Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 by Amy Frohloff
Unless you are considering a renovation, remodel, or looking to increase the value of your home for resale, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about basement egress windows. But if you’re feeling the pinch that comes with a growing family and limited space, or simply want to maximize the return on your investment, installing an egress window provides an excellent return on a very reasonable investment.
When it comes to exciting home improvement projects, egress windows aren’t generally what homeowners think of as high return projects. However, according to U.S. News & World Report, replacing the less sexy but important components of your home - think doors, windows and siding - generally yields a better financial return than bigger remodeling projects. And in the case of basement bedroom remodels or additions, egress windows are a requirement for a safe exit in case of an emergency. Most people, if they have an egress window at all, are living with basic builder grade material, installed at the time the home was built.
The word egress is defined as “a place or means of going out”. While dictionary definitions aren’t always 100% applicable, this definition directly applies to the design principles and purpose of egress windows. In addition to providing a safe and easily accessible means of escape for emergencies, egress windows can add significant value to your home with added ventilation and natural light - both of which are often lacking in basement living spaces. Getting a finished basement up to code is a smart move that quickly pays for itself in terms of house value and rental potential. However, finishing a basement can require multiple investments which often inspire homeowners to try and cut corners when adding a means of egress – and that can lead to costly problems in the future.
When considering an egress window, it’s important to be aware of the top 3 reasons why egress windows can fail.
1. Poor Installation
The number one reason egress windows can fail is poor installation. Basically, you’re undertaking a project that involves two critical elements of your home’s construction: waterproofing and structural integrity. Finding a qualified contractor with expertise in foundations and waterproofing is essential. Basement egress windows are installed below grade and require cutting through a home’s foundation.
Poor planning and installation can lead to major water issues if the window is not placed and sealed properly. One red flag to look out for is the lack of a window well drain in your contractor’s design plans. If there is no drain system in your window wells, you’re asking for trouble. Heavy rains can quickly fill any basement window well and create enough pressure to collapse the window itself and flood your basement. Working with a company that offers a warranty in addition to detailed project plans can help ensure you’re working with a reputable and reliable contractor.
Waterproofing issues aside, installing basement egress windows requires a large hole to be cut into your home’s foundation. Ensuring your contractor has the experience and necessary equipment is a must. Many egress contractors have to cut through foundation walls in two steps, cutting once from the outer portion of the wall and once from the inner side of the wall. While any contractor will take steps to measure appropriately, that two-step process still leads to a fair bit of “guesstimation” when it comes to lining up the two cuts. Finding a contractor like Thrasher, that uses a patented cut and break saw to make one seamless cut through the foundation removes the guess work and ensures that you have a single, seamless cut during the installation process.
As you can see from the photos below, basement egress windows with improper drainage and/or poorly planned cuts through the foundation wall can lead to serious problems.
2. Code Violations
An egress window installation is not a do-it-yourself kind of project. If installed to code, the excavation of dirt alone is equal to 70 wheelbarrow loads of dirt.
When a basement is updated to include a legal bedroom, the one thing that inspectors never fail to check is the required emergency-egress window for each basement sleeping room. At least one window in each defined bedroom must be of sufficient size to permit the occupants to get out and also to allow a fully outfitted firefighter to get in.
Most building codes require a 5.7 square foot opening, and a window that is no more than 44 inches off the floor. Keep in mind that codes can vary, so be sure that you and your contractor know what the specific requirements are for your area. If the building inspector finds that your egress window comes up short in any way, you cannot legally list that space as an additional bedroom room when selling the home. Cutting costs with a bargain basement contractor may seem like a good idea, but the end result of a missed measurement can end up costing you thousands of dollars in lost home value.
Egress windows and window wells can be made from a wide variety of materials. Railroad ties, corrugated steel or aluminum and pre-molded plastic or vinyl composites are all commonly used construction materials. The key is to ensure you select a product made from materials that can withstand the extreme temperature and moisture fluctuations that we see in the Midwest. Not only does that window and well need to be durable, but it should also be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. With over 62 years of experience under our belts, we’ve found that a window well, constructed from high-strength composite is best suited to withstand weather, temperature, and the physical pressures exerted by soils surrounding your home. As you can see in the photos below, even metal window wells can fall victim to rust, soil pressure and poor drainage.
It’s also important to have the right window cover. Well covers are not specifically designed to stop water from filling the well, but rather to keep debris from getting into the well and clogging the drain. A properly fitting window well cover will prevent leaves, grass clippings, animals and other materials from entering the well. It’s also important to ensure that any window well cover be strong enough to support the weight of a family member or pet.
Outside of the important elements we’ve outlined above, it’s important to remember that egress windows really are vital, lifesaving elements of your home. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, house fires in the United States lead to 4,000 deaths and over 20,000 injuries each year, many of which could be avoided with proper planning and means of escape. Not only are you protecting your friends, family and loved ones, but you’re also adding beauty and natural light that makes your basement living space a welcome and inviting space for years to come. Taking the time to educate yourself on egress window installation, code requirements and materials can make your next basement project a more enjoyable and beneficial process for all parties involved.
For more information on installing a basement egress window, contact Thrasher for a free, no obligation estimate.
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