Monday, January 16, 2012

Basements (2 of 9): Egress

Egress is a term that is used heavily within the building and construction industry, but for most outside of this field it is just a funny sounding word.  Simply put, it is the means to exit a building.  This is important in residential design, especially in bedrooms and basements.

The first thing to understand about egress requirements is that even though it is important to provide a means to exit a building, it is more important the opening is large enough for a firefighter to enter the building while carrying all their necessary equipment.  This is why within the building code there are many stipulations regarding the minimum dimensions and location of openings in any given room. 

Some, even within the industry, mock some of these regulations.  For example, a casement window (windows that are hinged and open with a crank from the inside) have minimum dimension requirements based on the open position of the window.  The standing joke states that the firefighter must first break the window and then crank it open to gain entry.  The truth is that if there is a fire and the window is already open then the clearance must be adequate for proper egress and fire rescue.  Although some code requirements seem mockingly hilarious, there is a legitimate reason for the code and it could be the one that saves your life.

Since the access to most basements is a stair leading from the main level of the house, how this translates in basement design is that a means of egress must be provided from each bedroom and the main living area which leads directly to the outside.  The sill of an egress window must be within 42” above the finished floor (and I would argue this should be lower for rooms intended for smaller children).  There must also be a permanent ladder secured to the side of a spacious window well.  To most people the first image to come to mind is an ugly, pre-manufactured, corrugated steel well with a matching hideous ladder.  This need not be the case.   As long as the well meets the minimum dimensions and stepping is provided that does not exceed required dimensions, then the sky’s the limit on possible well design.

So, since you have to have a window well, think of all the possibilities to personalize it and let the design become a feature of your basement and not something to hide with drapes or the dreaded blinds.

No comments:

Post a Comment