More homeowners are seeking to make the most out of their properties, and that includes adding living space in the basements. Very few people, however, are aware of egress and the rules that make a home code-compliant.
Egress means a place or means of going out, and is addressed in the International Building Code Section R310, which states: “Basements and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency and rescue opening. Such opening shall open directly into a public street, public alley or court.”
In some homes, however, basements lack proper egress. “Just because a basement is built out doesn’t mean it’s legal,’’ said Jason Weinstein, the owner of Budget Dry in Connecticut, and one of the nation’s few Certified Egress Specialists. “When you purchase a home with a bedroom in the basement, you assume that it’s supposed to be there. You have to do your homework before the purchase to make sure it’s up to code.”
Egress is critical for residents and emergency rescue personnel, such as firefighters and paramedics. “If an opening isn’t large enough for a firefighter or emergency responder to enter through, you’re also putting their lives in danger,’’ Weinstein said. “Proper egress isn’t just for your family’s safety. It also ensures our first responders get to go home to their families, too.”
Installing a window well is one of the most economical ways to bring a home up to code. Weinstein installs products manufactured by The BILCO Company of Connecticut, which offers two designs of window wells. The StakeWEL®well is a modular design and features a “grip/step” design to aid emergency egress and provides corrosion resistant performance. The ScapeWEL® includes a step design and can be landscaped with plants or flowers for added visual enhancement. Both models are constructed of maintenance-free materials that will never rust, rot or need replacing. Window wells also add natural light to any home.
A critical step is to use an experienced construction team to install a window well. “It doesn’t take someone with a lot of skill to install a window,’’ Weinstein said. “But it does take knowledge to understand how it will impact the home. If it’s not designed properly, in the basic homebuilding sense, you’re going to have problems. You could see the well start to bow, or it could cause a basement to flood.”
After obtaining the necessary building permits and site plans, Weinstein starts the excavation process. His business uses a trenchbox as an added safety measure, and workers then cut the basement wall and chip out by hand the area in the wall where the window will be installed. Workers install the well, apply two types of waterproofing and then install the window. Teams fill in the surrounding voids with stone for proper drainage.
“Often people will plan the basement from the inside out,’’ Weinstein said. “For egress, you want to work from the outside in. You need to excavate it properly, and you have to watch for buried utility lines, including those that aren’t on the plans. There could be an issue with drainage. You need to be careful and have to know what you’re doing.”