When did they start requiring egress windows in basement bedrooms?

As more family homes that haven’t been sold for 40-50 years are hitting the market we are seeing more homes with basement ‘bedrooms’ from years past without egress windows. That has prompted buyers to ask when they started requiring an egress window for a basement bedroom to be legal.

I didn’t know the answer so did some searching. According to Jerry McCarthy, a former building code/construction consultant, the requirement that basement bedrooms have egress windows became part of the International Residential Code in 1997.

However, egress requirements also apply to above-ground sleeping space. The issue is, will someone be able to get out, or firefighters be able to get in to rescue someone trapped inside in the event of fire.

According to inspector Reuben, windows must open at least 24″ high, 20″ wide, and have a net openable area of 5.7 square feet for proper egress. Both windows in the illustration below meet those minimum requirements.

Egress Windows

It was very common about 50 years ago for teenagers to be thrilled when they got to move down to a basement bedroom and their own private hangout space. They sometimes even got their own bathroom.

At that time “egress windows” didn’t even exist. Early basements were never intended to be living space, as you will quickly discover when you look at houses built 100+ years ago.

When they started finishing basement space, ‘rec rooms’ were most common… providing a separate room for playing and parties. As families grew and they needed more bedroom space the basement bedroom became a solution for teens and overnight guests.

As people lived and slept in basements, it was tragically discovered that in the case of fire people sleeping in the basement were trapped with no way to get out. Hence egress windows in basement sleeping spaces were born out of safety concerns.

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