If you’re turning your finished basement into an apartment, you’re required by building code to have a “means of egress” to allow easy escape in the event of an emergency. But don’t look at your basement window wells as an obligation – think of the opportunities they could offer instead.
Egress window wells are not just a building code requirement – they offer a number of additional benefits that can help make a basement apartment much more enjoyable.
When you’re planning to install your basement window wells, consider the advantages of the different rooms you could install them in:
Whichever room you choose to add an egress window to, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits they offer. While adding an egress window is an important legal requirement – the additional light and ventilation they offer can make the required investment pay for itself in very little time.
Over the course of the next few blog posts, we’ll be examining some of the best ways to expand your home and make use of your available basement space. In our first post: Finishing your basement to use as a rental apartment.
America is in the midst of a crisis right now – even a couple of years after the recession supposedly ended.
The problem is that millions of American homeowners have been hit hard by the housing crash and now owe more on their homes than their properties are actually worth.
One solution some homeowners have embraced is trying to flip the dynamic – and get their homes to pay them for a change. One way of doing that is to rent out part of your house as a second apartment.
There are two routes you can take to doing this – the right way, and the wrong way.
The right way is according to your local town or city’s regulations, and in accordance with national building codes. For most homeowners, that involves at the very least adding a “means of egress” to a basement in addition to the drywall, flooring and fixtures required to turn a basement into a finished apartment.
A “means of egress” is some kind of escape route in the event of a fire or other disaster – normally an egress basement window well which allows basement occupants to climb out of a specially constructed window and climb out onto the ground above.
Far too many people who decide to finish their basement and rent it out skip the step of installing a basement window – normally because of cost, or sometimes due to the inconvenience. But ultimately, any money they “save” taking the easy route will need to be paid back many times over.
The first and most awkward problem homeowners who rent out a basement apartment without a “means of egress” face is bureaucratic. If a township hears about an apartment that doesn’t meet code, it could mean a fine in the tens of thousands of dollars – and a requirement to install an egress window before being allowed to rent the apartment out again.
Creating a rental apartment that doesn’t meet code also impacts a home’s value. While a rental apartment normally increases a home’s value, that’s not the case if it doesn’t meet code – because when the house hits the market, a homeowner will often be required to bring their basement “up to code” before a new purchaser signs the contract.
But the real reason creating a basement apartment that doesn’t meet code is the “wrong” idea is because of what could happen in the event of an emergency.
If you rent out a basement apartment that doesn’t have a means of egress, it could be disastrous. In the event of a fire, the occupants could be trapped downstairs; and overcome within minutes by smoke or fumes. permanent
A means of egress is a necessary part of national building code – but just because something’s necessary, doesn’t mean it can’t look cool. If you’re installing a basement window well, think about shaking things up. One option is by choosing an unusual backfill product.
Basement window wells don’t need to be boring.
We’ve already covered how they can be used as basement gardens, for growing window boxes filled with flowers or fresh vegetables, but another option for getting a cool look to your basement window well is to mix up the material you use to backfill your well.
Backfilling is a vital part of most egress window well installations. After digging out the hole to install your window well, you fill it with gravel or broken rock chunks to; support the window well itself, improve drainage around the well, and prevent frost heaves in the winter from damaging the well. The same gravel or rock is used as a base of the floor inside the egress well. At roughly one foot deep it will help the flow of water that might otherwise pool in the bottom of the window well.
But while many people think there is only one type of back fill material – normally pea gravel – there are actually many different options to choose from; and they can make a big difference to the look and feel of your window well.
You can use granite gravel, for example, to match the color of our gray window wells, or course sand to pair with our tan window wells. You can also choose between a satisfying “crunch” when you step into the well, by using larger backfill material, or a quieter footfall by picking a smaller, denser material.
Alternatively, just go without! Some of our window wells, like the Rhino products, already have a floor built in, so you can choose backfill materials based on cost and drainage capability, rather than looks. Others, like our Premier window wells and Elite window wells, are so strong that they don’t even need the pea gravel as a backfill during installation – so you can go without entirely! But you will still need about a foot deep of gravel at the bottom of the well for improved drainage.
In any event, the material you choose could make a big impact on how your egress window well looks once installed. Give it some serious thought – and we’d love to see photos of what your finished product looks like!
If you’re thinking of installing an egress basement window well in your home, we can help you get everything you need with a single click.
