When it comes to window well covers there is a couple of things you want to have in mind. How safe is it? Can you exit through it in case of an emergency? Well the term egress embodies all of that. The word itself stands for the action of going out or leaving a place. So with the context of a window well cover it means one that is large enough to escape through if needed during an emergency. With that being said, when looking for what type of window well you want and cover, one of your best choices would be to choose an egress window well. Because this will ensure optimized safety in the case that one needs to exit through the window well. In fact, depending on where you are, most cities and residential areas will have a code for egress windows so there are certain regulations that have to be met to ensure public safety.

So what makes a window well and cover egress?

As mentioned earlier, a lot of times city regulations will require that window wells are egress for the safety of everyone. That being said, an egress window is typically required in specific locations in a house or building, for the purpose of providing an emergency means of escaping the premise at a moments notice. In order for a window to be considered egress it does have to meet specific size requirements to qualify as one. As well as the cover being able to safely fit over it, and also allow room to go in and out of when opened.

Where are they required?

Any and every room used for sleeping purposes (bedrooms) on any floor and in basements with habitable space, chances are, an egress window will be required. When building a new home, code will typically require that you are installing egress windows in each bedroom as well as in the basement if any habitual rooms plan on being finished. With that being said, if there are bedrooms in the basement, then egress windows will need to be input. Even if the house has already been built and you are adding a bedroom to an unfinished basement, the code for your area will still probably require that you install an egress window in that room. 

What are the size requirements for an egress window?

Keep in mind that the code can vary from city and state, and your city office is good resource to clarify for your area. However, here is the criteria for the International
Residential Code (IRC) : 

  • Minimum height opening of 24 inches
  • Minimum width opening of 20 inches
  • Maximum sill height above the floor 44 inches
  • Minimum net clear opening 5.7 sq. ft. (5.0 sq. ft. for ground floor).

The net clearing measurement above refers to the clear space and actual free area that exists when the window is open. It is the actual opening a person can crawl through, not the rough opening size or the glass panel size. 

You should be able to operate the window opening from inside without the use of tools or keys. Grates, bars, and grills can still be installed over the windows but they too must be operational without keys or tools and meet the minimum clear opening requirements. 

At first glance you may figure that a 20 inch by 24 inch window would be accepted as egress. However, those measurements do not yield a net clear opening of 5.7 square feet. Those dimensions only provide a net clear opening of 3.3 square feet. So make sure that when measuring for your egress window that a 20 inch wide window is 42 inches high, and a 24 inch high window is 34 inches wide so that the net clear opening of 5.7 square feet is met.  

For basement egress window wells and covers, keep in mind:

Aside from the width, height, and overall square footage specifications that a basement window must meet, there are also certain requirements for the window well that surrounds the window. The window well must:

  • Provide 9 square feet of floor area, with a minimum dimension of 36 inches in width and length.
  • Have room for the window opening to be fully opened 
  • If the window well depth exceeds 44 inches in depth, it must contain a permanently affixed ladder or steps for climbing out. 

Egress window well covers:

They are meant to be easily removed or opened from the inside without any tools. These requirements are so it can be operated in a way that is simple enough even a kid could do it if necessary in case of an emergency. Be aware of who is using certain living spaces and if needs be make adjustments such as adding a ladder if needed. When you have the option and are deciding if you would like to go with an egress window well and cover here are a couple benefits to consider:

  • It improves ventilation and air circulation
  • Is a great source of natural light for basement renovations
  • Provides an additional exit in case of a  fire or other emergency situation  
  • And most importantly, they provide you with a way out, and firefighters/EMTs with a way in if needed!