Converting or finishing a basement space, to include adding bedrooms or a bathroom, can be a great way to increase useable square footage and ROI for your rental. However, it’s important not to create a death trap in the process. We sometimes find unpermitted basement conversions without adequate emergency egress in area rental properties, so it’s a good idea to recap some of the IRC requirements:
Even in walk-out basements, bedrooms must have two egress routes. If the basement has a recreation room, den, office, or home gym, but no bedrooms, the requirement for at least two egress routes from the area still applies. Doors or windows can be used, but they must be fully operable from the inside and not require the use of keys or special tools. Below grade egress windows and doors have egress well requirements that must also be met. Remember, tenants will frequently convert these areas to host “temporary” guests or to generate extra income from subletting—that’s why we have to cover the safety contingency that they will.
Basement Egress Window Requirements
The bottom of the egress window opening can’t exceed 44” from the finished floor.
The minimum opening area of the egress window is 5.7 square feet.
The minimum egress window opening height is 24” high.
The minimum egress window opening is 20” wide.
The egress window must have a glass area of not less than 8% of the total floor area of room(s) for which it is servicing, to allow the minimum amount of sufficient natural light. *
The egress window must have an opening area of not less than 4% of the total floor area of room(s) for which it is servicing, to allow the minimum amount of natural ventilation. *
* Multiple windows can be used to service a single area where one window does not meet these percentages of total floor area.
Egress Window or Door Wells
Wells are required where the bottom of the egress window or door is below ground level.
The egress well must not interfere with the egress window or door fully opening.
The distance from the egress window or door threshold to the back of the egress well must be at least 36”
The minimum area of the egress well must be 9 square feet (36” x 36”).
Egress Ladders and/or Steps
Egress ladders and or steps are required on window wells deeper than 44” and must be permanently attached.
An egress ladder or step may encroach into well up to 6”.
Steps and/or distance between rungs of the ladder can’t exceed 18”.
The rungs of an egress ladder must be 12” wide or greater and must project a minimum of 3” away from the back wall, but can’t exceed 6” from the back of the wall.
Egress Well Cover and/or Well Grates
Grates and covers shall be easily opened or removed from the inside of the egress well without special tools (don’t padlock!). These requirements are intended to make sure an average, able bodied person, would be able to both fit through and lift themselves up, and out the egress well.