Last Christmas, I bought a new iPhone, and a whole load of accessories that were on sale. And what did I discover when I got home? That none of the on-sale accessories worked with this season’s latest iPhone.
It’s a perennial problem – making sure the accessories and extras you buy fit the product you intend them for – and it extends far beyond just mobile phones. It even extends to home construction supplies (I can’t be the only one who bought a window frame or door off the rack, only to discover it didn’t fit the space by the time I’d brought it home.)
Knowing that having incompatible materials is a source of incredible frustration, we started selling complete egress window kits at egresswindows.com – specifically so people looking to install a means of egress in their finished basement wouldn’t have to worry that the windows and grates they bought might not pair up with the window wells or accessories they ordered at the same time.
Each of our complete egress window well kits includes all the essentials to install a means of egress – including a fiberglass or metal window well, an egress window, plus a cover (some kits also come with a ladder, if steps aren’t molded directly into the window well.)
While you’ll still need to purchase additional materials to install the window well, including crushed stone for backfilling, the important parts are all shipped together and all work in perfect harmony together; ensuring an affordable, effective means of egress that meets modern building code.
Why is this important? Because if you order the right parts, your “means of egress” could be a literal deathtrap instead! We’ve read at least one story of a contractor who installed a basement window well without checking whether the window fitted the space-saving window well. When it came time to test the window, the homeowners found it couldn’t actually open outward, because the window well was too small!
That’s not the kind of mistake you want to make; especially in a life-or-death situation in which a window well could make all the difference.
So check out our range of complete egress window kits – and, if you have any questions about which parts work with others, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our skilled and knowledgeable customer care representatives.
A finished basement gives all the benefits cavemen used to rave about. Take advantage.
Back in prehistoric times, our early ancestors used to live in caves. This wasn’t just a matter of sheltering from the elements – at also made a lot more sense than building huts or lean-tos; which required a lot of work and materials to construct, and didn’t provide nearly as much shelter as mother nature did.
Caves – built as they were from meters of impenetrable rock – were incredibly well insulted. As a result, they were a place cavemen could shelter from the heat in when the sun beat down, and also stay warm and snug during the coldest months of the year.
The finished basements of today mirror many of these traits – which is why they can be an incredibly smart investment for homeowners and families looking to live comfortably, but economically.
Whether finishing a basement to add additional living space, or to offer out as a rental property, the natural insulation provided by the earth will help reduce heating bills during winter, and also help keep the living space cool during summer months.
But a little extra work is required – like adding a means of egress to any finished basement.
First off, egress windows are a national building code requirement; and you can’t rent out a basement without meeting that standard. Secondly, they offer a vital means of escape in the event of an emergency like a fire; and could save lives.
But additionally, they help maximize the natural environmental properties of basement living – adding a source of natural sunlight (which can inhibit mold) and a means of ventilation which can help reduce humidity levels and make underground living space incredibly comfortable.
With an egress window, enjoying basement living space becomes so easy, even a caveman could do it.
Adding egress windows is a great way to keep your basement dry – but there are other tips you can use to keep your finished basement fresh and welcoming.
Basements get damp. It’s one of the natural laws of the universe – like how when you drop a piece of toast, it always lands butter-side down.
But with your basement, at least there are things you can do to help reduce or eliminate the problem. For many homeowners, adding egress basement windows helped eliminate their damp problem – as it gave a free-flowing source of fresh air that helped expel lingering moisture.
But if you’re deciding to finish your basement, there are some other tips and techniques you can use to minimize or eliminate the risk of dampness.
The first is to consider adding a humidifier. These portable units literally suck the moisture out of the air, and help keep your basement dry and crisp.
Another smart move is to avoid carpet or wood flooring in your basement, and go with tile. Not only is tile easy to install and incredibly tough and durable, it’s also impervious to moisture – so will help keep your basement dryer.
As an added bonus; if your basement ever gets flooded, tile flooring will remain undamaged. For people living in flood-zones like New Jersey, installing a tile floor once is infinitely preferable to having to rip up hardwood flooring, or carpet, every time there’s a storm and flooding.
But, of course, the smartest way to keep your basement dry is to install an egress window, if you haven’t already. In addition to being a potentially life-saving escape route (and a requirement of national building code) egress windows can be opened up to let fresh air in and circulate around the basement.
Even better, this simple step can literally pay for itself with the increase to your home value – making it one of the smartest improvements you can make to your home, whether you’re planning on enjoying your finished basement yourself, or if you added it to rent out or to add resale value to your house.
