With the publication of the 2006 International and Uniform Codes last year, many code jurisdictions now are moving to adopt these codes. An important part of the code for inspectors to know about is egress.
Egress is required in every basement with habitable space and every sleeping room. Egress is required to help prevent deaths from fire while people are sleeping. Fires usually spread before the occupants are aware of them, often cutting off exits. Egress must be located at the exterior of the building so that a rescue can be made from the outside. An egress window must open directly to the exterior and not into another enclosure. In other words, an egress window would not be allowed to open onto an enclosed sun porch.
A change from the 2003 IRC is that basement egress is now specifically required to open onto a public street, ally, yard or court. The only exception to this part of the code is for basements that are used only for mechanical equipment and are less than 200 square feet. The thinking here is that a small room full of mechanical equipment would not be used for other purposes where egress could become an issue.
The minimum opening area of an egress opening is 5.7 square feet, with an exception of 5 square feet when the egress is located at grade level. By the code, an opening that is at grade level is one that is less than 44 inches above the finished ground level adjacent to the opening.
The minimum height of the opening is 24 inches and the minimum width is 20 inches. Note that a 20-inch-by-24-inch opening does not meet the minimum opening requirements of the 5.7 square feet. In other words, one or both of the dimensions must be larger than the minimum requirement to meet the overall opening requirements. The maximum height from the floor to the sill of an egress opening is 44 inches. The window type must be operable from inside the structure without the use of any special tools or knowledge.
A common question is “Can I install a step in front of the window to meet the 44-inch rule?” Most code jurisdictions will not allow the placement of a step to meet this requirement, since steps are easily removed after the inspection, and the occupants would be left in an unsafe situation.
This column discusses current model codes. Some jurisdictions use older model codes and/or make amendments that modify specific requirements. Check with your local enforcement authority for more information. This article is based on section R311 of the 2006 International Residential Code.