Window Well to the Rescue!

Bedrooms below grade need proper escape and rescue openings (EERO). In the context of remodeling a basement this needs to be taken into account if the rooms we are creating are to meet current requirements to be called a “sleeping room.”

Many older homes that have windows into the basement were never designed for escape and rescue and were there to simply provide light and/or ventilation to the basement.

Since proper escape and rescue requires that windows meet minimum net opening sizes, there are almost always going to be necessary changes to the foundation wall to meet these requirements. Besides the opening size, the bottom of the opening can’t be more than 44” above the finished basement floor. In the picture below you can see the nice escape and rescue window installed for this new basement sleeping room.

Escape and Rescue openings

Escape and Rescue openings

While the height above the floor is OK, the net opening size was only 14″ x 33″ and does not meet current EERO requirements. The absolute “minimum” size for an opening that is 33″ high would be 22″ wide (because the window is at grade it can be a little bit smaller than if it was above grade).

Once we have made our opening and that opening is below grade, window wells at the exterior will be necessary. This complicates the whole business of providing EERO to the room because there are minimum sizes for the well that must be met. If it is over 44” deep it will need a ladder and it might even need some sort of guard to prevent someone falling into the well.

All of a sudden meeting the escape and rescue requirement has gotten even more expensive.

So let’s assume that you know there has to be proper EERO and lets also assume that you know there has to be a proper window well at the exterior too. In the following picture you can see that someone went to a LOT of work to build a very nice window well for EERO that is actually big enough for two adjacent basement rooms.

Window well

Window well

There is only one rather costly problem.

It is the wrong distance between the house wall and the outside wall of the well–only 28.”  That minimum dimension is 36.”

So while they had the “idea” right, they obviously did not know all the specific requirements that would prevent them from having to tear it all out and start over. It is also an indication of work being done without permits.

Whoops!

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Window wells

If your home has a basement, it may have windows that are below finish grade.

These windows should be “window-wells” around them that, besides creating a place for the windows to open into, keep dirt from impacting the wood trim and other window components.  These window wells should be kept free of dirt,  debris and vegetation—-or the covered wood components will be subject to Rot and/or infestation by wood destroying insects.

They should be big enough to allow for the necessary clearances between finish grade and the wood components—the same as is required all around the home.

 

Window wells

Window wells

It seems that homeowners rarely keep these window-wells free of vegetation and debris and hidden damage is common.

Of course if the window is used for escape and rescue from the basement, keeping these windows clear becomes even more important.

What do your window-wells look like?

 

 

Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector

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