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Basement Egress Window Systems

By Kevin Warnecke and Tom Stowell

If your concrete cutting business is in an area where residential basements are predominant, then you have an excellent opportunity to capitalize on a sawing application involving egress window system installations at residential dwellings. 

The term “egress” simply means a direct method of leaving a building. An egress window code is a legal requirement, intended to ensure a person can escape a building through a window in an emergency. Most codes also require egress windows to be large enough for a fully outfitted firefighter to enter through them. In general, the egress window code requires installation of an egress window to any habitable space in a basement area. If there are individual bedrooms added to a basement dwelling, then a separate egress window is required for each one.

Most communities in the United States and Canada have based building codes on the International Residential Codes (IRC) created by the International Code Council, a membership organization that promotes building safety and fire prevention. These codes were developed with input from both organization members and the construction industry. The IRC include specifications for egress window sizes and locations, which vary slightly depending on the layout of the building. It is advised to check with your local code authority to see if it has authored its own rules or adopted the standards of the International Code Council.

A typical basement egress window system consists of an egress style window, a window well and a window well cover. The installation of an egress window system requires an enlargement of an existing window or the addition of a new window. This can be accomplished by sawing into the existing basement block or concrete wall. The windows must have a minimum net clear opening of 20 inches wide, 24 inches high and have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet. They must be installed so that the sill height to the finished interior floor measures no greater than 44 inches to meet the IRC-2006 code requirement. Common styles of egress windows have either a horizontal sliding window sash or casement type crank-out or crank-in window sash, depending on customer preference.

The preparation for the installation of an egress window system is similar to the preparation of any concrete sawing job. The contractor must first communicate with the home owner and confirm the location of all utility services before digging. Other obstacles that would interfere with digging and sawing, such as aerial power lines, aerial phone lines, roof overhang, down spouts, sprinkler systems, trees, branches, roots and interior restrictions, must also be reviewed and considered. In addition, the width and height of the window and the wall thickness and type, whether it is block or poured concrete, must be confirmed.

Suitable tools for the creation of an egress window opening include a wall saw, diamond chain saw, circular hand saw or ring saw. A centerline must be marked on the wall above the window. A hole must be dug so it is centered across the window opening. The hole should be at least 4 feet wide, 1 foot deeper and 1 foot greater in projection than the area of wall being cut.
Figure 1.


Next, the type of installation must be determined. There are two types of installation; framed and non-framed. Framed installations can be used for both block and poured concrete walls. Non-framed installations can only be used for poured concrete walls.

To determine the opening size for framed installations in block and poured concrete walls, measure the exterior of the window frame and add 3.5 inches to the width and height measurements. This allows 1.5 inches for lumber framing and 0.25 inches for shimming and sealant on each side. For non-framed installations, measure the exterior of the window frame and add 0.5 inches to the width and height measurements. This allows 0.25 inches for shimming and sealant.

Prior to cutting the basement wall opening, you should determine if a lintel or a header is required as a load bearing building component. Basic lintels can be fabricated from an angle iron extending 6 to 8 inches past the opening size at each end. A header can be made from a steel tube with steel plates welded to each end that extend down to set on the sill plate. Since load bearing components are unique for every situation, you should contact a structural engineer for accuracy.

To mark up the cutting area, draw a chalk line on the wall using the above dimensions, then spray the chalk line using clear marking paint to protect it from washing away during the cutting process. The measurement from the sill to the finished interior floor should be double-checked to ensure it does not exceed 44 inches. Making two or more horizontal cuts in the concrete area is advised, as this divides up and reduces the weight of the concrete for removal.

Next, a hole should be augured at least 12 inches deep and a drain tile should be inserted at the bottom of the hole. For best results, the drain tile should be tied into the building’s lateral foundation drainage system, if available, using a “T” connector. The drainage system typically runs alongside the building’s footing.

Figure 2.


The excess drain tile should be left above the ground to be trimmed later. Fill the bottom of the excavated hole with at least 8 inches of pea gravel to 3.5 inches below the wall opening. Level the gravel and trim the corrugated hose just above the gravel base.

Cut along the chalk lines using a wet cutting concrete saw, penetrating all the way through the wall. Ensure the corners are square cut to minimize water leaks and improve the fit and finished appearance. Plumb, square and straight cuts will ensure a high quality window installation.

