, the following minimum requirements for basement egress windows are established:

  • An emergency escape and/or rescue opening must lead to a public way, yard or court.
  • The exit must be operational from inside the room without a key, tool, or special knowledge.
  • The height of the opening shall be a minimum of 24 inches.
  • The width of the opening shall be a minimum of 20 inches.
  • The bottom of the exit must be no greater than 44 inches from the floor.
  • The exit should have a net clear opening of at least 5.7 square feet.
Window Well with cover

Image sourced from: www.pinterest.com

Basements are generally going to be below ground level, so egress windows will commonly exit into window wells. It follows that the IRC also has specific criteria to which window wells must adhere. Section R310.4 addresses window well specifications:

  • The horizontal area of the well should be no less than 9 square feet.
  • The well should have a horizontal projection and width of no less than 36 inches.
  • The size of the well should allow the egress window to be fully opened.
  • Wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches need to have permanently affixed ladders or steps.
  • Wells should have proper drainage and must connect with the building’s foundational drainage system.
  • If there are bars, grilles, covers or screens on the egress window, they must be removable without a key, tool, or special knowledge.
  • Bars, grilles, covers, or screens must meet the net clear opening requirements stated above.

Egress Requirements for Denver Rental Licenses

If you work in the rental property market in Denver, then you likely know that, by January 2023, Denver rental licenses will be required for multi-family homes. Then by January 2024, single-family home licenses will be required, as well. Rental license inspections (RLIs) will be needed to acquire the proper certification.

The Residential Rental Program guidebook establishes the necessary criteria for Denver rental properties to qualify for licensing. This guidebook touches on basically all aspects of the property – including egress.

Section 1.3 of the guidebook specifically addresses “egress for below grade units.” This section applies particularly to basement units that are separate and complete units. That means the unit must include its own entrance, a kitchen, and a full bathroom.

First of all, basement units need to have a minimum of two separate egress routes. That may be two doors, or one door and a properly configured window – whatever qualifies as two escape options. Additionally, each individual bedroom requires an emergency egress.

Basement apartment with egress window

Egress window in a basement apartment living room. Image sourced from: www.houzz.com

The handbook considers this as a “critical life safety issue” and adherence to these guidelines is mandatory, even if the property was built before this type of building code was established. As put forth in the 2021 IRC (noted above), the emergency egresses must lead to a yard, court, or public way.

These newly implemented rules are certainly shaking up the Denver rental market. But we’re here to help! Here at Scott Home Inspection, we now have two certified Denver RLI specialists. If you are a property manager or agent in the Denver area and are interested in getting a rental license inspection, contact us at Scott Home Inspection today!

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About the Author: Chris Kimmel

Chris Kimmel worked as an Associate Home Inspector for two years, handling numerous services including sewer scope inspections, pest inspections, mold air sample testing, radon testing, and water quality testing. Chris now works with Scott Home Inspection as a Content Writing Specialist.

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