Reuben Saltzman

Egress requirements and the two-opening myth

There has to be a large group of home inspector trainers who tell home inspectors that every bedroom needs two methods of egress. I’ve heard this repeated by home inspectors in online discussions more times than I can count, and it’s based on nothing. This is a total myth. A bedroom needs one method of egress. More is fine, but not required.

While section R311 of the building code discusses Means of Egress at length, this section is all about people having a clear path to get out of a building, not about openings in bedrooms. If someone wanted to build a home and have no pathway from a bedroom to the rest of the home, they could. I’ve never seen this done and I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to do this, but it would not be a code violation.

What is egress?

Egress is not defined in the building code. Usually, when people say egress they’re referring to the Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening. This term makes it clear that this required opening in the building isn’t just for getting out (egress). It’s also there to allow for emergency rescues. I’ve heard people call this “ingress”, but I refuse to use that word because it sounds made-up.

The building code definition for an Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening is “an operable exterior window, door or similar device that provides for a means of escape and access for rescue in the event of an emergency.”  I think this term is already pretty self-explanatory, but I included the definition to make it clear that the opening doesn’t need to be a window. It just needs to be something big enough to get people in and out. A door would be just fine.

So now that I’ve covered the proper terminology for any online trolls/word sticklers, I’m going to go back to calling it egress. I prefer layman’s terms.

Egress requirements

If you’re in Minnesota, check out section R310 of the Minnesota State Building Code for all of the requirements. I’m not going to explain all of these requirements, but I’ll list the basics:

  • Basements, habitable attics, and sleeping rooms need to have an egress opening
  • The bottom of the required opening must be within 44″ of the floor.
  • The width of the opening must be at least 20″.
  • The height of the opening must be at least 24″.
  • The net clear opening must be at least 5.7 square feet unless the bottom of the opening is within 44″ of the ground at the exterior. In those cases, the opening can be reduced to 5 square feet.
  • Window wells must be at least 3′ x 3′, and they must allow the window to open fully. If the window well is more than 44″ deep, it needs a ladder.
  • If there’s a deck or porch above the basement window well, at least 36″ of headroom is needed.

The City of Bloomington has a nice handout on Egress Requirements explaining these requirements. This handout also has some nice diagrams, which I’ve copied below.

Egress window diagramEgress window well diagram

Here are some exceptions that are special to Minnesota:

  • If the home is fully protected by an automatic sprinkler system, no egress opening is required in basement bedrooms.
  • Replacement windows are allowed to reduce the window opening to less than the requirements listed above. The replacement window basically needs to be the same type as the original, and it needs to be the largest window that will fit in the existing opening. I’ve heard many people refer to this allowance as the ‘Renewal by Andersen exception’.

What should a home inspector say about egress?

In my humble opinion, a home inspector doesn’t need to measure a window to decide if it’s safe or not. We can look at a window and decide whether or not most people could get out. In fact, most people can do this. I see no need for a home inspector to measure windows to justify recommendations for added safety.

If a window is small and someone would have a hard time getting out of the home, it’s obvious. A home inspector should call this a safety hazard and recommend correction of this condition, or recommend not using the room as a bedroom. There’s no need to measure the window to prove this; anyone can tell just by looking at it.

Update 7/11/18: the sizes listed above aren’t just about getting out of a building; they’re also about allowing a firefighter to get into the building while wearing a big oxygen tank. I’m not as concerned about this part of the equation. If a building is on fire, a firefighter won’t worry about delicately unlocking a window and cranking it open; they’re going to knock the whole thing out of the frame.

The images below show a nice example of such a room. The seller of this home was using the room as an office, not a bedroom. Nevertheless, I added a comment in my report mentioning that the windows in the first-floor office were much too high for proper egress, and the room should not be used as a bedroom.

Not egress windows

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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No responses to “Egress requirements and the two-opening myth”

  1. Harold Anderson
    July 22, 2018, 9:39 am

    Reuben,
    I always enjoy reading about remodelling and have done a lot of it throughout my 65 years. Though I’m from the midwest, I currently live in Oregon. I have a foster home for developmentally disabled individuals and am currently remodelling a room to make it another bedroom. We have to get the room approved by both the city inspector and our state licensor. Both have told us that the large window in the room must be replaced as it’s a few inches too high. I’m happy to do this. I don’t know if Minnesota is different but we must have a way for firefighters to get into the room and any residents must be able to get out if they have the ability to do so.

    In one of our rooms the window is smaller and just as high but the room was not renovated so the requirement can be waved. We did that by contacting the fire department, having them come out for an inspection. The fire chief wrote a letter saying that in case of a fire, they would send a crew to that room first and enter by cutting a hole in the wall if necessary. We only had to remove a bush that was in the way.
    Thanks for what you do. I’ve followed inspectors in the tightest of crawl spaces where we had to chase away black widow spiders. I’m sure you’ve seen much worse.

  2. Stuart
    August 12, 2018, 6:13 am

    There is also another point that is misunderstood. If replacing existing egress windows that aren’t quite up to code, it clearly states that the best solution should be used. In a case with similar windows to the above picture, (they were manual awning that were too high) we determined a slider would be much better and after much discussion-was passed. Many inspectors seem to think that replacing with the same is the only way to get this exception.

  3. Cheryl hoffman
    September 16, 2018, 4:29 pm

    Home built 1970…walkout basement… two bedrooms on this floor…. window is large but is 50 inches off floor…. do we need to build a step below this window?

    Thanks!

  4. Reuben Saltzman
    September 17, 2018, 3:57 am

    Hi Cheryl,

    You don’t need to do anything with an existing home, but you might want to add a step below that window for added safety. At the time that house was built, I believe the sill height requirement was within 48″ of the floor. Throw in some replacement windows that reduce the opening by 2″, and you may still have a code-compliant window. Nevertheless, someone might have a difficult time getting out of that window. If it were me, I’d think about who was using the bedroom. I personally wouldn’t have a tough time getting out of a window that was 50″ above the floor, but my kids certainly would.

  5. Shelli Bakken
    September 30, 2018, 8:35 am

    Where would I look to get information about using window “stops” that prevent a window from being fully opened. This is for safety reasons, to prevent children or vulnerable elderly from falling out. Specifically interested in use in apartment buildings/multi-family housing. Would there be different allowances for 2nd, 3rd floor windows vs. 1st floor?

  6. Reuben Saltzman
    September 30, 2018, 11:25 am

    https://structuretech.bizzyprojects.com/window-fall-safety-protection/

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