Figure 3


A wood frame is required on a block concrete wall installation. On a poured concrete wall, a wood frame may or may not be used depending on preference. In order to build the frame, measure the wall thickness and rip lumber to the desired width using a table saw. Lumber for the sill and head should be cut to match the lower and upper dimensions of the sawed opening. Lumber for the side jambs should be measured from the head to the sill. The jambs should fit snug between the head and sill lumber. Remove loose lumber from the opening and apply sealant all the way around the inside of the concrete or block opening to ensure a water tight joint when window framework is installed. Install the window framework by fastening into the concrete wall with self-tapping concrete screws. For a block wall installation, fasten with rust resistant screws using a toe-nail method through the jambs into the head and sill boards at each corner. Sealant should be applied around the window frame wall joint on both exterior and interior sides.

Figure 4


A helper should be positioned inside the basement to assist with window placement. Lower the window into the framed opening, inserting the bottom window edge first then tipping in the top. 

Figure 5


Shim the window from both the interior and exterior sides until it is level, square and flush with the exterior side of the basement wall. Take care not to damage the window with excessive shim pressure. If applicable, fasten the window unit frame to a wood frame using rust-resistant screws. Apply expanding foam to the window frame gap created by the shims. Allow the foam to cure for at least one hour before trimming excess away. Apply sealant around the window frame joint on both exterior and interior sides.

The egress window well and cover can now be installed by anchoring to basement wall. Installation instructions will vary depending on the desired type of window well. In all instances, follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures.

Back-fill the window with leftover excavated dirt. The grade must slope away from the house and window well, and be at least 3 inches but no more than 12 inches below the top of the window well. The egress window system installation is now complete.

Figure 6

Keep in mind these are general installation guidelines only. Adherences to local code authority and manufacturer’s installation guidelines are absolutely necessary for a water-tight and approved installation. Whether the work is performed by a remodeling contractor who subcontracts out the sawing portion of the job, or the job is handled completely by the sawing contractor, the basement window egress system installation is an opportunity for concrete cutters to expand their businesses and increase their revenue streams.

Figure 7


Kevin Warnecke is the director of heavy user sales North America for ICS, Blount, based in Portland, Oregon. He currently sits on the CSDA Board of Directors and plays an active role in the association’s committees and training programs. Kevin can be reached at 503-709-1658 or

Tom Stowell is a CSDA Past President and retired vice president of sales and marketing with Norton Pro Diamond. He can be reached at 678-617-6664 or

CSDA is a nonprofit trade association of contractors, manufacturers and affiliated members from the concrete construction and renovation industry. The CSDA mission is to promote the selection of professional sawing and drilling contractors and their methods. Concrete cutting with diamond tools offers the industry many benefits including lower total project costs, precision cutting, maintenance of structural integrity, reduced downtime, reduced noise, dust and debris, limited access cutting and the ability to cut heavily-reinforced concrete. Founded in 1972, CSDA has 500 international member companies.


Egress (Basement) International Building Code, 2006
The following code applies to the requirement of egress window systems:

Chapter 10 Means of Egress
Section 1009 Emergency Escape and Rescue
1009.1 General. In addition to the means of egress required by this chapter, provisions shall be made for emergency escape and rescue. Basements shall have at least one exterior emergency escape and rescue opening in accordance with this section. Such openings shall open directly into a public street, public alley, yard or court.
Chapter 10 Means of Egress
Section 1009 Emergency Escape and Rescue
1009.2 Minimum size. Emergency escape and rescue opening shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet.
1009.2.1 Minimum dimensions. The minimum net clear opening height shall be 24 inches. The minimum net clear opening width dimension shall be 20 inches.
Chapter 10 Means of Egress
Section 1009 Emergency Escape and Rescue
1009.3 Maximum height from floor. Emergency escape and rescue opening shall have the bottom of the clear opening not greater than 44 inches measured from the floor.
Chapter 10 Means of Egress
Section 1009 Emergency Escape and Rescue
1009.4 Operational constraints. Emergency escape and rescue openings shall be operation from the inside of the room without the set of keys or tools. Bars, grilles, grates, or similar devices are permitted to be place over emergency escape and rescue openings provided the minimum net clear opening size complies with of requirement of this code which will be discussed later.
Chapter 10 Means of Egress
Section 1009 Emergency Escape and Rescue
1009.5 Window Wells. An emergency and rescue opening with the finished sill height below the adjacent ground level shall be provided with a window well in accordance to the below.
1009.5.1 Minimum size. The clear horizontal dimensions of the window well shall allow the emergency escape and rescue opening to be fully opened and provide a minimum accessible net clear opening of 9 square feet with a minimum dimension of 36 inches.
1009.5.2 Ladders or steps. Window wells with a vertical depth of more than 44 inches shall be equipped with an approved permanently affixed ladder or steps.
Width: 12 inches min.
Tread Depth / Clearance: 3 inches max.
Riser: 18 inches max.
Ladder / Steps may not encroach into well more than 6”.
Ladder / Steps shall not obstruct the emergency escape and rescue opening function.
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