With rising home prices in the GTA, converting your basement into livable space has become a popular option for many homeowners. The range of uses for a finished basement are virtually endless. One of those uses that have become quite common, is adding an additional bedroom in the basement. Bedrooms offer additional sleeping capacity, and can be good first step to potentially creating a separate apartment all together.
According to the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC), every bedroom that does not have direct exterior access needs to be equipped with conforming ‘egress’ windows that can allow residents to evacuate the building in the shortest amount of time in the case of an emergency such as fire or earthquake.
Where this issue often comes into play is in homes with small basement windows where the homeowner is looking to add a ‘granny suite’ or an extra bedroom. Bedrooms require special attention because this is where you sleep at night and where you are most at risk in the event of a fire or natural disaster. If you’re thinking of adding a bedroom in your basement you should first understand the requirements for egress.
Let's take a quick look at what the code says:
126.96.36.199 Egress Windows or Doors for Bedrooms
- Except where the suite is sprinklered, each bedroom or combination bedroom shall have at least one outside window or exterior door operable from the inside without the use of keys, tools or special knowledge and without the removal of sashes or hardware.
The window referred to in Sentence (1) shall:
- provide and unobstructed opening of not less than 0.35 m² in area with no dimension less than 380 mm, and
- maintain the required opening during an emergency without the need for additional support.
- A-188.8.131.52.(2) Bedroom Window Opening Areas and Dimensions. Although the minimum opening dimensions required for height and width are 380 mm, a window opening that is 380 mm by 380 mm would not comply with the minimum area requirements. (See Figure A-184.108.40.206.(2))Figure A-220.127.116.11.(2) Window opening areas and dimensions.
- Where a window required in Sentence (1) opens into a window well, a clearance of not less than 760 mm shall be provided in front of the window.
- Where the sash of a window referred to in Sentence (3) swings towards the window well, the operation of the sash shall not reduce the clearance in a manner that would restrict escape in an emergency.
- Where a protective enclosure is installed over the window well referred to in Sentence (3), the enclosure shall be openable from the inside without the use of keys, tools or special knowledge of the opening mechanism.
Types of Windows Best Suited for Egress
Not all windows are ideally suited for egress purposes. As an example, awning windows are generally not suitable as egress windows as the opening does not allow enough room for a person to easily exit the window. The two most common types of egress windows are casement and sliding windows. Casement windows have hand cranks and open in such a manner that provides a large area to exit. Sliding windows, while easy to open, may miss the requirements of egress windows simply because half of the window is fixed. We recommend that you contact your local window professional to determine the best type of window to meet your needs and to meet building codes.
Thinking safely beyond code
This minimum requirement is defined such that almost every individual can move through such windows to exit the danger zone. However, meeting the minimum requirement doesn’t necessarily mean the window is optimal, or efficient. As an example, a casement window with crank handles can dangerously limit the freedom of action of children or individuals who have restricted mobility with hand or arm movement.
What do I do if the opening in my basement is too small?
If you want to add a bedroom in your basement and you believe the current window opening is too small then you’ll have to have a larger area cut to conform to minimum code requirements. This may require cutting into either siding, brick or foundation to enlarge the window opening. The only way to determine the effort required is to contact your local window professional and have them assess your project.
Jurisdiction & Disclaimer
Provincial and municipal regulations and bylaws may vary from the national guidelines described above. This information is provided for guideline purposes only and cannot to be taken as fact. It’s best to consult with a window consultant directly to determine what codes are in place in your city. Nordik Canada cannot be held responsible for any loss, physical, monetary or otherwise resulting from the use of this information.
At Nordik Windows and Doors our customer’s safety and welfare is our top priority. Our experts are ready to provide you with all the necessary information required to help you make the best decision for you and your family.
Below are some helpful links relating to basement windows, building codes, and by-laws for some municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area: