Enlarging a window opening in your basement is not only a good idea, but it’s also the law. If you own an older home with basement living space or are building a brand new home, you’re going to have to do a few things.

Egress windows serve an emergency purpose. They serve as an exit or entrance in cases of fire, flood or another kind of immediate urgency. But you can’t just install them willy-nilly on whim. First, you need a permit for the egress windows.

Yes, you must have a building permit to ensure the windows are up to IRC code. This will also help you keep to any other local and state regulations. Permits ensure the safety of the people in your home and keep problems with authorities at bay.

You’re only required to meet the least amount of specifications, but that doesn’t mean it will fit all your needs. In cases where the home is older, you may have to make adjustments.

The idea is to have a window that an average, healthy person can get into or out of with ease and without help. You may have to consider who will be using the space and plan your egress windows according to size.

Check with your building department and inspectors’ offices for any questions you may have. Every city and state may have variations included with their version of the IRC. They may also have a specific means in which to procure the permit, including cost.

What is the IRC?

The International Code Council (ICC) in 2018 created the International Residential Code to set global standards for home building and remodeling. Local and state legislators nationwide have adopted this code for regulation and safety purposes.

The ICC updates this code every three years. All new single- and two-family homes come under the direct influence by the IRC along with any remodeling or rebuilding of older homes.

The IRC specifies egress windows. So, you will have to check with your local building authority. Find out which version is being enforced at the time you plan on installing them and what the specifics are for building egress windows.

Why You Need A Permit: Section R310 of the IRC

The code requires that all basements and below-ground bedroom areas should have at least one rescue or escape in the case of an emergency. This should give free access into something like a yard, alley, court or street.

If the basement is a living space, especially if it is where someone sleeps, you have to have an egress window in every instance.

There are only a few exceptions.  You only need one window if there are adjoining areas of the basement.  The only time you don’t have to have an egress window is when the below-ground space is for storing equipment.

Egress Window Requirements Under the IRC

The size, shape and opening size required under the IRC are rather stringent. Make sure that your egress windows have the following:

  • The window must be a height at least 24” long.
  • The window opening at the bottom can’t be more than 44” from the floor.
  • 5.7 square feet is the least amount of opening clearance.
  • The window opening itself must have 20” in width at the very least.
  • The glass of the window can’t be less than 8% of the floor’s total area to allow for adequate natural light.
  • The opening area can’t be less than 4% in contrast to the area of the floor to allow for acceptable ventilation.

Window Wells

If the window will be below ground level, you have to have window wells. The window opening mechanism can’t have any amount of obstruction. The total distance from the window to the back of the well has to start at 36” and the area of the well must be 9 square feet at the very least.

Well Grates; Covers

Any typical person should be able to open the well without the use of devices for ease of escape or urgent entry.

Steps; Ladders

If the well is going to exceed 44” and be deeper than the base requirements, steps or ladders are also a must. These can be up to 6” but can’t be more than 18” with rungs being 12” wide or more. They also need to be off the back of the wall by 3” and not more than 6” away.

Acquiring a Window Permit in Your Area

When deciding to build a new structure or update an old one, know that you are responsible for following all building codes set by local and state legislation. If you don’t, you could land into trouble that may cost you more than money.

This is why it’s imperative to contact your local building department and officials because you are going to need a permit for egress windows. Getting a permit will ensure specifics meet the standards upon installation and will save you from any legal issues that may come up down the road.

There are some contractors that will actually get the permit on your behalf, but of course, this is going to depend on your local laws for such a thing. Some areas obligate the home owner to be the sole applicant.

Most permits sit at a price of around $150 and should only be a fraction of the entire cost of the window. Often, the price for your permit will revolve around the project’s total estimated value. So keep this in mind when determining the budget and how much you want to spend.

The Importance of the Permit Process

Installing an egress window is not only an essential component for safety during an emergency, but it’s also required. If you don’t keep your home up to code, regardless of its age, you may very well run into problems with the law. Getting a permit is the first and most important step.



"2018 International Residential Code" (https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IRC2018)

"Building Planning Codes:  IRC Code Section R310" (http://www.boman-kemp.com/IRC-Code-R310-Emergency-Escape-and-Rescue-Required.htm)