When converting a basement into a living area, town building codes specify that a finished basement must have an emergency egress – either an egress window or door large enough to allow people to easily exit the space, and for rescue crews to gain access in case of fire or other emergency.
Unless you have a “walk out” basement with a full-size door to enter and exit the space, the least expensive option is to install an egress window. Installation requires cutting a hole in your basement wall. If your basement has solid concrete or concrete block walls, the job will require the services of a skilled mason or basement remodeling specialist. The process is relatively straightforward for a skilled professional, as is the placement of the window and any finish work involved.
If you have a sloping yard, it may be that your new egress window can be installed completely above grade. If your foundation walls barely peek above the soil line, however, you’ll have to excavate down and provide a window well. The size of a window well also is determined by building codes to allow a person to easily climb out of the window and exit the house. If your egress window requires a window well, be sure to call first to have all buried utilities marked so that you won’t run into any electrical, gas, cable, water, or sewer lines.
According to the most current residential building codes, if your basement retreat includes one or more “sleeping rooms,” such as a dedicated spare bedroom, each of those rooms must have an egress window. In addition, a single egress window must be furnished for “common-use” areas, such as a TV room, game room, or home office. Occasional-use spaces, such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, and utility areas, don’t need emergency egress.
Contractors will typically charge anywhere from $2500 to $5000, depending on the complexity of the project and extent of the work required. There are “do it yourself” kits available but beware – cutting through the concrete wall in your basement is a major task. Before starting any renovation project, it is best to consult with the municipality code enforcement or building inspection department to find out all of the requirements. Typically you must present your plans, get a permit to begin the work, followed by an inspection. Once the town inspector signs off on the work, you will be issued a “Certificate of Compliance.”