Finishing your basement is a big step towards adding extra living space – and resale value – to your home. But some smart choices now can really pay off in the long run – especially adding a tile floor.
Many homeowners take years to work up the courage to finish their basement.
There are a lot of concerns for them – not least of which is the purely mental block which makes them think it’s impossible that their cold, dank, unwelcoming basement could ever become a warm and welcoming part of their family home.
But when they finally do make that decision – it pays off big time.
Finishing a basement is literally like free money to some home owners – adding thousands of dollars of resale value to their home, and hundreds of extra square feet of livable, comfortable family space.
But there are some things you need to consider.
First is the importance of adding an egress window to any finished basement. Once a basement becomes part of the family home, it’s a national building code requirement that it contains a “means of egress” – in short, a means of escape for anybody trapped downstairs.
Adding an egress window well solves this problem – and in addition to being a required part of code (and a smart choice for the safety of your family) a basement window can add natural light and fresh ventilation to a previously dark and dank basement.
The materials you use to finish your basement are also important to think about. Some choices you make during the finishing process can really pay off in the long run.
One example is the decision to add tile flooring to your finished basement.
While carpet or hardwood floors might be cheaper, tile is an ideal basement flooring surface for a number of reasons:
First off, it’s totally waterproof – and if you live in an area prone to flooding (or even not prone to flooding, as our weather has been weird in recent years) this could save you thousands if there is a flood in your basement. Even an inch of water will ruin your carpets or wooden floors – forcing you to rip them up and lay new ones.
Tile, on the other hand, will withstand floods – and look as good as new after a quick whip with a mop and bucket.
Secondly, tile helps reduce the amount of moisture trapped in your basement. Carpet and even wood flooring can act like a sponge; soaking up the humidity that is an inevitable part of basement living. By installing tile, instead, you can avoid this phenomenon; and your basement will feel crisper and dryer as a result.
But if you do decide to install a tile floor, be sure to consult with an expert beforehand. One issue that is important to consider is the “settling” of your home – as this can prove to be the Achilles’ Heel to a tile installation.
“Settling” is the natural shift and movement of a home; as the materials warp, twist, shift and adjust to match the environmental influences that affect them.
In a basement, this can be seen with concrete floors shifting and cracking; which in turn cracks any tiles installed on top of them. This is why it’s important to use a polyethylene membrane between the concrete floor and a tile; to compensate for this shift.
Details like that can be hammered out with a contractor prior to installation – but it’s worth thinking about beforehand. While straightforward – and a smart investment – adding tile floors is ultimately a little like address an egress window well itself:
The right thing to do, but something you want to do right.
When you’re adding an egress window well to your finished basement, make sure you take the water table into consideration.
Water can make or break a basement refurbishment, as any homeowner will tell you – and adding a means of egress can play an important part in that.
Sump pumps and drainage can help make sure your basement stays dry; but heavy rain and storms can still have devastating consequences if you don’t take precautions.
So when you’re considering adding a basement window well and egress window, make sure you give some thought to how that might impact the way water moves around your home. For example, if your house is on a slope, make sure you install your basement window well on the lower side – so water will drain away from it. Otherwise your window well could end up filling up with water just like a real well.
You should also consider how the area surrounding your window well might affect the movement of water. We recommend using pea gravel as backfill on most of our window wells (all of them except the Rockwell Premier and Elite Egress Wells) not just for the support, but also because of the superior drainage it allows.
One element that’s often overlooked in roof drainage – we’ve even heard they story of one customer who installed his new window well so close to his existing drainpipes that they drained directly into his well instead of around it!
If you can, make sure your guttering and roof drainage flows away from your window wells (and, if you haven’t considered this already, always towards the lower side of your home.)
On the bright side, if they’re installed properly, egress window wells could actually help reduce the risk of a flooded basement; and certainly won’t make any existing problem worse. What’s more, the safety advantages they provide end up being more than worth the time spent planning where to put them.
In fact, while most people only think of egress windows as protection against being trapped in a fire, they’ve also saved lives for those trapped in other types of disasters; including flooding.
When storms hit Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2010, for example, one family was actually trapped inside their basement when the interior stairs collapsed. If they hadn’t been able to escape through a basement window well, they most likely would have drowned in the subsequent flooding.
So water flow and the risk of flooding shouldn’t make you hesitate about installing egress window wells. In fact, quite the opposite: They could end up being one of the smartest home improvement investments you can make.
