Egress Windows: Rules, Regulations, and Their Purpose

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated March 28, 2022
A woman relaxing in an attic with an egress window shining light
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images


  • Egress windows allow a safe exit from your home during an emergency.

  • The codes around these windows follow very specific parameters.

  • The cost to install egress windows usually runs between $2,500 to $5,300.

  • Egress windows can be of any type, as long as they follow the guidelines.

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You’ve moved into your dream house, and one of the things you’re most excited about is finishing the unfinished basement. Putting your personal touch on that part of the house and getting to design it exactly the way you want is something you planned on from the beginning. But when your contractor mentions installing egress windows, you’re stumped. 

Here’s everything you need to know about egress windows: what they are, the rules governing them, and any regulations you’ll need to follow.

What Are Egress Windows?

An egress window is a window that’s big enough to allow someone to exit during an emergency. The word “egress” simply means “to go out of or leave a place.” Aside from complying with the laws, egress windows will help keep your family safe by providing an escape route during an emergency like a fire. 

Basement egress windows usually have an egress window well, which provides enough space for a person to crawl out, and stairs or a ladder for easy exit. They usually look like windows built into the foundation with a well or space cut out of the ground around them for easy access.

Basement or Attic Egress Windows

When finishing a basement or attic space, you’ll likely need to install egress windows to comply with local building codes. For example, building codes for basements typically require that an egress window be surrounded by a window well and have a ladder so when you climb out, you can quickly move away from the building. Attic egress windows must follow the same parameters as egress windows in the rest of the home.

Where Are Egress Windows Required?

According to residential codes, egress windows must be present in all sleeping rooms, habitable attics, and basements with finished habitable rooms. Basically, if your basement has either a bedroom, den, playroom, or living area, you’ll need to have an egress window installed.

Egress Window Laws

Egress window regulations apply to rooms like bedrooms, basements, attics, and offices that usually don’t have a door leading to the outside. According to International Residential Code (IRC) rules, egress windows must:

  • Open a minimum of 20 inches wide

  • Open at least 24 inches in height

  • Have a minimum net clear opening (the actual space that is open and clear once a window is open) of 5.7 feet

  • Have a windowsill that is less than 44 inches off the floor

  • Be capable of opening without requiring tools

Basically, the window has to be big enough for a person to escape through and not be too high for children to reach. Egress windows also provide an entrance for emergency personnel in the event that they can’t get through a door, so the dimensions account for that potential situation as well.

Different municipalities and states across the country may have additional rules that apply to egress windows, so it’s important to check your local rules before starting the project to make sure you’re compliant with regulations. Some other common regulations for egress windows include having:

  • A window well floor space of no less than 9 square feet

  • A permanent ladder if the window well depth is more than 44 inches

  • Ladder steps that are at least 12 inches wide and 3 inches deep

How Much Do Egress Windows Cost?

A basement egress window
Photo: MelissaMN / Adobe Stock

The cost to install egress windows in a basement averages around $3,900, ranging from $2,500 to $5,300. Variables that affect the price are your geographical location, the number of windows you need to install, and your choice of windows. The types of egress windows available are:

  • Single-hung: Windows with a single moveable sash that opens from the bottom while the top stays still.

  • Double-hung: Windows with two moveable sashes that can open either from the bottom up or the top down.

  • Horizontal/sliding: Windows that slide open from side to side instead of vertically.

  • Casement: Windows hinged on the side that open with a crank, swinging out fully from top to bottom for ventilation.  

  • In-swing: Windows that swing open into a room instead of swinging out like casement windows.

Single-hung windows are the simplest and usually least expensive of window models, and casement and in-swing windows are usually more costly because of their complexity.

How to Find an Egress Window Installation Pro

Any window installation professional can install egress windows in your home, whether they’re for your basement, attic, or other rooms. When researching local egress window installers, make sure to check online reviews and source at least three quotes before deciding on a pro for your project. If someone in your neighborhood has done a similar project, or you know family or friends who have installed egress windows, ask for recommendations.

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