Its decided. You are going to install an egress window. You know you need it to comply with building codes and you also feel a personal responsibility for adding a crucial safety feature to a basement where people will be spending time. Decision complete, right? Well not quite. Now you need to figure out where to put the egress window. The wall at the bottom of the stairs? What about over near the corner where the couch will go? There is a lot to consider.
Consider the Egress Code
First and foremost, you need to consider the egress code in the region where you are located. Some codes require an egress window to be in any sleeping room in a basement. This would mean if you have two bedrooms, you will need two separate egress windows. Other building codes are not as strict and only require an egress window to be on the same level, meaning that one egress window could serve multiple sleeping rooms. Often, non-bedroom basement spaces requiring egress windows (such as a workspace or fitness room), do not require the window to be in the room itself if it is on the same floor. For example, a bedroom and office in the basement could be served with a single egress window in the bedroom.
Unfortunately, the exact codes can vary drastically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is crucially important that you do your research first to determine what requirements will exist in your region. If your local building code is stricter and requires the egress window to be in the bedroom, your options for where to put an egress window are a bit more limited, but not eliminated.
Remember that the egress code does not end with the window, you must also consider a window well if one is necessary for your project. Some codes require the wells to be quite large. If you only have a small amount of outdoor space next to one of the options you are considering, you may run into issues with installing a well that meets code. Again, specific codes can vary drastically from one location to another, so it is important to do your research before jumping into any major projects.
The sun follows a slightly southern east-to-west arc across the sky. This means that East facing windows tend to get strong morning sunlight while west facing windows get strong afternoon and evening sun and south facing windows tend to get moderate sunlight the entire day. Of course, this is not the same for every house. Trees, neighbouring houses, or other landscape features can block sunlight from getting in depending on their specific locations relative to the proposed location of the window.
When it relates to sunlight, you will also want to keep the intended purpose of the room in mind. Is your semi-nocturnal teenager moving their bedroom down there? Perhaps an east facing window bringing in the morning sun might be a step towards getting them out of bed before noon. Are you setting up an office? Depending on the layout, you may want to avoid a west facing window that will put a glare on your computer screen all afternoon. Every sunlight situation is different and really there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to where to put an egress window, it all comes down to personal preference.
A significant portion of egress windows will require a window well to meet code and be operational. While this is a perfectly normal part of an egress window installation project, you will need to be mindful of the amount of space the well requires. Often minimum dimensions will be dictated by building codes, but some people enjoy the look of a bigger, more open feeling window well.
Where the size of a well can become an issue is if you have narrow pathways, which is particularly common along the sides of a house. Suppose you have a six-foot wide gap between your house and the side fence, installing an egress window well that must have a three-foot projection all but eliminates this pathway. Again, this may not be a concern for everyone, but is another factor to keep in mind when deciding where to install an egress window.
Installing an egress window in an existing hole is far and away the easiest option. Typically, existing basement windows are short and wide sliders. If the existing rough openings are large enough, replacing the slider with a specifically designed reverse hopper style egress window may be all that is needed to meet code. While a situation like this is less common, it is worth checking first because it would save you the cost of a concrete cut.
More likely you will need to enlarge the hole of an existing window to fit an egress window. If this is the case, you will save a lot of hassle by expanding the existing opening vertically rather than widening it horizontally. By expanding it vertically, you will not need to worry about compromising the structural integrity of the wall when cutting the foundation. Finding an egress window that is the same width as one of your existing windows and cutting the height to match is a great option. This means that when deciding where to put an egress window, you should take a look at where the existing basement windows are located.
Structure of your Basement
If you do need to cut a fresh opening in the foundation or widen an opening horizontally, you should consider the direction of the floor joists that are supporting the floor above. If the joists run perpendicular to the wall you are considering cutting, this is a load bearing wall, and you will need to add additional structural support. This can be costly and will often require the advice of a structural engineer to determine how much of a header will be needed above the proposed window cut. In short, it can be done, but it will add considerable cost ad complexity to your project.
Some other minor considerations will be where the window sits relative to nearby walls and the ceiling itself. Depending on the operation of the window nearby walls may prevent the window from being fully opened. For instance, a side hinging window tucked right in a corner, may hit the wall when being opened and prevent it from opening fully. Reverse hopper style windows may face a similar issue if they are installed too close to the ceiling above. While this can be a problem for engaging the hinges and having the window maintain the opening position required for egress, the problem is easily solved by cutting the opening a few inches lower.
All-in-all there are a handful of considerations to keep in mind when deciding where to put an egress window. Every situation is unique and, as long as the egress code requirements are met, ultimately come down to personal preference. If you are at this stage in your renovation project, take a look around and have a quick think over all the points mentioned above. You will know which ones apply to you and which ones you believe are important to your situation. Best of luck!
If you still haven’t picked up the actual egress window for your project, the Great Egress Co. may be able to help. We stock and sell egress windows in a variety of sizes and styles. Plus, we will ship it straight to your door at no extra cost. Check out our collection to see how we may be able to help you.