Basement Egress Window Code Saves Lives – But It Almost Didn’t Happen

Posted on February 7, 2013 | in Thoughts | by

Basement egress window code saves many lives each and every year – but there were many who tried to prevent a means of egress being part of the building requirements.

In 2000, the International Residential Code (IRC) was changed to require all basement dwellings to have a means of egress; in case of fire or other emergency. That inspired politicians to move on similar legal requirements in the United States – but contrary to what you might expect, it wasn’t easy to get them passed.

You might wonder why people would resist adding a life-saving measure to the national building code. The answer, in many cases, was money.

There were a number of people throughout the United States who stood to lose financially when the building code adopted a means of egress as a code requirement – and that meant they fought the measure, even though it saved lives.

Some of the more vocal opponents of this building code change were property owners  – especially those who owned apartment buildings or multi-family family homes with finished basement apartments. To meet code, they would have to invest in installing egress windows in many different properties; and to some of these property owners, protecting the lives of their tenants came second to protecting their bottom line.

Another group that resisted the building code changes were state’s right advocates and libertarians. Because each of the 50 United States is, essentially, like its own country, there were many who believed that federal regulations were too broad and states themselves should be allowed to choose which codes they required and which they didn’t.

In some cases, this makes a lot of sense. Earthquake-proof measures are essential for homes in California – but don’t make as much sense in Iowa or Vermont. Likewise, the requirements for building a home in Montana, where you can get hundreds of inches of snow during the winter, are going to be very different to homes in the baking, 130 degree heat of Arizona.

But when it comes to basements without egress windows, tragedy can hit in any state. Every single week, it’s easy to find stories of families who narrowly averted tragedy (or, in some horrible instances, didn’t) after being trapped in a basement during a fire with no means of escape.

That sort of logic is difficult to argue with – which is the move to adopt IRC code on egress windows throughout the United States was eventually successful. Today, all finished basements are required to have a means of egress of thousands of lives have been saved as a result.

And that’s something every homeowner needs to think about when considering their own plans for their basement. It’s tempting for developers on a budget to consider skipping that important step – especially if it’s a private home, and they’re adding an “in-law apartment” or other basement dwelling that authorities might never be aware of.

But while it’s possible to save a few dollars by not installing a means of egress during a basement renovation, that saving could cost you thousands of dollars more in the long term. Code violations can be subject to hefty fines – and even they pale in comparison to what cutting corners can do to the value of your property.

Real estate experts agree that a red flag for house-hunters is any kind of code violation; so forget about cashing in on a finished basement if it doesn’t have a means of egress. Any potential buyer will face the cost of installing a basement window themselves; and probably reflect that added expense in the lower-than-anticipated purchase price they offer.

But more important than any of those concerns is the human cost. Forget house prices, or code violations for one second and think of what the real price of not having basement windows installed could be – the life of somebody you care about.

At the end of the day, the IRC codes weren’t implemented for any other reason than that they saved lives – and that makes them one of the smartest, and safest, investments any homeowner can make.


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About Me

Hi, I'm Jeff. I will be using this space to share my thoughts and opinions that I have accumulated over many years in the building industry. My hope is to also teach and inspire.

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Jeff Ommundsen
(229) 234-7377
President of Shop Egress Windows, Inc.