Finishing your basement can be a great alternative to buying a bigger house. Just don’t forget the egress basement windows!
According to economists, the recession is over – but it doesn’t feel that way to millions of American homeowners. In fact, in some parts of the country house prices are the lowest they’ve been for a half century – in Detroit, for example, the average house price has dropped to just $44,000!
And with the housing market still deeply depressed, many homeowners with growing families are struggling.
“We had our third kid last June,” explained Long Island homeowner Janine, “and we’re really struggling for space. All three kids are sharing the same room at the moment.”
But like millions of Americans, Janine isn’t in a position to simply move to a bigger place.
“We bought our home in 2005, when house prices were high,” she says. “If we sold now, we’d owe nearly $100,000 more on our mortgage than the house is worth.”
It’s a situation shared by millions – especially in city suburbs like Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.
But there is another option.
Janine’s home, for example, was a 1950s ranch built as part of the “G.I. Bill” following World War II. As a result, it had a large basement that she’d only ever used for storage.
“When somebody suggested we finish the basement as a playroom and media room, it seemed crazy.” But just crazy enough to work, it turns out.
Instead of moving house, Janine and her husband invested the money they’d spend on moving costs, realtor fees and inspections on finishing their basement instead – adding drywall, carpeting and breaking it into three separate rooms.
“And we also added egress basement windows,” she adds.
A means of egress – an escape route, in other words – is national building code for finished basements; but Janine could probably have got away without installing a window well and basement window – after all, the only people likely to see her basement were her kids and family.
“But we added the egress windows for two reasons,” she explains.
“First off, we’re hoping the housing crisis won’t last forever – and when we do move, not having egress basement windows could hurt our house value.” In fact, not installing a means of egress in your basement could slice through all of the value you’ve added to your home when it comes time to sell. If you invest in a finished basement, an inspection will red flag a lack of basement windows and you may be saddled with the cost of installing them for the new owner.
“But more important than that,” Janine insists, “was the safety angle.”
As a volunteer EMT, Janine has been to her share of house fires – “and the ones when people get trapped in the basement are the worst.”
With three small kids to worry about, Janine is taking no risks – and that’s why skipping the cost of installing egress windows never crossed her mind.
“They’re a smart investment, sure,” she admits, “but what you’re really spending your money on is protecting your family in case of a fire.” And despite all the cost and stress Janine’s housing issues have caused her: “That’s the kind of investment that’s worth every penny.”
Remembering a tragedy also reminds us of the important of fire safety.
This week marked the 10th anniversary of The Station nightclub fire – a horrific blaze that claimed the lives of 100 people in February of 2003. The fire – caused by on-stage pyrotechnics set up by rock band Great White – engulfed the small Rhode Island nightclub in seconds; trapping hundreds in the blazing building. It’s a chilling reminder of the importance of a “means of egress” in any enclosed space.
Marking the occasion is the official launch of The Station Documentary – a web series created by filmmaker David Bettencourt, which includes interviews with survivors of the fire and modern fire-safety experts from world-leading fire and security company Tyco.
A number of factors exacerbated the tragedy – including a lack of sprinklers and fire suppression equipment. But just as importantly, victims of the fire were trapped inside the blazing building because it lacked additional “means of egress” – emergency exits allowing people to escape the fire.
Egress windows were actually a hot topic during that period in recently history; but unfortunately changes came to late to save the lives of The Station victims. Indeed, in had only been the year 2000 when national building codes were finally updated to require basement apartments to have a means of egress installed in them; and it would be several years before other buildings faced the same requirements.
But the real tragedy is that today – ten years later – there are still thousands of places that haven’t met the standards of modern building code. Basement apartments are especially prevalent amongst that number, as many basements have been converted to “mother in law apartments” or finished basements that don’t meet with national building code.
And while many home owners feel that projects like that are harmless – especially if they’re not renting out their finished basements to people – the importance of adding a means of egress goes beyond just ticking a box on a building inspection. It could save lives.
Just as hundreds of people were bottlenecked in The Station nightclub blaze, the lack of an egress basement window means the same could happen with occupants of a basement if a fire occurred. Even worse, they’d be trapped below ground; with the building above potentially crashing down on top of them.
Whether added to a nightclub or a basement, a means of egress isn’t just a requirement to meet code – it’s something that could help save the lives of somebody you care about.
For more information about basement egress windows, check out our website.
And for more information about The Station documentary, visit http://thestationmovie.com/