Bedrooms below grade need proper secondary egress. 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 “bedroom.”
Many older homes that have windows into the basement were never designed for egress---simply to provide light and/or ventilation to the basement.
Since proper egress requires that windows have 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 egress window installed for this new basement bedroom.
While the height off the floor is OK, the net opening size was only 14" x 33" and does not meet current 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 egress to the basement 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 basement egress requirement has gotten even more expensive.
So let’s assume that you know there has to be proper egress 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 egress that is actually big enough for two bedrooms.
There is only one rather costly problem.
It is the wrong width—28” from window to wall. 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.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board