The word egress refers to an exit point. Egress windows are used as exit points during an emergency, and they allow emergency personnel to enter the building when exterior doors are inaccessible. The International Residential Code (IRC 2015) requires all single and two-family homes to include egress windows to prioritize safety and ensure adequate escape routes.
The IRC 2015 also mandates that “basements, habitable attics, and every sleeping room shall have not less than one operable emergency escape and rescue opening…[and] shall open directly into a public way, or to a yard or court that opens to a public way” (R310.2.3.2). This means egress windows must be easily accessible, which simplifies maintenance and cleaning.
Checking for Problems with Basement Egress Windows
Like any window below ground level, basement egress windows require efficient drainage to prevent water damage. If you suspect or have found water damage near a basement egress window, you can check for proper drainage using the following methods:
Test with hose water. Run the hose water into the window well and note how long it takes to drain. The water should not reach past the bottom of the window sill.
Check for cracks in foundation. If you find damage surrounding the egress window, but the drainage is efficient, there could be a flaw in the foundation.
Maintain egress windows regularly. It’s best to develop a routine to identify potential problems before they cause damage. Check window wells as part of your fall and spring home cleaning and maintenance routines (see Sealing Your Home for Winter)—and even more frequently during periods of heavy precipitation.
Be Aware of Common Issues
More common issues can develop quickly with storms and heavy rain or over time. Be sure to look often for these problems:
Debris pile up. If your window well uses a drain with a pipe to evacuate water, even a small amount of debris in the right (or wrong) place can clog or cover the drain.
Plugged drain. Fine materials like dirt and soil can seep into the drain and block water flow if left unattended. Window wells that are free of debris but do not drain well with the hose water test may be plugged.
Cemented or compacted gravel. Some window wells use a large layer of gravel for drainage instead of a pipe. Over time, the gravel can become cemented and must be broken up or replaced to become efficient again.
Improperly fastened window well. The window well must hold a tight seal to the wall to prevent water from leaking down the side of the foundation. Look for a snug fit with no cracks or gaps.
Maintenance Checklist for Egress Windows
With regular checks and fixes when needed, egress windows maintain their original quality. Follow this checklist to be sure your egress windows are functional and efficient.
Clear debris from window wells. Whether a window well has a drainage pipe or layered gravel to prevent an overflow of water, debris can clog the system.
Be sure the bottom of the window well is at least one foot below the bottom of the window sill.
Check the perimeter of the window for a tight, even seal
Ensure downspouts are directed away from window wells
Graded dirt/sod on the outside of the window sill should be consistent with the rest of the home
Keep covers on window sills at all times.