An egress window in your basement is as important to the safety of your family as working smoke detectors. Properly configured egress windows provide a reliable escape route for your family when basement emergencies block other exits and they offer an easy entrance for firemen with air tanks strapped to their backs. Keep these critical functions in mind when weighing various prices and qualities.
To ensure you get a good basement egress window, we’ve put together a list of requirements you should have for the one you decide to install. We’ve seen from countless installs that ignoring any of these requirements can mean major headaches for you later.
1. Cored and Ground Corners
This is a feature you want because how they cut the opening for the window will determine the likelihood of cracks appearing in your foundation wall after the window is installed. Most installers use a concrete saw to cut the foundation wall. The limitation of using one is the round cutting blade. In order to cut the foundation deep enough, the blade has to overcut the opening in the wall. These overcuts tend to promote wall cracking and leaking.
To properly cut the opening for the window, the concrete wall must be cored at the corners first, before the opening is cut, and then a 90 degree corner is made with a grinder. It takes a lot longer to do a wall opening this way, but doing it this way significantly reduces the chances of future cracks and seepage.
2. Metal Window Well Liners
When Chicago’s clay soil gets wet it expands. This expanding soil is so powerful it cracks foundation walls and pushes them in. This is the reason you want a very thick metal window well liner. Your egress window’s large well liner may have to endure constant pressure from expanding soils. Thinner ones bend from this pressure. When they do, the liner can be torn away from the house letting water and dirt wash into the well. Plastic liners are worse for withstanding the ground’s pressure against it. Plus in the winter, when the water inside the ground freezes, it tends to heave the plastic liners upward, cracking them and tearing them away from the building.
One-Piece - Some companies don’t carry window well liners that go very deep, so they combine liners to make a deeper one. These liners leak at the seams between the liner pieces, again letting water into the well. Insist on a one-piece liner.
Galvanized - Having a metal liner in wet soil most of the year causes them to rust. Rust weakens the metal and makes holes where water and dirt can flood into the window well, clogging the drain. Once that happens, heavy rains fill the well, the pressure of the water breaks the window and your basement gets flooded. Demand galvanized metal for your liners so you only have to install them once.
Large Opening - Because people need to scramble out of the window well during an emergency and firemen need to climb in, make sure the window well is wider than the window and projects 36 inches away from the house so there is plenty of room. (By the way this is a building code requirement.)
Sealed - One last tip about liners. Make sure the installation company is sealing the metal liner with membrane on the outside where it is bolted to the building. Sealing it on the outside is important for keeping water out of the well. Don’t settle for contractors sealing the inside with caulk. That seal won’t last. Also make sure they install the liner about a foot deeper than the bottom of the well. This will help prevent water and dirt from sneaking under the liner and seeping into the window well.
3. Casement Window
The type of window you pick is very important. First, it needs to be easy to open in an emergency. Second, it has to be large enough for an adult or heavily equipped fireman to easily climb through it. Third, because they are so large, you want it to be energy efficient so the glass doesn’t let in the cold or heat. And fourth, you want it to be maintenance free.
When you select a window look for a casement window specifically designed for basement egress. That way it will have quick action levers, instead of the traditional crank, and will easy swing open like a door to provide a large opening for exiting the basement. Stay away from double-hung styles where you have to lift out each pane. This can cause you to fumble with opening the window when you should be already climbing to safety. Also insist on a vinyl window. Wood windows require maintenance and steel frames tend to rust from the ground moisture.
4. Working drain
Egress windows create a large sealed cavity in the ground. On three sides it has metal and the fourth side is glass. If water gets into the well and there is no working drain, the water will fill it like an aquarium. The problem is egress windows are not made to sustain the pressure of that much water against them. The window will break and you will have a cleanup disaster on your hands. Insist on having a working drain at the base of your egress window well to avoid this problem.
5. Strong, Privacy Cover
The final requirement you want for your escape well is a reinforced, polycarbonate cover with quick release clips. The opening to the well is so large you want to keep animals, pets, children and adults from accidentally falling into it. A proper cover should hold 500lbs or more. These translucent covers allow light to enter but keep out prying eyes. And just to keep temptation away from local thieves, clips inside will make it very difficult to open the cover without damaging it. But from the inside these clips can easily be popped off in seconds for a quick escape.
Keep these requirements in mind when purchasing basement egress windows and you will be prepared should a basement emergency make it necessary for you or your loved ones to quickly get to safety. We have installed hundreds of basement egress windows and wells and will be happy to visit with you to discuss your needs and our solution.
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